Four thousand, five hundred and twenty-one. Not so bad, all things considered. Not much of a protest in the end and, after a summer of uncertainty, a fair proportion of Carlisle United's core support still turning up.

That, almost to the letter, would be entirely the wrong way of looking at the Blues' first home crowd of 2018/19.

The attendance for the Northampton game was broadly in line with last season's Brunton Park average, but there are no guarantees it will stay that way. History, in fact, suggests otherwise.

Not always, but usually. Over the last 30 seasons, 25 of them have seen United's average league gate fall below their first Saturday home figure. Often substantially so.

Keeping the interest of all those who turn up on day one traditionally proves a major challenge. On average, since 1988/9, the Blues' average league attendance over a full campaign is 1,012 lower than the crowd that was recorded on Brunton Park's first August weekend.

(And yes, this is a lot of average, but, well, it's all I've got)

It is as though the expectations attached to a fresh start are unsustainable, no matter the starting point, no matter the journey, the odd exception apart. The only times the Blues have recorded a serious spike from their opening-day numbers have been title-winning seasons (2005/6, 1994/5) or when a promotion push - albeit doomed - arose from a modest outlook (1989/90).

Tiny increases in 2007/8 and 1988/9 aside, it has otherwise been a story of the Blues trying and failing to keep the same people on board from the start of August to the beginning of May. Even in some campaigns of achievement - promotions in 1996/7 and 2004/5, play-offs in 1993/4 and 2016/17 - the numbers have decreased.

So if the average pattern takes hold, Carlisle would end this season in the low 3,000s. There is no reason to say this is destiny, far from it, but what it does mean is that the fight to get people through Brunton Park's turnstiles needs to be under way now, and on a much more significant basis than some may imagine.

Considering the club are budgeting broadly for similar crowds to last season (home league average 4,609), even standing still is going to take some effort. Bearing in mind the direction of their spending plans this summer, the importance of this matter could not be more exposed.

Manager John Sheridan is firm in his belief that fans will return if he delivers a winning team. He is right to an extent. If, though, the side's progress is anything less than richly successful, the broader climate is likely to come into play.

Last weekend's crowd was the lowest for United's first Saturday home league game for 17 years, and it pays to go back that far for evidence of the risks, should the general journey be accompanied by doubt.

The summer of 2001 was the last hurrah of Michael Knighton, and even though United had a new and, at that point, interesting face in the dugout (Roddy Collins) plus a cluster of new players (Peter Murphy, for example, made his debut in that opener against Luton), people also sensed what was playing out up above.

The public campaign against the regime had gathered pace, with the formation of the supporters' trust yet, with John Courtenay still to emerge as saviour, there was also an exhausted weariness at the Blues' direction, its haphazard controversies, its takeover mysteries, its financial pinch, its decline.

Brunton Park's opening-day crowd of 4,432 was pretty much as good as things got. Only twice more in 2001/2 did they clear the 4,000 mark. By the end, Collins achieving their best league finish for four years (17th in the fourth tier, which tells you plenty about the period), their average was 3,204.

There was, then, an obvious bogeyman for supporters to target, whether by demonstrating, campaigning, or staying away. There is no sense of a similar war being waged now - many, you sense, could not think of anything worse than protesting against a regime headed by Andrew Jenkins - while the financial involvement of another party, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, also pushes any comparisons further apart. Nor have recent seasons, although lacking ultimate advancement, been anything like as miserable as those that preceded 2001/2.

This does not mean, though, that people will be happy with inoffensive drift, and that numbers will stay solid while the Blues decide what long-term shape they are going to be in.

Expecting things to remain as they are may be unwise without a new sense of focus, a feeling of verve, something many hope EWM and Philip Day will eventually provide, but which is, at best, some way down the line, these early days of transition higher on the agenda right now.

It also means that those who set their stall out to promote supporter faith, and value, may have to act upon those thoughts more creatively and persistently. The Blues may not have much of a marketing budget to speak of currently, and their main fans' group is volunteer-led, but not everything costs.

It did not, one imagines, set supporter John McGee back a fortune to run his #cufc6000 campaign in the summer of 2014. That social media initiative brought some criticism to his door, but it was still a more focused and determined fan-led push for gate numbers than many others have attempted.

McGee would not, presumably, take sole credit for the fact that season's first-day crowd of 6,766, three months after relegation, was Brunton Park's biggest opening Saturday audience of the last 10 years.

At least, though, he got the thing talked about, gave it an identity, however brief its life. One man. Imagine if others, better placed to do so, could put similar vigour into a broader, brighter push, above and beyond what is currently tried?

You would hope, given what the past tells us, that such a crusade would already be up and running on all possible fronts. That suggesting folk "get behind the club" with nothing but a prod and a loyalty guilt-trip would never be assumed to be enough.

Standing still, like it or not, soon becomes a reverse gear.


One hopes history is made for the right reasons next Tuesday night, when the visit of Port Vale becomes the first Carlisle game to be streamed on a pay-per-view basis to fans in the UK.

Trouble is, this being the EFL, you never can tell.

Until now, the privilege of watching Blues fixtures live over the internet has been the preserve of overseas supporters.

Provided the technology works, that is. Those from abroad who tuned in to Carlisle against Northampton last Saturday - and pretty much every other EFL game that afternoon - encountered problems with the video stream.

Complaints about a disrupted service were duly and angrily expressed on Twitter from fans of all team colours. The League apologised.

Gremlins will happen. Not ideal, though, when you have forked out a subscription for the sole purpose of watching your heroes from afar.

In three days' time, for £10, people in this country will be able to sign up to the iFollow service and see how John Sheridan's side get on. No doubt a number of exiled United followers will be keen to give it a try.

They ought to be able to do so without feeling nervous about whether their device will get moving pictures in the first place.

Paying up and hoping for the best should always be about the football, not one's ability to watch it.