The Northern League and change isn’t two things that go hand in hand. A brilliant league as it is , its main draw back is its insular persona , held back over the years by its own ways. When the Conference(or Alliance league as it was then) was brought in to the pyramid in the 80s the league was offered the chance to be a step 2 league such was the high regard the teams were held.

They said no and that was that.

So , you notice when new things happen. The fixtures generally come out with the AGM held in June and 2012 was some year. Darlington had went pop and entered the league that year and would bring thousands of fans to games, I was looking to see when we would play them when I noticed a team standing out a mile….

CELTIC NATION . What the hell ? who the hell? we soon would know who they were.

As it happened, it was Carlisle Gilford Park on speed. Gilford Park were a team who spent a lot of its time in the Northern Alliance and due to where they were located, they spent a lot of time travelling over the Pennines to play North East teams. They were promoted to the Northern League Division 2  in 2009 and though the Harraby based club had ambition, they were happy to establish themselves slowly.

One game that changed. On the way to Northallerton the team bus broke down.

While they were waiting for a replacement a man called Frank Lynch pulled over and offered to help. He got talking with the officials and when the replacement bus eventually arrived, Lynch was on it going to watch the game with them. He was hooked. Lynch was a Glaswegian businessman and a well-known one at that, having made his millions turning a dilapidated cinema into a famous venue the Glasgow Apollo.

The rumours were that Lynch once persuaded Parkinson to let a new up and coming comedian on to his show , Billy Connolly was his name. Lynch had previous for starting from scratch.

Gilford Park were attracting not much attention apart from becoming a dangerous team in the second division. This still wasn’t really eye catching as promoted teams tend to do well in that league.

The hardest thing is getting the votes to get in , once your in it’s generally not hard to start flying.

In 2012 though they gained promotion to Division 1 after finishing runners up. The came at the right time , this was the highest quality season I can ever remember. Darlington upping the ante scoring hundreds of goals and the likes of Spennymoor, West Auckland, Whitley Bay and Dunston getting the sort of points tally that would win titles in the years since.

Darlington got 122 points. Spennymoor 109. Can you imagine not winning the league with 109 points!!

For a promoted team to find feet in that environment was hard but Celtic Nation did well finishing 10th with 67 points. People knew who they were but it was time to raise the profile.

Lynch was in at this point and was telling anyone who would listen either side of the border that their was a team in Carlisle “playing on behalf of the Celtic nation”

His plan was to get Celtic’s massive support to support another team. His plan had promise. Carlisle has the obvious draw for Scottish supporters due to its easy access and the Irish support he also craved wasn’t far away either, getting off a ferry in Stranraer around a hundred miles away.

Celtic were starting dominance as Rangers had went bust and the chances of getting tickets were slim. Lynch pushed that another team was doing the Celtic thing in the English league system and with a push could be doing that further up the pyramid.

This brought incredible rumours that this was Celtic’s ‘in’ into the impregnable English league. Let Lynch and co rise the leagues then take their place and resign from the SPFL. Fanciful stuff but it got as far as the Guardian, Daily Record and the Scottish S*n at the time. It was probably a load of rubbish but for a man in showbusiness, any news is good news.

The Northern League as a league was very welcoming but the other teams and fans were not. The club was buying and paying like nothing seen before.

Ex United player Martin Brittain played for them and another, Colin McMenamin was bought having been the second tiers top scorer in Scotland. Mick Wadsworth, Bobby Robson’s strange number two, was instilled as manager and he knows a player when he saw one, having brought Fumaca over.

They played in Carlisle but brought the North East teams best talents too. Adam Boyd scored a lot of goals for Hartlepool and had an accomplished league career but he dropped into the Northern League with Celtic Nation. These were the eye watering benefits.

£5-600 per week. 4 figure bonuses for goals. (Boyd hit 32 in one season) and incentives to travel over from the North East. A load of players did this. I remember them turning up at Ashington in a bus last seen taking Beyonce from the Malmaison to the Arena , they lost heavily though if I can remember.

In the meantime the home ground in Carlisle , a smart ground dating back to the short lived Carlisle rugby league team in the nineties , was getting a revamp . One thing missing was crowds. We played there once and in a crowd of around 80, we had half of that and the accents were more Cumbrian than Scottish or Irish.

Lynches contacts in the media were pushing the club but his biggest mistake was not attracting Celtics fanatical support, it was alienating Carlisle United’s. They run the City and were not having these upstarts buy their players and take fans. Carlisle’s fans never welcomed Celtic Nation and that essentially was why it failed.

Carlisle travel loads of miles and though the core away support is good, usually a load of fans are left with nothing to watch when they go away. This was his market. But they play in Blue. Not in the plan. They finished second to Spennymoor in 2014 with a mammoth 95 points and applied for promotion. It was denied. A red flag for Lynch.

How was he to get the club up the leagues if money wasn’t good enough?

The crowds actually did rise that last season once getting four figures with a LOT of freebies and going into the 2015 season they were red hot favourites to win the league and get the promotion spot automatically but Lynch just didn’t see it through.

Whether he just didn’t see the fruits of his investment or more fancifully, he got told off Celtic it was a nonstarter and they were more interested in winning titles in Rangers’ absence, either way, he announced that he would fund them to the end of the season and that was it.

Wadsworth lasted ten games by the way and once Beyonce’s bus stopped picking the lads up in Newcastle, they went missing as well and it was left to a lot of local players , who probably played for Gilford Park before, to see them to second bottom with only 28 points. The end was nigh and on April 28 2015 they played their last game v North Shields. The hooped green and white tops a reminder of what could have been.

This story was brought back into thought by the on line rumours a non-league player is getting paid around £8,000 a week. Celtic Nations plans, however contrived were exciting but like nearby Gretna would fold like a pack of cards once the owner gives up.

A warning from history , a story still worth telling 6 years on.

SCOTT ROBSON