Mark Carter is one of Non-League’s most lethal scorers
By Chris Dunlavy
Mark Carter didn’t care much for training. Or fitness. Or nutrition. Even by the standards of his day, the 59-year-old was a maverick.
At Runcorn, his pre-match meal was a quarter pounder from McDonald’s. At Barnet, he was only ever seen on game day, arriving at Underhill on the Northern Line after a three-hour train ride from his home in Liverpool.
Even in his Football League days with Bury, Carter’s pre-match ritual never changed. No stretches. No warm-up. At 2.45, he’d still be sat in his club suit, puzzling over a crossword in a quiet corner of the dressing room.
What he did do, however, was score goals. Hundreds of them, season after season after season.
Almost 200 in 320 games for Runcorn. Forty-six in 78 starts for Barnet. Another 62 in 134 matches for Bury. Aged 38, he bagged 19 in 20 games for Ashton United, and his record of 13 goals for the England Non-League side is a record which still stands today.
“I’ve worked with some brilliant goalscorers over the years, and I mean brilliant,” says Barry Fry, who signed the left-footed marksman for Barnet in 1991.
“But in the six-yard box, Mark Carter was the best. The best. I bought him from Runcorn for thirty grand, and he was wonderful. I’ve never seen anyone just pop up from nowhere like him.”
Central defender David Howell faced Carter many times before becoming a team-mate with Barnet and England.
“Spike – that’s what everybody called Mark – had that sharp scouse wit,” says the former Harrow Borough boss.
“He always had a comeback or a put down. You could never get the better of him, and that’s exactly how it was on the pitch. No matter how well you played, how tight you marked him or wound him up, he’d always get you.
“If the ball hit the bar, it fell to him. If the keeper made a save, it fell to him. A cross would come in, the big lads would challenge for it, the ball would drop and Spike would pounce on it.
“He wasn’t particularly fast or strong. He wasn’t great in the air. But he was bright, he was cute and from six or seven yards out, nobody could match him. He never missed.”
Those predatory instincts were evident throughout the eighties, first at South Liverpool and Bangor, then at Runcorn where – along with Kidderminster’s Kim Casey – Carter came to be regarded as the finest finisher outside the Football League.
John Coleman, the current manager of Accrington Stanley, was a team-mate in those days and remains a close friend of Carter today.
“He was a fantastic player,” says the 57-year-old former Southport boss. “And he was very deceptive. He didn’t look fast, but he was very quick off the mark. He wasn’t tall but he was good in the air. He took shots early. Even in vets games, he’s still the same.
“I actually managed Spike at Ashton when he was 38 or 39 and he scored 19 goals before Christmas.
“His contract said he’d get a new deal if he got 20. The owner released him, the team dropped from top to third and I left for Accrington when we didn’t go up. To this day, he tells everyone he’s responsible for my managerial career!
Coleman was amazed that Carter remained a Non-League player for so long, and it wasn’t until his move to Barnet aged 30 – and the Bees’ subsequent promotion – that he finally tasted elite football.
In tandem with the equally prolific Gary Bull, Carter took Division Four by storm before financial problems broke the team apart.
“As a strike force, at that time, there was nobody better outside the top two divisions,” insists Howell.
Picked up by Bury for a bargain £6,000, Carter was part of the side Stan Ternent led from Division Four to the second tier with back-to-back promotions.
Yet throughout it all, Carter never changed his outlook. To him, football was always about the nights out and the craic, the simple joy of putting the ball in the net.
He wanted to win. He wanted to score. But dedicating his life to football was never on the agenda.
Even playing in the third tier, Carter retained his job on a market stall.
“To this day, I’ve never played with anyone like Mark Carter,” says Chris Lucketti, a team-mate at Bury who would go on to make over 600 Football League appearances. “I was a young pro at the time and he used to fascinate me. His approach to the game, the way he’d sit doing a crossword at five to three. It looked like he didn’t care, but once the whistle went, he was phenomenal.
“My abiding memory of him is playing Manchester United in pre-season, maybe ‘94 or ‘95. We won 4-0 and Spike scored all four.
“Gary Neville played. Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes. All the lads that went on to have great careers. But none of them could stop Spike that day. His finishing was unbelievable, a class above anyone else on the pitch.
“It does make you wonder what might have happened if someone had got hold of Spike as a young lad and worked on the physical side.
“But you know what? I’m not sure Spike would have allowed anyone to get a grip of him.
“He was just so laid-back. So unique in his outlook. He didn’t want to do anything but score goals – and nobody did it better.”