The 2,500 or so fans who filed into Brunton Park on April 15, 1989 – and those attending other games across the country – could not have imagined that it would prove a tragic afternoon for the sport which would change it forever.

Carlisle’s home game with Cambridge occurred on the same sunny spring day as the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

As a low-key Fourth Division game unfolded, early reports came over the radio about the dreadful events at Hillsborough – and, afterwards, clubs across the land faced up to possible ramifications.

The following week Carlisle’s board discussed the possibility of pulling down the perimeter fencing at Brunton Park. United decided to delay any move until police had been consulted.

Director Arthur Hodgkinson said: “The perimeter fences at Brunton Park were put up about eight years ago after trouble at a night match against Blackburn. It was the hooligan element that forced us to do it, and it is the hooligan element in football and society in general which causes the violence and must be contained.”

It was a window into the prevailing view about football supporters at the time, even though hooliganism played no part at Hillsborough. Carlisle chairman Andrew Jenkins also wrote a letter of sympathy to his Anfield counterpart John Smith, the clubs having met at Brunton Park three months earlier in the cup’s third round.

The disaster cast a heavy shadow over the game and other matches on that grave weekend are, understandably, recalled little.

Carlisle’s fixture against Cambridge came at a time Clive Middlemass’s side were showing, at last, signs of improvement. They had made a poor start to the season but Liverpool’s visit, before an 18,000 crowd, had proved a catalyst, and the second half of 1988/9 saw much better performances.

Another Anfield connection was being forged in the shape of Carlisle teenager Steve Harkness, who was being spied by the Merseyside giants. Harkness was, though, rested for the Cambridge game after a long run in the side, while Derek Walsh returned to his preferred midfield position having filled in at left-back for the recently suspended Ian Dalziel.

Middlemass was also testing a new strike pairing of Paul Proudlock – signed that year from Middlesbrough – and ex-Blackpool man Richard Sendall. Chris Turner’s visitors, meanwhile, were chasing the play-offs and spearheaded by John Taylor and Dion Dublin.

It proved a feisty encounter in which neither side could prevail. Cambridge, coming off a recent eight-game unbeaten run, started well, with Dublin testing home keeper Dave McKellar with a powerful drive.

McKellar then denied Taylor, with Carlisle responding through Paul Fitzpatrick, who couldn’t convert a John Halpin free-kick.

Nigel Saddington was next to examine Cambridge’s on-loan Spurs keeper Kevin Dearden, before the game took a controversial twist on the stroke of half-time. There had been a stormy spell during which three players were booked, including Cambridge’s Liam Daish, before Proudlock responded to the latter’s challenge by mouthing off to referee Allan Flood.

The red card was immediately produced, leaving Carlisle with 10 men for half the game. They duly faced an uphill battle in the second half but actually managed to take the lead on 50 minutes.

The goal came via Sendall, who crashed home a Fitzpatrick cross from eight yards out, and was also the result of sweeper Fitzpatrick reverting to centre-forward for a period, where he won some useful aerial balls.

Cambridge, though, quickly responded with increasing waves of pressure against outnumbered opponents. Top scorer Laurie Ryan could have equalised midway through the half but McKellar once again came to United’s aid.

Winger Tony Dennis then hit the post and, though United were gallant, they could not hold off Turner’s side, who eventually struck on 70 minutes through experienced midfielder John Beck.

Cambridge could not, though, push on for victory and United were, in the circumstances, accepting of a 1-1 draw. Middlemass said: “We knew we were up against it after Paul was sent off and we worked hard for the point.

“Paul knows that he let 10 other men down. It is not in his character to act like that.”

A two-match ban awaited Proudlock, though he scored three goals in his remaining four games as the Blues finished 12th. This was qualified progress in an era of struggle, while Cambridge missed out on the play-offs by three points. The fences, meanwhile, eventually came down.

United: McKellar, Graham, Dalziel, Saddington, Jeffels, Fitzpatrick, Walsh, Gorman, Sendall (Stonehouse), Proudlock, Halpin (Hetherington).

Crowd: 2,579.