Before I tell the story of the greatest escape in the history of top-flight English football, here is an account of what must be the greatest soccer escape ever. In this story, Carlisle manages to stay in professional football (avoiding relegation to the semi-professional league) on a last minute goal by an emergency goalkeeper
Now, this is more like it. The greatest escape ever, ever, ever in the history of great escapes. Roy of the Rovers couldn’t have written it. Not even the bloke who wrote Roy of The Rovers could have.
‘What, the goalie is on loan? Playing his second game for the club? And the goalie scores? The winner? In the very last game of the season? With the very last kick of the game? Meaning Carlisle United not only don’t get relegated, but they stay in the football league, of which they have been a proud member for 72 years? You’re having a bubble mate’.
This is what Carlisle fans would have said to you beforehand (if they spoke in an affected London accent and you owned a time machine). On loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass earned himself a place in footballing folklore, if not a contract with Carlisle, after his miraculous goal against Plymouth preserved their league status (they lost it five years later).
Carlisle needed to beat Plymouth to stay up. With five minutes stoppage time having been already played, and the match level at 1-1, Glass journeyed up to Plymouth’s penalty area more in hope than expectation, before firing a shot in from six yards. The goalie had saved the day. ‘If that’s not entertainment I’m a banana’, quipped Carlisle’s owner Michael Knighton afterwards. Quite.
Glass then had the temerity to ask Knighton for a pay rise following his last-gasp winner, which had saved Carlisle millions and Knighton his job. The request was duly turned down. Glass was swiftly despatched from whence he came (Swindon) before disappearing in to the footballing ether (otherwise known as a life as a cab driver in Dorset). Now there’s gratitude for you.
The club that went down instead of Carlisle (Chester I think it might have been) tried to reverse the result on a technicality. English football rules prohibit teams from taking on new players in the last weeks of the season, but there is an exception for goalkeepers, since a late season injury to a team’s keepers would be so prejudicial. In an argument worthy of liberal Democrats, the club argued unsuccesfully that the recently acquired Glass scored the winning goal outside of his capacity as a goalkeeper.