Carlisle United captain Nick Anderton aiming high with the Cumbrians

Nick Anderton in action for Carlisle United. (Image credit: Mark Fuller)

Captain: the man you look towards as a role model, the experienced head to follow in the footsteps of, the been-there-done-that man. 

In the bottom tier of the Football League, 38-year-old Jobi McAnuff wears the armband for Leyton Orient, Oldham Athletic have veteran defender David Wheater, while Carlisle United have gone against the tide to appoint 24-year-old Nick Anderton.

Anderton, from Hoghton just outside of Preston, is one of the youngest skippers in the whole of the football pyramid – something which he doesn’t shy away from.

He told The Gazette at UCLan Live: “I’ve wanted to play as if I was a leader more so than I ever had because I know at this stage of my career, if you play that kind of way, teams and managers at other levels look for those kind of characters.

“At 24, I’m doing things that probably when I was playing four years ago lads were doing at 30 but I enjoy it. 

“I want to win as a player and I want to win as a club. I think the lads who we’ve got in the dressing room at Carlisle at the moment all want to do the same so it’s been brilliant.”

The defender, formerly of Preston North End, Blackpool and Barrow, only joined League Two side Carlisle in January earlier this year and the start to his time at Brunton Park was somewhat strange, playing just 10 games before the outbreak of Covid-19 brought an early end to last season.

It was a long time coming before the players were back training in July and Anderton’s arrival in pre-season was made all the better when manager Chris Beech handed him the armband.

Beech has previously described the defender as a “mature player with a good head on his shoulders” and called him a great motivation for his teammates – unsurprising when you hear the desire in his voice.

Nick said: “At the moment I want nothing more than to go up the divisions with Carlisle United.

“The last couple of years I’ve had stop start seasons – I think the only season where I’ve been fit and played every single game and been available every game was at Barrow when I got a move to Blackpool after it. 

“I was so gutted about the lockdown because I was finding my feet at Carlisle, really enjoying it and playing well and I think this season for me is massive personally to really put my foot down in terms of the type of player I am and the type of character I am. 

“I’d love nothing more than to be successful with Carlisle United.”

Football can be cruel to young players with many struggling to reach the professional game after academy level, but Nick almost missed his chance to even play in the younger age groups.

He played from the age of seven for his local side Gregson Lane and was soon offered trials at PNE and Blackburn Rovers, something which you’d imagine a young lad would grab with both hands – but Nick wasn’t overly bothered.

“I went once but I just didn’t really like it at that age,” he said. “[It was] just one of those things where at the time I think I just wanted to play with my mates.”

His chance came again a few years later, though, and he did this time join PNE where he spent a couple of years with the youth team prior to turning professional.

Embed from Getty Images

Despite never making a senior appearance for the Lilywhites, Nick was around for the 2014/15 season which saw Simon Grayson and his side earn promotion to the Championship via a Wembley Play-Off final.

Experiencing that euphoria has only heightened his ambitions to achieve as a footballer.

“It would be amazing [to be promoted],” Nick grinned, “I saw the whole season at Preston almost.

“I was out on loan but got injured so in the February I was in the training ground every day and was around the lads, I was at Wembley and on the bus on the way back so it was just a different feeling. 

“I think that season I got promoted with Barrow from the Conference North but I’d only played eight games, but to be a part of something as a squad of players, to get promoted at the end of it would be just amazing.”

Nick found a way to entertain himself during lockdown…

Anderton is in a good position now as captain of a League Two club and talking about going up through the divisions, but just a matter of weeks ago himself and his teammates were worrying for the security of their jobs due to the lockdown.

“Me personally, I was very, very fortunate in terms of having another year on my contract,” said Nick.

He added: “It was tough knowing that teammates were going through it but even still, even though I had a year left, we didn’t know what was going to happen. 

“We didn’t know if clubs in our league were going to liquidate in terms of ‘oh you haven’t got a club anymore’ with clubs folding as such so it was very strange.”

Carlisle, like the rest of the Football League, are still playing their matches behind closed doors and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future after plans for supporters to return in October were scrapped.

As part of that proposal, pilot events were held and Carlisle were one of the teams given the chance to allow supporters back into the stadium, and Anderton was happy to see them return.

“You can definitely tell they’re there, they just kind of get behind you. 

“It’s like what they say: they are the 12th man.”

Whether fans will be allowed back into the ground before the turn of the year, or even the season, remains unknown, but Anderton will make sure he and his teammates carry on with the job at hand.