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Paul Simpson interview: Carlisle manager on taking a gamble to return to Brunton Park and guide the Cumbrians’ promotion charge

By on March 28, 2023 0 21 Views

Paul Simpson interview: Carlisle manager on taking a gamble to return to Brunton Park and guide the Cumbrians’ promotion charge

Sky Sports exclusive: Carlisle United manager Paul Simpson discusses taking a gamble to return to Brunton Park after 16 years away, the benefits of using a sports psychologist, targeting a third promotion with the Cumbrians and more

Paul Simpson’s Carlisle are fourth in the League Two table with eight games to play

A significant volume of water passed under the bridge between Paul Simpson’s two spells at Carlisle.The 56-year-old left Brunton Park for Preston shortly after promotion from League Two in 2006 – following Conference play-off success the year before – and the club remained in League One for the next eight seasons, reaching the play-offs in 2007/08.

They were relegated in 2013/14 and the last nine seasons have been played back in the fourth tier.

Meanwhile, Simpson had five further managerial roles, acted as assistant to Steve McClaren at Derby and Newcastle and Dean Holden at Bristol City and wrote his name into the history books as the man who oversaw England U20s’ World Cup triumph in 2017.

Simpson became only the second man to win the World Cup with England when he guided the U20s to glory in 2017

    League Two table | Carlisle’s remaining fixturesDownload the Sky Sports app | Get Sky Sports

He is only the second manager to guide the Three Lions to glory on the world stage, following Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966.

It goes without saying that both Carlisle and Simpson appeared to be on wholly different trajectories at the start of 2022. One was in real danger of relegation to the National League, the other had not long recovered from kidney cancer.

Yet after the Cumbrians dropped into the relegation zone and sacked Keith Millen after a 3-0 home defeat to Swindon on February 19 last year, Simpson jumped at the chance to come to his hometown club’s aid.
“I’ve got to be honest, when I got asked last February, I didn’t even hesitate,” he says in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

He was player-manager at Brunton Park from 2003 to 2006 and oversaw two promotions

“Returning hadn’t been anything I’d probably ever really thought about. There had been a couple of other occasions where the club had asked me my thoughts on coming back, but I never felt it was the right thing.”It sounded like a good opportunity to get myself back in, even if it was just for the short-term, but it was a bit of a gamble because I thought, if it didn’t work out, the chances are I wouldn’t get a job anywhere else. I felt it was a gamble worth taking to go and get my teeth into something again.”I always wanted to have another chance, I just didn’t know when it was going to be. The truth is, I had to be quite selective about where I was going to go because, unfortunately, people remember the bad stuff you’ve done as a manager and they seem to forget the other good stuff you do.”I just had to pick the right place and hope that it worked and, I’ve got to say, I’ve not regretted it one little bit so far.”

The 56-year-old worked as assistant to Steve McClaren at Derby and Newcastle

Simpson’s impact lifted the morale of the supporters and, most importantly, the performances of the players; after returning with a 1-0 win away at Leyton Orient on February 26, 2022, Carlisle won five of the next six league games and climbed up to the relative comfort of 18th.Losing five of the final eight did little to settle last-minute nerves, but the bulk of the work was done and, in the end, they finished 20th, 15 points clear of 23rd-placed Oldham.Simpson is modest about his role in the undertaking.”I don’t look at it as a lot of work. It was a different face in front of them in me, a different voice. I changed the shape, but we still had the same players,” he says.”We had a bit of luck go our way in the Orient game and suddenly everyone had a bit of belief and it all seemed to keep going from one good result to another good result. We got ourselves safe, which was the only aim of last season.

“It was a massive relief for everybody because if you go down into the National League, it’s a hell of a tough league to get out of, tougher than it was in 2004 when we went down last time – some of those sides have got bigger budgets than we have at League Two level.”When I re-joined, there was a real disconnect between the directors, the players, the club and the supporters. It would have been really hard to get that going if we went into the National League, so thankfully we stayed up.”It has been a different story altogether this term.Simpson’s men lost just one of their opening 13 league games to emerge as early play-off contenders and with just four defeats in 17 since Boxing Day, they are one point outside the automatic promotion places in League Two, with eight games left to play.Despite clocking up huge amounts of miles, given their location less that 15 miles from the Scottish border at Gretna, Simpson has been reluctant to use extensive travel as an excuse when things have not fallen in his side’s favour.

