When Danny Grainger and his Carlisle United teammates reflect on 2015, the horrific floods that swept Cumbria left many residents heartbroken
The damage also affected the club. Such was the devastation at Brunton Park in December that the club only returned to the ground last weekend after repairs.
Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round game against Everton is the game the whole town has been looking forward to as they return to normality. For the team, it’s their own way of paying tribute to their fans.
“You can see your football pitch filling up like a bowl. It was surreal”
The chaotic floods happened just before Carlisle United’s second round tie away to Welling United in Kent. The players received news of the devastation on the way to the game. It was hard to take, as club captain Grainger explains.
“We left just as the floods were starting to hit,” he recalls. “We travelled down to Welling the day before. We weren’t really aware of what was happening but, when we saw the links on Twitter and Facebook, it was madness how it could happen.
“You could see your hometown under water, you can see a football pitch filling up like a bowl. It was surreal, really. We had a chat before the Welling game and said we need to make sure that we get a result, because we needed to put a smile on people’s faces.
“No-one expects us to get anything against Everton. But it was the same against Liverpool, and we took them to penalties”
“It was an emotional day.”
The aftermath saw the best in a small town come to the fore. Left-back Grainger led a call to residents and fans that if help was needed then the first team would be on hand. When football matters took over again the team knew there was only one way to pay back the fans for their loyalty.
United eventually beat Yeovil on penalties in the third round.
A local hero born in nearby Penrith, Grainger explains: “We talked about wanting to get a glamour tie for the fans. Unfortunately we didn’t get it in the third round, but now we have it in the fourth. “
Brunton Park will host its second game this weekend since the horrific floods, the first a 1-1 draw against York last weekend.
Former Hearts and Dundee United defender Grainger isn’t getting ahead of himself at the prospect of upsetting Everton. Pushed on whether he’d love to see off his boyhood favourites Manchester United if they win, the 29-year-old isn’t too fussed. He sees Everton as a big enough challenge.
“If we’d got the glamour tie in the third round, we wouldn’t have been able to play at home,” he explains. “In hindsight, it’s actually worked out better for us.”
He laughs: “This game is one you’re dreaming for. When you grow up as a kid watching Match Of The Day as a 10-year-old, you’re dying to run out in front of teams like Everton, Liverpool or whoever.
“There’s no pressure on us. No-one expects us to get anything against Everton. But it was the same in the Capital One Cup when we faced Liverpool, and we took them to penalties.
“It’s one we’re looking forward to. And we know that if you put on a good performance, you never know in the FA Cup.”
Loaded sports writer Pearse Corcoran has covered news, sport and entertainment for several national newspapers and radio stations in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter at @PearseCorcoran