Often, a sudden crowd spike is little more than a one-off. The reason Carlisle United attracted 10,013 for the visit of Rochdale on Boxing Day 1988 was because they were offering vouchers that guaranteed fans the chance to buy a ticket for the forthcoming FA Cup visit of Liverpool.

The reason attendances quickly slipped back towards that season’s average – a measly 2,779 – is because those December circumstances were, obviously, unrepeatable.

Sometimes events conspire in the club’s favour, and then just as quickly disperse. The 1991/2 campaign was largely wretched but it still ended with a crowd of 8,990 on the penultimate weekend, a majority of them invading Burnley fans hoping to witness promotion.

That was an anomaly, as are big cup ties, as are happenings like the visit of Leeds in November 2007, when the chance to see a high-flying Carlisle side take on a fallen giant with a major following and an unbeaten record tempted 16,668: Brunton Park’s biggest league crowd since the 1970s, and more than double that year’s home average.

They come, they go, and only if the overall conditions are very fair do they consistently come back. It will be much the same now, United having broken the 10,000 mark against MK Dons last weekend thanks to a vibrant promotion and reduced prices.

The story, though, need not end here. No, it won’t be a tenner in when Swindon visit on March 9, it won’t be half-term and there won’t, one imagines, be so many daft but entertaining player videos aping movie scenes in the build-up. Who knows, too, if United’s form will be as favourable then as it was when #8kforMK was cooked up?

Yet it doesn’t have to be a return to normal, either. Last Saturday night Carlisle updated their social media presence to highlight their final six home games and if that was a sign of the relevant people staying on the front foot in terms of message, it was an encouraging next step.

Beyond that, the staff who concocted and then drove #8kforMK deserve praise not just for inspiring the biggest league crowd for a decade, but for releasing something back out of the bottle.

They demonstrated what is possible, what connections can be not just made but shouted about. Looking on, it had the effect of a snowball; one business and one community group after another happily clutching a poster and a fistful of tickets.

A buzz was generated, making the game more than simply a discounted offering. One dearly hopes this has resonated with the more conservative individuals inside the club’s walls, as well as United’s silent backers, Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

It was not just bodies through the turnstiles, but a much-needed nurturing of goodwill.

These things may not matter as much as the bottom line. A wiser reading, though, says they can enhance that too, long-term. The fact last weekend’s gate was only the second five-figure feat in the league under this ownership – a lot of which has been spent a division higher – ought to remind everyone what United are capable of.

It inevitably makes one wonder about the way things were (or weren’t done) in preceding years. Carlisle have employed marketing figureheads at various times in the past decade yet none could – or, perhaps, were given licence to – do as they did with #8kforMK.

A little faith, a little belief, and whatever leeway the likes of Katie Mitchell, Andy Hall and Amy Nixon needed to spread United’s word so creatively, and they knocked it out of the park. It is indeed tempting to ask why it hasn’t been done before but it probably serves a better purpose in arguing that it must now be done again: not in the exact same way all the time, but certainly with the same principles, the same trust in the talent.

It would be a criminal waste for it not to be backed further. As much as anything it has given Carlisle United a brighter expression, a sunnier face, in this digital age. That is a better proposition by far than the outdated notion of simply staging a game and expecting people to show up, even if loyalty will always pull a certain number back.

It cannot, of course, deliver regular results without other departments also stepping up. A badly-performing team would not sustain lively social media and promotional work for too long. There are clubs such as Hartlepool who have excellent media personnel and it is a shame their own talents have been subjected to a haphazard tumble into non-league, and a National League division that looks like it is going to take some escaping.

All the offers and canny Twitter behaviour in the world can’t turn that sort of ship, nor, on their own, can improvements to the “matchday experience”, which United have been attempting this season. A good team, and a positive sense of direction – ideally hand in hand – will always form the most potent sales pitch. A demonstration of stability too (the Blues’ forthcoming accounts will, as ever, be an interesting read).

Little things, though, can still talk to you about the big picture. They can announce what a club stands for and how it would like to be seen. Ideally this will be as outward-looking, not insular and mysterious.

A few hard-working people with a dash of imagination have given the impression of raising United’s game. They should be not just thanked by those at the top but encouraged to go again, to borrow the dressing-room cliché.

Anything less, and the future looks more like the past again, and another chance goes astray.


An old manager once said the best team in football history was a Hindsight XI.

True. If being wise after the event was a competitive sport it would be a crowded field indeed.

Let us still, though, give some justified praise to Gary Miller for the way he has overturned at least some early-season views of his ability.

The right-back did not begin well at Exeter and soon paid for that poor start with his place.

Not just that: it often appeared John Sheridan would do anything other than select the Scot again. This explains, for instance, the right-sided roles adopted by Jack Sowerby for a period of the autumn which did not reward the midfielder's best attributes.

It would be a stretch to say Sheridan got it all wrong; he did leave Carlisle in the upper play-off places, after all, and few others were making the argument for Miller by the middle point of this season.

It is still a credit to the defender, though, for how he has responded to a fresh chance under Steven Pressley, and not just in his favoured slot. Last weekend, he was asked to occupy the opposite side of the defence.

Switching sides for a full-back is not always a cinch. Even a player as vastly talented as Ian Harte had one of his poorer United days when asked to play at right-back against Yeovil in the 2009/10 season.

Granted, the opposition that day (including a rampant Ryan Mason) were handier than MK Dons. It still takes some doing, though, to be as steady as Miller appeared in United’s last game.

That might not be a solution for long. But the last few weeks have at least underlined that Carlisle, last summer, signed someone with the right approach to his trade - and better instincts than seemed the case on that hot and sour day in Devon.