“I’ve got t’tickets.”

For all of us it has to start somewhere, so why not there: a road in Low Seaton, outside gran’s house, me in the back seat, dad in the front, the window wound down and my uncle outside, announcing the good news.

They were tickets not just to a new place but a phase of life. Carlisle United versus Liverpool was only the start of a father-son ritual that was part of so much that we said and did for 30 more years.

It would not always be like that misty January day, with John Barnes on the pitch and so many people in Brunton Park that it was impossible to see the second and third goals. The instant magic of a 1989 FA Cup occasion was soon replaced with something that had to be more carefully nurtured, with patience and realism: not the easiest qualities for an eight-year-old to embrace.

Yet that was the choice presented. The more common experience of watching Carlisle in that era was of a sparse ground and underwhelming football, yet dad was always keen that we go. “They’re our team,” he said, and he was teaching something important: that football, a game that had gripped his youngest boy hard, was above all a matter of loyalty and locality, best experienced not on a screen but by what was affordable and accessible.

Through this, Saturdays with dad – Jeff – became everything. We always suffered and enjoyed the Blues together. Since he died in May, this will be the first season I won’t be able to talk about with him.

Typing these words is torture. But it’s also easy, because the memories rush back so vividly.

It was with dad, after all, that my first little red autograph book was handed in and later returned with heroes’ scrawls: Paul Fitzpatrick, Keith Walwyn, Johnny Halpin...even Eric Gates.

It was with dad when I drank in the first sounds and tastes of Brunton Park: the aromas of Oxo and cigarette smoke, the terrace swearing he sometimes objected to, the stewards who told me not to sit on the wall, the tight turnstiles, the little, shiny blue shirt – 1990/1 version – that he and mam bought me.

It was with dad when our team, instead of struggling and skint, was suddenly alive. From our spot in the Paddock – same railing, a few steps back, near halfway – we saw a play-off dash, Joe Joyce against Huddersfield, rainswept nights, daring wins, promotion, Wembley, deckchair shirts, Mick and his magnificent men: Deano, Mountfield, Rod and the deadly Davids, Currie and Reeves.

Dad, who as a player himself had been good enough to be approached by Blackpool, would recommend I watch Currie closely: a veteran with cunning and craft. Yet he had also reached an age when hype was easy to dismiss. In the late-90s, when fallow times too quickly returned and I would come home chirruping with youthful stupidity about the next over-pitched player Michael Knighton had signed, he would puff out his cheeks in amused dismay (He never passed comment on the posters of people like Steve Finney I had on my walls; I suppose he didn’t need to).

Our loyalty held. At university, on weekends I couldn’t make it back, dad wouldn’t go to Brunton Park, preferring our partnership in other ways. He would spend Saturdays and Tuesdays relaying news. This meant, as I’ll never forget, that he was the man who texted me about Jimmy Glass when I was on a train platform in Manchester, bound for a party (apparently he did a little jig in the garden when he heard Derek Lacey announce the miracle on the radio. Dad never jigged).

When work brought me back to Cumbria, our ritual resumed. From a better Blues period, fresh favourites were shared. Dad respected Chris Lumsdon as a midfielder who never hid from the ball. He liked “Big Kev” Gray, and always believed our team played a more reputable game when Peter Murphy was taking part.

I have another precious memory of dad beaming and doing a little dance when, thanks to “Murph”, we were celebrating Conference promotion at Stoke. This is what football, together, could do, and it came just before our supporting habits changed for good. Dad was with me the last time I watched United from the Paddock and the first time I reported on them for the News & Star, but from that point, in 2005, it became harder for us to attend together.

This had the effect of taking him gradually away not just from the Blues but from the game in general. Rugby League had always been a passion but, in later years, it was also his respite from modern football’s diving, money, noise and nonsense.

Not everything, though, perished. As a father to my brother and me, and in the wider world, he was the kindest, most selfless soul and, in retirement from his careers as an engineering draftsman and in horticulture, he helped people with learning difficulties. A couple of times a season he would bring a young client to Brunton Park. From the press box in the Main Stand I’d look down to the Paddock. There they’d be, sending thumbs-up greetings from our old spot.

That told me traces of our tradition were still in him and, although the strongest passion had waned, he’d still observe, argue and appraise, and would read my reports more than I realised. They would, I recognise now, form a basis for debates we can no longer have: the witterings of managers, the toils of players, the signings that worked and failed.

The presence of a good keeper. The absence of a proper midfielder. The lack of a Murph or a Currie: men I feel like thanking now, for all the joy they gave. Everything, in fact, that stitched us together: the sort of bond and feeling which others will no doubt recognise, however and with whomever they watch United.

It’s to be expected, I suppose, that the opening Saturday of a season should bring these thoughts to the surface. They manage to locate the deepest pain but also, strangely, lift it for a while.

Memories like this, of being with the Blues, will be starting today for some and continuing for many. They are, please believe me, to be treasured like gold.

More than anything – more than our fears about transfers and managers and systems and whatnot – it is what these fragile, hopeful days are for: our team, our lives, together.