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History

INTERVIEW: It's where I got my love of the game back

Michael Bridges on being back at Brunton Park

1 May 2022

For certain players there is just something about Brunton Park that makes it a special place to be, with one such former star coming halfway around the world to lend his support to the fundraising efforts for the Former Player Fund, and to help us to celebrate two fantastic teams who etched their names in Carlisle legend due to their history making exploits.

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Last Sunday brought fan favourite Michael Bridges back to the hallowed turf as part of the 2005/06 contingent who had romped their way to a second consecutive promotion back in the day, writing themselves into club history into the bargain.

The talented forward rolled back the years and received the loudest cheer of the day when he scored Matt Le Tissier style from a second half free kick, and he admitted when he came in to watch training this week that it had been quiet an emotional, but extremely enjoyable, occasion.

“It was a bit of an emotional day, especially after the goal when I turned around to the fans and I was celebrating with the rest of the boys again,” he admitted. “It was fantastic to see the fans and it brought back some great memories.

“It was good to see so many familiar faces and the vibe around the dressing room was the same as it always was, with the same old banter and abuse. It was a great event for a fantastic cause.”

And his on-pitch contribution was like he’d never been away, with the goal complemented by assists and some typically stylish touches.

“It was nice to get an assist for Karl, and he was very pleased that I’d finally passed to him because I don’t think I gave him many assists back in the day!” he said.

“For my goal, I tried to replicate the Northampton one. When we got the free kick, Murph wanted to take it, but I asked him to let me have a go, so he ended up rolling it back to me for me to flick it up and see what happened.

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“It was good to hear the roar of the crowd when it went in. One of my mates was in the crowd and filmed it, and it was nice to know they’re real mates because they didn’t celebrate, they just went ‘oh no!’ as soon as it went in, because they knew I was going to talk about it for ages.

“I actually found the boots I wore when I was here all those years ago, so I brought them back over from Australia with me. There’s a goal from Northampton and that goal from the Legends game in them, I’m going to leave them here and see what the lads can raise for the charity with them. I’ll miss them, but it’s a good cause.”

It seemed the logical time to talk about that cause, which so many of the club’s former favourites have really thrown their backing behind.

“I think it’s fantastic that everybody is part of such a good cause,” he commented. “Football is marvellous when you’re a player, some players are lucky enough to be able to retire after they’ve played, but some players aren’t.

“The mental and financial struggles people can go through after playing, as well as all walks of life, can be difficult. It’s nice to know there’s something behind us and an option where players can help each other out.

“Obviously there’s a little bit of money and it can go towards different educational bits, but I think the main thing is for the mental mindset and knowing you’ve got people who actually care. I think it’s a fantastic option.”

Back to the lighter side of the event, just what was it like to see all those old friends again?

“We’ve obviously kept in touch on and off on social media and messages, and things like that, but to see everyone again really does bring the emotions and memories back,” he told us.

“The pictures of us celebrating winning the championship are still up on the wall in reception and there’s a lot of fond memories which you forget.

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“It was a chance for us to catch up and I was blown away by some of the things the rest of the boys have gone on to do after football.

“I think there was an article in the paper about Simon Hackney and you don’t realise those sorts of things because lads don’t talk about them.

“It was nice in the WhatsApp group to be able to say look, Simon’s talking about it, so if there’s anything else you need to talk about then do it.”

“The turnout from the fans on the day was great,” he added. “When you have a successful team, the camaraderie you have with the group of players and the fans is totally different because it’s a group of winners.

“It was something special, and the fans know that, they know they witnessed something special. I was surprised how many kids were here, because they’ll have been watching the game not knowing who we were, but their parents will have educated them which I thought was beautiful. It was great to see how many people turned up because we weren’t sure.

“I really enjoyed my time here and I’ll always talk about the moment when I got my love of the game back, it was Carlisle United and Paul Simpson that game me that, as well as Dennis Booth.

“Without being disrespectful, it took me a while to adjust to the league when I first arrived, I came here thinking I was going to have more time on the ball and that wasn’t the reality.

