At Carlisle Utd, sometimes "speculation" is all we have - but it can still be useful

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Chief executive Nigel Clibbens talks to a fan
Barbara Abbott
Chief executive Nigel Clibbens talks to a fan

Michael and Mark, Chevonne, Albert, Rosemary and Rory. Not the members of an Enid Blyton series, but some of the most significant names in what remains the weirdest investment story in Carlisle United's history.

If you were following the Blues around the turn of the millennium, the MAMCARR saga is easy to recall. What is still difficult is figuring out what the hell was going on.

Answers were opaque, transparency elusive, but when in 2001 the former United owner Michael Knighton announced he was selling a 60 per cent stake to a mysterious Gibraltar investment company, fans did what fans do.

They raised a dubious eyebrow and got stuck in. The individuals behind MAMCARR could not be revealed, but in time at least one quizzical supporter noticed that the letters in the company's name matched up with the initials of several Knighton family members.

Suddenly things seemed even more curious. Knighton always strongly denied any such connection, yet in the end the unidentified Gibraltar folk did not get their hands on any part of United. They vanished as vaguely as they had arrived.

It could never be conclusively proven whether that supporter's suspicion was right. There are certain kinds of secrecy that leave no trail, and while the bones of MAMCARR's existence show it was first set up in 1997 and was struck off in 2006, reported evidence of its other investments is very difficult to find.

You can imagine, though, how that amateur sleuth might have smiled when, many years later, a piece of genuine wordplay was engineered by Michael Knighton, in his recent incarnation as the reclusive artist, Kongthin Pearlmich (check the letters).

The sort of educated guessing seen in 2001 might be described by some at the top of United today as "speculation" - an open wondering about the facts of something where details are, for whatever reason, scarce.

Speculation is unhelpful, it is implied, and in some situations that is obviously right. But in others, as MAMCARR showed, it is useful. It airs grounds for scepticism and doubt. It throws uncomfortable light here and there. It gets closer to the raw nerve of a subject than some would wish to accept.

It is also, at times, all that we have. Much about the recent "billionaire" episode at United remains unknown, bound by confidentiality, leaving supporters with next to no juice on this basic tale: supposedly rich man wants to buy club, takes 650 days not to do so, and then departs with hardly anyone knowing who he was.

With that the picture, it can be no wonder that people have wondered, asked, speculated and theorised that there might be something a bit fishy about at least some part of it. This, here, is the root of some of the sentiments that brought a few fans down to Brunton Park with protest banners on Tuesday night, and that has left others less pro-actively disgruntled, but disgruntled all the same.

United's top people are currently said to be over a legal barrel should they issue so much as a peep about their mystery former suitor. This in itself makes you wonder about the nature of the man who was at one end of the longest piece of string in the world from May 19, 2015 until February 27, 2017.

We are told, by the Carlisle United Official Supporters' Club, that Mr Anonymous was unreliable, unrealistic and unconvincing in the nitty-gritty of negotiations. Yet despite his consistency issues, our man is seemingly very hot on the finer detail of non-disclosure agreements.

Any time chief executive Nigel Clibbens talks publicly on the situation, a loaded warning is never far away. Even mentioning the expiry date of the agreement itself might be enough to provoke a solicitor's letter, it is understood.

Yet it is tempting to wonder, given how loose was the process of courting United, whether the "potential overseas investor" would turn up on the right day, or even the right month, if a court case was ever forced. A genuine and firm threat to sue would be followed by five to 10 days of non-existent briefing and then a couple of years of nearly taking the Blues for everything they've got.

Sorry to be flippant. No doubt those who signed the "non-disclosure agreement" last month have to be deeply conscious of its terms. Fans, of course, are under no such restrictions and nor in this case have they sat idly by. One particular name is doing the rounds at present, yet to be denied, and while cast-iron evidence is still elusive there is a sense of at least one or two dots being joined.

People are at least nearing a sense of what this episode has been, and while it is to certain directors' credit that they at least faced some unhappy fans in person on Tuesday night, it cannot be said that all the hanging questions have been cut from the tree.

Clibbens, for instance, has as good as admitted that the early stages of the saga, with its tantalising use of the term "billionaire", were flawed; a lesson the club have apparently learned. Again, this is a start. The obvious follow-up, though, is why the b-word was introduced and endorsed in the first place, and not officially corrected - if indeed it had to be - for quite some time afterwards.

A touch of clarity, too, might benefit the issue of confidentiality, given that chairman Andrew Jenkins seemingly made his promise to name the investor six months before the February gagging clause was signed.

Yet confidentiality had also been mentioned much earlier in the saga. Only the lifting of a "confidentiality condition" could ever enable the club to issue details, John Nixon said - in July 2015.

Was this, then, a formal agreement, or simply an understanding? Was there a document that had expired by the time Jenkins spoke last summer? Were there, on that basis, no strict confidentiality conditions covering the situation at least from last August until this February? If that was the case, could more not have been said about it?

Or were there different layers of confidentiality, overlapping and entwining, making doubly sure that a person said to be "enthusiastic" about funding the Blues wouldn't be irked to the point of legal action if his identity was given to supporters?

Straightforward answers would at least help here, and give a little less fertile ground for speculation, some of which will be way off-beam, but some of which, awkwardly for those in power, will not.

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