The first football clubs in Carlisle were founded around in the 1870s, while the origins of Carlisle United can be traced back to 1904. Shaddongate United played at Millholme, whilst Red Rose were based at Boundary Road. It is even possible that the two shared a ground, since these two venues were sometimes referred to as one and the same. The exact details of how Carlisle United was founded in 1904 and the relationship of the new club to Shaddongate United still remain to be definitively chronicled. Anyway, The Millholme Bank ground was insufficient for some of United’s bigger matches and occasionally the Rugby Club Ground, adjacent to the later Brunton Park, was used. The club vacated Millholme Bank in 1905. They joined the Lancashire Combination in the same year and moved to Devonshire Park which lies to the east of the town centre on a site now occupied by Trinity School. By the end of the 1908/09 season Carlisle United were evicted from the premises by the Duke of Devonshire. So Carlisle moved a little further east to what would become Brunton Park.
The club chose blue as its colours, either as striped or plain shirts. Carlisle United wore a rather stylish Birmingham-inspired blue shirt with a broad white central stripe, trimmed with red, in their sole season of top-flight football in 1974/75 and it would remain in use until 1980. Since Carlisle is located in Cumbria, the nickname ‘Cumbrians’ will come as no surprise and their colours reflect the club’s other nickname, the ‘Blues’.
Around the time Wellington was scoring points off Napoleon at Waterloo, John Peel was stirring his fellow huntsmen into action as they chased the fox over Cumberland’s bleak and hilly countryside, traditionally a big hunting area. John Peel died in 1854 at the age of 78 after hunting foxes from morning until evening for most of his life.
His exploits in the saddle became so famous, he had a song written about him. Peel’s legacy also lived on in the exploits of George Baxter, who as a mascot called ‘Twinkletloes’, dressed in a blue and white top hat and tails, used to trot onto the pitch before home games carrying a stuffed fox called Olga. Nowadays, Olga-change the letters round and they spell Goal- is on display in a case in the club’s reception area, and it seems only natural that a fox would feature in the sequence of Carlisle United’s badges.
However, the club can claim having two officially recognised emblems, one of them being a derivation of the town’s coat of arms, registered at the College of Arms in 1924, and introduced by the club in 1951 when Carlisle wore a set of jerseys with this badge sewn on for their FA Cup tie at Arsenal. The fact that Sir William de Carlyell of Cumberland, in the reign of Edward II, bore a red cross patonce on gold on gold may have given rise to the old device on which the present arms are based. The origin of the red roses is clouded. Alledgely, the four red roses, not featuring in United’s version to help it differentiate from the proper arms, refer to Carlisle’s Lancastrian sympathies during the Wars of the Roses. Another version learns that the red roses are almost certainly in honour of the Virgin Mary whose emblem is the red rose and to whom Carlisle Cathedral was formerly dedicated. The golden rose is an old royal badge. The supporting red wyverns recall the British Kingdom of Cumbria. The motto reads ‘Be just and fear not’, a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VIII’ and was spoken by Cardinal Wolsey.
Carlisle, as befits a border town, has a strategic and historic castle, together with a fox’s head featuring in the club’s crest from the Seventies. The castle disappeared in the Eighties and we now see just Olga, accompanied by the letters CUFC. Olga is still present in the Nineties’ version of the club’s emblem but the letters CUFC had to go at the insistence of the club’s former owner Michael Knighton, and stars were added. Any resemblance to the European Union flag is pure speculation, although Knighton may wholeheartedly disagree.
Had the badge been a prize-winning entry in a late-Nineties competition it might as well have been a Houdini or Jimmy Glass silhouette design after the escape act of the on-loan goal keeper who scored in the dying seconds of the Carlisle United vs Plymouth Argyle on 8 May 1999 to keep Carlisle in the Football League.
From 2001 on Olga no longer adorns the shirts. The club’s official merchandise now features the city crest. That Olga though, she’s some foxy lady – considering she’s 150 years old!