TYNEDALE footballer Gareth McAlindon was a popular member of Carlisle United's first team during his spell at Brunton Park during the 1990s.

In the second instalment of an interview with sister paper News & Star, the Hexham man, who has battled cancer, looks back on his time with the Cumbrians and his role in developing United's current leading scorer.

Gareth McAlindon made 71 appearances, scoring 10 goals, earning a Division Three promotion winner’s medal under Mervyn Day in 1997 and playing in a couple of absorbing League Cup ties the following season, setting up a goal for Andy Couzens in a 3-2 first-leg defeat at White Hart Lane against a Tottenham side including Sol Campbell and David Ginola.

“I remember standing in the tunnel, looking over and thinking, ‘Wow, how big are these?’

"But we did ok. They scored early on and you were thinking, ‘God, I hope it’s not a cricket score’, but we went in at half-time winning.

"Second half was a bit one-way traffic, and we got beat in the end, but we didn’t do badly.

“We had a good side. I think what stifled me was the fact that, just when I was starting to get in regularly, it was when Knighton was mucking about.

"They sold Rory Delap and Matt Jansen, and also let the experienced players go.

"I was still just 20, and appreciated having people like Owen Archdeacon, Warren Aspinall and Dean Walling there.

“When they left, there was a sour taste around the club.

"It had been so successful, but suddenly the life was getting drained out.

"It got quite toxic in the end.”

He left in 1999, after Jimmy Glass had saved Carlisle.

After a season with Scarborough, a long spell at Gateshead followed before he moved on to Blyth Spartans and then on to the Northern League with clubs such as Bedlington Terriers, Dunston Federation, Newcastle Blue Star and latterly Newcastle Benfield.

McAlindon coupled part-time football with a joinery apprenticeship, setting up as a self-employed builder and joiner, also moving into coaching.

A couple of years ago he was assistant manager at Ashington when a raw young defender caught his eye.

“I was at a game at Morpeth looking for players,” he says.

“Jon Mellish was playing for Benfield. He was on loan from Gateshead and he scored that night from a corner.

"He was one I kept an eye on.”

McAlindon spoke regularly to Paul Murray, a close friend who had accompanied him to some of his cancer appointments, and who later returned to Carlisle as first-team coach. “After I left Ashington, Muzza asked if I would go and watch some games,” McAlindon says.

“I always said that if you look properly, there are good players in those non-league levels.

"I’d been to Darlington and spoke to Muzza about Harvey Saunders who went to Fleetwood.

“I said there were a few others, and I mentioned Mellish.

"He’d started doing well for Gateshead by this point and got picked for England C.

"I told Muzza to go and watch their game and see what he thought.

"He went, and said he liked him – good size, left-footed, decent with the ball and had a bit of a background as well, having been at Sunderland when he was younger.

“Muzza mentioned it to manager Steven Pressley, he went to watch, and he liked him as well.

"He was out of contract that summer and Gateshead were having their money troubles.

"I said, ‘If you want him, you’ll have a chance’.”

Mellish joined Carlisle as a defender, but has this season been transformed into a goalscoring midfielder by Pressley’s successor, Chris Beech.

“I must admit, I didn’t see him playing in midfield,” McAlindon laughs.

“He’s absolutely flying, isn’t he?

“There are certain reasons why I thought he could make the step, though.

"He is good over the ground and I know from playing in midfield in the lower leagues that it can be hard, but a bigger lad can still win a header, pull somebody out of the way and look like they’re having a good game when maybe they’re not.

“There’s the hunger thing as well. I remember playing for Gateshead against Barrow when Grant Holt was there.

"He didn’t take the conventional route, but he pushed himself through.

"When you’ve played in the Conference at a young age, it hardens you, rather than, say, being at Newcastle’s Under-23s until you’re 22 without gaining any experience.”

McAlindon is now assistant manager of Newcastle University in the Northern League, and runs a youth academy, PGS Coaching, in Hexham with his brother and another former team-mate.

He also coaches his son’s junior team, and, in good health now, there is much in life to enjoy – including the revival of more old memories.

“I saw Paul Boertien the other week when his young team played ours,” he says.

“I used to travel in with him when we played at Carlisle.

"Every time you bump into people from that period, you just act like you did when you were 19 or 20.

“My little boy now loves the football. He supports Liverpool, but I took him to Carlisle once and he loved it – getting right down to the pitch, the atmosphere, the smaller ground.

"If there’s an opportunity to bring him to another game, I will. It’s always good to come back.”