Fortunately for him, they currently have the fourth-best away record in the division.”It’s been really impressive. We can’t change where Carlisle is and where everybody else in the league is, so we accept it.”We travel properly and go overnight when we need to, so there can’t be any complaints. If we’re good enough, it doesn’t matter how far we have to go. We have to get on with it and that’s been our mentality this season.”What’s impressed me even more is our away support. It’s been really good that we’ve had so many fans travel to away games; we have to go as it’s our job, but supporters choose to go and pay out of their own pockets. A massive amount of credit needs to go to them for making the journeys. They are coming in their numbers at home, too.”Having a local core has helped the cause, too. Owen Moxon, Paul Huntington and Jack Ellis were born in Carlisle, Omari Patrick and Jamie Devitt are in their second spells at the club, while Joe Garner is in his fourth.

Paul Simpson’s managerial honours

    Conference play-offs – Carlisle, 2004/05
    League Two – Carlisle, 2005/06
    U20 World Cup – England, 2017

“It’s the same with the staff and I do think it’s important. It’s a unique place to be, Carlisle, because we are so far north that you have to understand what you are coming into. We’ve got a lot of players who’ve been here before and wanted to come back, we’ve got some local players, we’ve got players who’ve come through the academy system.”It’s important to have players who have an affinity to the club and supporters like that as well. They want to hang their hat on somebody who they consider to be one of their own and I think that’s what’s benefitting us this season.”In the days of the previous promotions, we had a really strong group of players with a real togetherness about them, who were able to dig in – and I think we’ve got that sort of group now.”Simpson’s decision to bring in a sports psychologist on a freelance basis this term has no doubt played its part in their success to date.While not thought of as a traditional practice used in the lower reaches of the EFL, he believes mentality is the only thing that can be improved at this stage of the campaign.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, it’s a big part of being successful that you have to be strong mentally. We use whatever methods we can to get the best out of players.”It’s up to me to find the right time to slot those things in to the way we do things and so far it’s working. Now, as we get to the last eight games of the season, the players are not going to get any fitter, we’ve just got to keep them ticking. It’s just about them being mentally right to go out and do the job they are asked to do.”They’ve responded very well. I feel I need to be out of the way because I want players to feel free, to be able to say how they are feeling and what we need to do. I think that’s really important and then, if there’s anything that comes out of it that I need to know, I find out and then we’ll try and put it into practice.”Had Carlisle won just one of their last three games, they would be sat in the top three going into Saturday’s trip to leaders Leyton Orient. Instead, they have only taken two points and failed to score in each of the three.All is not lost, though, and even at this late stage, they are just eight points off top spot. While the title is achievable, automatic promotion seems likely, not that Simpson is planning that far ahead just yet.”I’m a big believer in focusing on what you can do,” he adds. “At the start of the season, the target was to get to 42 points as quickly as we could; we did that and then it was a case of re-assessing.

Carlisle’s remaining fixtures

    Leyton Orient (A) – Saturday April 1, 3pm
    Tranmere (H) – Friday April 7, 3pm
    Walsall (A) – Monday April 10, 3pm
    Northampton (H) – Saturday April 15, 3pm
    Stockport (H) – Tuesday April 18, 7.45pm
    Barrow (A) – Saturday April 22, 3pm
    Salford (H) – Saturday April 29, 3pm
    Sutton (A) – Monday May 8, 12.30pm

“Since the turn of the year, we probably wouldn’t have been expecting to be in the top three, but we’ve managed to catch up and we’re delighted with where we are. It’s very tight at the top and I believe that, if we do our jobs properly, the rest will take care of itself.”And how would another promotion compare to winning the World Cup?”It would be outstanding and would certainly make it a good summer for me! We’ve worked extremely hard to get here, so we want to finish it off.”Any success you have in football you have to really enjoy, whether that be promotion from the Conference, winning League Two, winning the World Cup or whatever. I want to make sure we enjoy the last five or six weeks of the season and have a really good summer.”

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