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Ross Waldron: Rejuvenated Carlton Town pay tribute to their immense support after great escape

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Whilst it has been 60 years since The Great Escape was first released, there has been another Great Escape a lot more recently, and a lot closer to home. 

When I last spoke to the leaders of Carlton Town at the end of February, the outlook was not great. Deep within the throes of relegation, they could not win at home, and they had a goal drought to boot. 

What a change a couple of months can make.  

PICTURED: Millers manager Tommy Brookbanks

Relegation has been fought off, Step 4 status is secure, and a cup final is around the corner as well. A Great Escape indeed.  

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“You look at it from January 7, nine games we got four points. From March 7, nine games we got 19. Now that is playoff form,” says Tommy Brookbanks, co-manager of The Millers.  

Carlton managed to shake off their relegation form pretty soon after I spoke to them last, with a win away at Hebburn Town, the third-placed team whom they had lost to that day. “Did I not say to you that day that I felt we’d beat them away from home,” says Mark Harvey, Tommy’s co-manager.  

I joined The Millers at their last training session of the season, and there’s a jovial atmosphere all around. The coach keeps reminding them: “Last bit of work for the season,” as they enjoy their game at the end, but what a season it has been. 

Relegation was avoided by virtue of North Shields failing their ground grading, but this was a very precarious situation whereby Carlton did not know if they would have to play a relegation playoff or not.  

The managers were actually at the training ground when the got the call, three days before they would have had to have played said playoff. 

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Tommy said: “The lads were coming in for 7:30pm, we got the call from the secretary and we stopped the lads from coming in because we wanted to give them a rest. 

“Last Saturday was surreal in the fact that you’re celebrating the win, you’re pretty sure that you’re up because no one has ever won an appeal against not getting the ground right, but we don’t 100% know, so you couldn’t fully let go. 

“It was hell waiting to hear from them.” 

But what was it that inspired The Millers to get out of their rut? For the managers, it seems that there was not too much concrete change, but just a dressing room lift and a belief in their squad that they could do what they needed to do.  

Mark said: “After the North Shields (March 4, which they lost 2-1), we spent all weekend on the phone as we thought the only chance we had was to get a couple of lads in. And it wasn’t that we didn’t think the squad was good enough, because the squad has proved its good enough.” 

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“I think the dressing room needed a lift more than anything. Following that weekend we got Charlie (Marzano) and Alex Troke in, which gave the dressing room a lift, and we went and won our next game.” 

Tommy added: “We thought as managers, I think this is where the experience comes in. We’ve been doing this longer than most me and Mark. 

“We didn’t panic, we didn’t say we need wholesale changes because honestly, we believed in them.” 

And whilst Mark and Tommy passionately highlighted how important their dressing room cohesiveness has been in surviving, they were also quick to highlight the pivotal role the support played in keeping them on track.  

“The support has been magnificent,” says Tommy. “They could have turned on us. But they still turned out for every home game. A lot of supporters would have turned, but they’ve been brilliant.  

“Private messages we’ve had off them as well which has lifted us. You’re never too old or been in the game too long to need a lift yourself. Fans are what this lot are, they’re there through and through.  

“They’ve had some good times and bad times, but the support last Saturday, it was amazing coming off the pitch. 

Mark continued: “I can’t thank them enough to be honest. The way they have stayed and cheered us through. Away from home at Ossett it was incredible to see so many people had travelled there for it.” 

Away from the Great Escape, there are some more positive events on the horizon for Carlton Town. A trip to Eastwood for the Nottinghamshire Senior Cup Final against Newark on Tuesday (May 2) promises to be a big night for them. It is a competition which they have not lost in for four years.  

And whilst they may have a perfect track record, Tommy was adamant that it was not getting to their heads. 

“We’ve just grounded them. Newark are very similar to the teams we’ve been playing in the EvoStik. They’re direct and physical and we have to approach it like we’re playing Forest, otherwise, we’ll lose. 

“There was one game in this 10-game run, away at Lincoln, where we were super confident, and we were complacent and we lost. Every other time we knew we’ve had to earn the right to win, and that’s what we’ve just forewarned them.” 

It seems then that, especially compared with where they were two months ago, everything has turned out pretty well for the Carlton boys. Whilst there still lingers the question of which league they will be playing in next season, the managers are assured in the fact that whatever league it may be, they will be prepared for it. 

And as for what they hope the outcomes for the next league season could be, Mark put it best: “Win it!”  

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