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“I was getting kicked from pillar to post and I knew I was going to have to really work at it, which I did. What I loved about Simmo and Dennis, they knew I was an entertaining footballer who loved getting the ball and trying to express myself, and they never tried to take that away from me.

“They knew I could create something out of nothing, so they let me do that as long as it was in the right areas of the pitch. When you’ve got Peter Murphy and Kevin Gray behind you, if you give the ball away in the wrong areas you know they’ll annihilate you, and that’s what they did, which was good, because I needed that.”

One of the biggest factors behind the success that team enjoyed was the way the front three clicked, with different attributes combining to make a next to unplayable combination.

“The connection myself, Karl and Derek Holmes had did surprise us, but in other ways it didn’t,” he said. “As a player you don’t see it, but as a coaching staff they knew they needed a plan B, which is what we had.

“They had someone like myself who could create something out of nothing, a natural goalscorer with pace in Karl, and Homer was a total battler.

“If we weren’t breaking defenders down with intricate play, Homer would come on and we knew we had a plan B and he would provide flick ons and hold-up play. I think the staff knew they had the right blend because we weren’t similar players, I think that’s the key to it.

“And Simmo and Dennis were like ying and yang. Dennis was the assistant who would mess around with the lads and take the mick, we would give it back to him and he knew the game inside out.

“We all knew Simmo was the gaffer and in charge of it, but he could have a bit of banter when it was needed. You knew he was the authority head, but he built up relationships with all of us.

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“The door was always open, but you knew you had to work for them, and I think we all would have ran through a brick wall for them. There was no animosity, and if he told you off he would give you a reason for it, and if you weren’t selected he would give you a reason.

“He was so honest, and I think that’s the fundamental thing, because I don’t think there are many honest gaffers out there. Luckily we had that here.”

Still vivid in the memory is the on-off nature of the manner in which he left to join Hull City, with the deal eventually being concluded ahead of the closure of the transfer window.

“When you drop down the leagues you still want to play at the highest level you can, but in hindsight going to Hull was the wrong move, because I was loving my football here,” he confirmed.

“When I went to Hull it meant money for Carlisle and I was going up a division back to the Championship. If you could look into a crystal ball and see that the manager, Phil Parkinson, was going to be sacked after six games then I wouldn’t have gone.

“The new manager, Phil Brown, had other ideas and we didn’t see eye to eye so it didn’t end up the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t enjoying my football, and at the same time I lost six months of my life trying to look after our twins, which were premature.

“Things happen for a reason, but as a footballing decision, if I could have looked six months ahead I wouldn’t have done it.”

Back to the present and he was invited to spend a day this week watching training, and speaking to people inside the club, as he looks to develop the coaching side ahead of the next step in his career.

““It’s great that Simmo has just signed a three-year contract to stay at the club,” he said. “I’m delighted because I thought he was going to run scared.

“I think all the fans will be pleased and can get excited about next season now. I asked him if I could come in and have a look at the training while I was back over for here, and he was happy for me to come in.

“When you’re coaching, you want to look at what others do and gain as much knowledge as you can. I’m going to watch the first team and youth team training sessions, just to see how things work and get as many tools into my armoury as I can. It’s just about sharing the knowledge of football.

“Looking back, I’ve talked a lot about the spaghetti junction I was at when I finished playing the game. I still want to have a go at coaching, I’ve done a bit of media, the hospitality thing wasn’t for me because I was giving too much away for free.

“I’ve done five or six years of different bits of coaching and gone through all my badges. I’ve been into Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough academies to see how those clubs operate and get as much information as I can.

“Coaching is something I love, getting the knowledge I’ve got across to players and staff is something I love doing. Coaching is what I really want to concentrate on, and it will be back over here in Europe at some point.

“Australia is a great place for the lifestyle and the football over there is getting bigger and better. The A League is coming to an end over there so we’ll see what happens next with me due to leave.”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Michael Bridges on iFollow United now.

Click HERE to see a clip from this interview on our YouTube channel. Follow the same link for more FREE content right from the heart of the club.


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