WHEN Clarke Carlisle agreed to appear on the popular Saturday morning show Soccer AM on Sky Sports a fortnight ago, the recently-retired defender knew he would be in for a fun morning.
First broadcast in 1995, Soccer AM has become a staple part of many supporters’ match-day routine with its irreverent mixture of guests, football clips and comedy skits.
Carlisle, in his guise as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, was on the show to discuss all manner of topics with presenters Helen Chamberlain and Max Rushden.
These ranged from how he felt professional footballers have been unfairly compared to the nation’s Olympians since London 2012 through to how the title of ‘the most intelligent footballer’ is something that does not sit too comfortably with the former Leeds United and Burnley defender.
What the 32-year-old did not realise, however, as he chatted with Chamberlain was how his appearance in the Soccer AM studio would mean that within a week his short-lived retirement from football would be over.
“It is really bizarre how things have gone since I went on Soccer AM,” said the York City defender ahead of today’s game with Chesterfield at Bootham Crescent.
“At the end of last summer, I decided to retire. Opportunities had arisen in the media for work that really excited me so I thought, ‘Yes, I will go that way’.
“So, I gave up football and concentrated on other things. I enjoyed the work, I really did. It was interesting and a challenge.
“But I regretted immediately the decision that I’d made with regards giving up playing.
“Football is something I realise that you can’t leave behind, and because I was still fit enough to play, I realised I’d made a mistake. This belief only grew on the opening day of the season when I saw the lads running out of the tunnel.”
Carlisle may have been keen to resume playing at the earliest opportunity but he also realised that getting back in might be difficult due to most managers having already finalised their squads and him having not undergone any pre-season training. Enter his invite to appear on Soccer AM.
“I’d only changed my mind a day or so before I went on Soccer AM,” said Carlisle whose media work during the summer had included presenting a highly-regarded BBC documentary that asked, Is Football Racist?
“I thought, ‘I do fancy playing again’. So I went on there and told the world. Thankfully for me, the gaffer (Gary Mills) was watching at home and it put an idea in his mind.
“He got in touch the following Wednesday and said, ‘I saw you on Soccer AM so thought I’d give you a call’. And it all went from that with me coming in to meet the gaffer the following day.
“As soon as I got the call, I was excited. I’d realised how much I missed it a week or so earlier and York were a team who had enjoyed plenty of success. So, I knew that I’d be joining a team full of confidence.
“Two days after meeting the gaffer, I was playing again and I can’t tell you how brilliant that felt.”
Carlisle’s debut for the Minstermen came a week ago as table-topping Oxford United were beaten 3-1. Another win followed at Rotherham United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Tuesday night to leave Carlisle feeling a sense of exhilaration rather than the exhaustion that many would have predicted after so long out.
The York defender said: “It is great to be back playing and I am loving it. Two wins out of two, I really couldn’t have asked for any more.
“Just being back playing is something I treasure. Once a season starts, you kind of think your chance might have gone. Most managers have their own squads in place by then.
“But I got in through the back door to join a team full of confidence and it is brilliant.
“If I am honest, the boys have carried me through those first two games. I hadn’t done anything in pre-season or done any training with a club. I’d finished so there was no need.
“So to get thrown straight back in with no pre-season wasn’t easy. That is why I am so delighted to get through two games in four days as that means I have some fitness in the bank. Obviously, I’ll need some more but that will come now I am training and playing. Against Rotherham, I did feel the cobwebs were still there a little bit. I made a few mistakes. But that is what it is all about.
“The more games I play then the better I will contribute to the team.”
Carlisle’s steadying influence at the back was very much in evidence on Tuesday as a Millers side who had scored seven goals in their first two home league games were kept out.
The defensive obduracy meant that Matty Blair’s strike 10 minutes from time was enough to seal a third consecutive win and ensure York go into today’s meeting with Chesterfield full of confidence.
Carlisle said: “It was an excellent defensive performance at Rotherham. Everyone has their own ethos and ideas as to how you want to play but sometimes you can’t play that way.
“Going to Rotherham and considering the start they have had, it was always going to be tough. Throw in the new ground plus the lift that has clearly given everyone at the club and we knew it was not going to be easy.
“Before Tuesday, they had dominated teams at home and not conceded a goal. But we went there and kept a clean sheet while getting the all-important winner.
“I thought it was an excellent team performance and shows that the lads can win games of football both ways.”
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect was how York dug in when Rotherham were firmly on top and continued to play the pleasing-on-the-eye passing style that characterised their promotion from the Conference last season.
Carlisle added: “As a team, we do try to pass the ball. How we will grow as a team is when we discover when to play like that and when to relieve the pressure. You can only learn that through games.
“I thought we adapted well and the lads played how we needed to win the game. There is a lot of potential here.”
Patrick McLaughlin is with the Northern Ireland Under-21s so manager Gary Mills will be forced into at least one change today.
Last six games: York City DLDWWW, Chesterfield DLDDDW.
Last time: York City 0 Chesterfield 1; January 23, 2001; League Two.
SkyBet odds: York to win 13-10, Draw 23-10, Chesterfield to win 15-8.
Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).