Jimmy Glass after football: "No matter how bad things got, I never wished the Carlisle goal hadn’t happened"
Illustration: Paul Lacolley
It was my first day at Carlisle United and I was jogging around a pitch with a young keeper called Paul Heritage. “We’ve been crap all season – if we go down it won’t be your fault, and if we stay up, you could be a hero,” he told me.
“What if I got the winning goal?” I said, tongue in cheek.
Three weeks later, it happened.
When I agreed to sign for Carlisle on loan from Swindon, I didn’t even think about where they were in the league. I phoned my dad to tell him about the move, but 30 seconds later he called me back. He’d put Ceefax on and said, “You do realise where they are, don’t you?” I said, “Yeah, they’re up north.”
He said: “No, in the league – they’re second from bottom.” I asked him which league. “The Third Division,” he replied. Swindon were in the First Division, but my career had been faltering. Having done quite well for Bournemouth, I went there thinking I was going to play.
When I didn’t, it was a big shock. If I’m honest, I had an indifferent career – I played in the FA Youth Cup final for Crystal Palace, against the Class of ’92, but then I had injuries. In my previous two games for Swindon in the 1998/99 season, we’d conceded 10: four against QPR and then six against Ipswich, when I turned my ankle and had to hobble around for 80 minutes because we had no goalie on the bench.
A desperate situation
Carlisle had sold their keeper, Tony Caig, on deadline day and then signed Richard Knight on loan, only for Derby to recall him with three games left. So they were given special permission to bring in another keeper. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t get on with Swindon manager Jimmy Quinn and I wanted to play. We drew the first two games I played for Carlisle – I was man of the match in a 0-0 draw at Hartlepool against Peter Beardsley, playing one of the last games of his career.
But in the midweek before the final match, Scarborough won their game in hand to go above us. Only one side went down to non-league and Carlisle were now bottom for the first time all season. They were a sleeping giant – they’d been in the First Division during the ’70s – but there was a despondency. No one would say it, but everyone thought Carlisle were virtually down. They’d been in the Football League for 71 years, so dropping into non-league would have been massive. Michael Knighton owned the club and was hated by the supporters. He asked for a police escort to help him get to the last game against Plymouth, but they refused it.
The day before the match, we played five-a-side in training. I played outfield and scored a hat-trick. For a long time during my youth career, I was torn: I never knew if I was a better forward or goalkeeper. At 16 I’d be running around up front in training next to Ian Wright and Mark Bright at Palace, with Steve Coppell cheering me on. Sometimes I think maybe I made the wrong decision by becoming a keeper – whenever I played outfield, I had this habit of being able to sniff out a goal.
At 16 I’d be running around up front in training next to Ian Wright and Mark Bright at Palace, with Steve Coppell cheering me on. Sometimes I think maybe I made the wrong decision by becoming a keeper
Even when I had my gloves on, I was always looking to score goals – I’d be pinging free-kicks and trying to catch the keeper off his line. I went up for a couple of corners when I was playing for Bournemouth but never got anywhere near them – my manager would be swearing at me and telling me to get back.
Game of my life
The players were nervous in the dressing room ahead of the Plymouth game. Nigel Pearson was in his first job in management and started to hand around a bottle of brandy. The players were taking a swig from it – unbelievable when you look back now, but the manager was trying to settle everyone down.
It was 0-0 at half time, but our game got delayed due to Paul Gibbs breaking his leg for Plymouth. Scarborough were drawing at home to Peterborough: we had to win to stay up. Soon into the second half, we went 1-0 down. There was real dismay around the ground and people were thinking: ‘We’ve struggled to score all season, so the chances of getting two are slim’.
But David Brightwell scored from 25 yards just after the hour, which gave people hope. The guy on the Tannoy tried to get the crowd going – shouting things he probably shouldn’t have been – but it didn’t look like we were going to get a winner.
It all came down to the last 10 seconds in the fourth minute of injury time. I lumped a ball forward and it went out for a corner. I looked to the manager and he waved me up. I was galloping up the pitch trying to get there in time – you look like a right plonker if you get there and the corner’s already been taken. Scott Dobie managed to get a header on target and the goalkeeper parried it straight out. I’d headed for the six-yard box, knowing that whenever I dropped the ball as a keeper, it usually fell to someone who’d toe it over the line. As I arrived into the six-yard box, I was the only one in there. The ball fell to me perfectly. I blasted it in.
The first thought that flashed through my head wasn’t, “I’ve scored and saved Carlisle”, or “I’m a goalkeeper and I’ve just scored”. It was just, “I’ve scored” – the same as when I scored in a park on a Sunday morning. My hand went up in the air, the classic celebration, before I got pole-axed. The boys jumped on me, David Brightwell pulled me to the ground and 50, 60, 100 fans piled on top of us. We genuinely couldn’t breathe. We were shouting, “Get off! Get off!” Someone even jumped on the ref, too.
Where’s my towel?
There were thousands of fans on the pitch, I was getting grabbed by people as I ran back towards my goal, and my nose was pissing blood – I think I must have got kneed in the face as I was on the floor. I got to my goal and thought, ‘Where’s my towel?’ Someone had nicked it!
The referee blew for full-time as soon as Plymouth kicked off again. I ran across the pitch with my arms outstretched, and everyone was clawing at me. Someone shouted, “Lift him up! Lift him up!” Suddenly I was surfing a sea of thousands of people, and they all carried me off the pitch.
When I got back to the dressing room, I phoned my mum. I was 25 and I’d turned into a giddy schoolboy. I said, “Mum, I’ve just scored!” She said, “I know, I’ve been watching the TV!” Michael Knighton spoke to me and said, “If that ain’t entertainment, I’m a banana!”
We went to a nightclub that night and when I opened the doors, the whole place erupted. People were cuddling me, kissing me... and that was just the blokes!
I drove back to Swindon the next day and I kept hearing snippets on all of the local radio stations. I thought, ‘Are they talking about me?’ I didn’t know how football had reacted to that goal, that they’d talked about me on Match of the Day on Saturday night.
I went there and met Piers Morgan – they had some crazy ideas and wanted to make a double page with me as a kind of ‘Magical Man’, doing silly things like getting Mohamed Al-Fayed his British passport
I got to Swindon halfway through their last game of the season, and as I went in the stand, the photographers taking pictures of the game turned around and started photographing me instead. I thought, ‘This is weird’. I was invited over to Sky’s studios in London, and then I got a phone call from the Daily Mirror. I went there and met Piers Morgan – they had some crazy ideas and wanted to make a double page with me as a kind of ‘Magical Man’, doing silly things like getting Mohamed Al-Fayed his British passport. It was surreal.
I didn’t really see footage from the Scarborough match until a few days afterwards – the clips of their fans on the pitch, devastated about their relegation. Even then, I didn’t really take it on board. It was only later I started to realise the effect I’d had on another club. Relegation essentially pushed them out of business five or six years later. You do feel guilty. It’s the fans that suffer.
A changing life
Two days after my goal, Jimmy Quinn told me I could leave Swindon. And the day after that, I split up with my girlfriend of 18 months. I was slightly unstable at that point. We were coming to the end of our time together and it all got a bit too much for me. She'd been moaning about something and I just said, “That’s it, I’ve had enough”, and got in my car.