Carlisle United have clocked up 5,569 miles on the road in this League Two season, a little further than flying from London to Seoul.

Two away wins, one on August 14, one on December 11. Not a great deal to show.

So this is for the 220 who were at Stevenage, the other hundreds who’ve made the futile trips to Crawley, Exeter, Sutton and the like, suffered greatly but kept coming back.

If you’re looking for the soul of Carlisle United you’ll get very close to it in one of those away ends. A campaign like this one only underlines how they not just support but sustain the Blues.

They are by turns some of the most optimistic, pessimistic, overwhelmed, underwhelmed and downright whelmed supporters – but what keeps them going is that strong thread of dedication, without which a team, a club, is diminished.

This is where football separates from normal business. The product is persistently shoddy, but back they keep coming, in the distant hope they’ll be rewarded again.

It was appropriate, with this in mind, that Jordan Gibson’s match-clinching penalty at the Lamex Stadium was fired into the net at that end.

Finally those folk had the best seats in the house. At last they could see Carlisle winning away, right in front of their eyes.

Richard Parkes, the photographer who covers many Blues away games for the News & Star, must have felt like checking his lens as he snapped some of them on their way out of Stevenage’s ground.

News and Star: United fans Tommy Coleman and Raymond Bristo at Stevenage (photo: Richard Parkes)United fans Tommy Coleman and Raymond Bristo at Stevenage (photo: Richard Parkes)

They were smiling. A few punched the air. United’s travelling fans were leaving a stadium…happy?!

Glory be. There can be a tendency, in some quarters, to sneer at the people who build their lives around following the Blues, whatever the conditions, whatever the form, whatever the state of the club and however deep the worries and questions run – those who’ll turn up, applaud the team, park themselves in away grounds, take it all in and then go home.

One of the many things which I’d like to see picked up from social media and hurled through the nearest window for good is the term “happy clappers”.

It is levelled by those who feel boycott, protest and disruption is the only way to reflect a true basis of support. It is a smear applied to people who quite simply don’t go to the football with that sort of thing in mind.

It is a term which fatally ignores the fact that the less mutinous fans still care, deeply. Some of those who travel with the Blues are proactive in other ways, take up representative duties and, if you speak to any of them for more than a few seconds, will discover that they quite clearly criticise, question and think intensely about the fate of this neurotic, flawed football club as much as those who are more vocal or rebellious.

They can do all that and still put their hands together after a win, draw or defeat. This does not make them “happy clappers”. It makes them supporters. Those keenest for change need them as much as the club does.

There can be no hope of a fresh, revitalised future for the Blues that does not place respect for these dedicated folk at the heart of what comes next.

News and Star: United players applaud the travelling fans at Stevenage (photo: Richard Parkes)United players applaud the travelling fans at Stevenage (photo: Richard Parkes)

Now, it is true that steady, steadfast support might not tip chairs over and unsettle those at the top table. There is a place for protest. Some direct action can be copycat nonsense but some of the sentiment behind demonstration should still be respected.

United are, right now, in another no-man’s-land, trapped between an ageing regime and a future nobody knows. They are fourth bottom of the Football League after a period of flawed and shabby misadventure. Hopefully Keith Millen can bring about gradual improvement, but these are not good times in the history of Carlisle United Association Football Club.

There is a void waiting to be filled by a body that can speak for a great many fans, rather than a defined pocket, at such a moment. An organised statement of the feelings of the support base could take on different forms. Who is to say one is more credible than the other?

It would, though, be best expressed if those behind and receiving it knew that it spoke for the many, not the few. That includes people who would put up with practically anything from Carlisle United, simply because they’re Carlisle United, and would turn up on the Moon if the Blues were playing there and find the best crater for a pint.

So those returning from Stevenage with bags beneath their eyes, beer in their bellies and that dangerous, deceitful thing called hope deserved their day. They aren’t just irretrievably, unashamedly attached to Carlisle United. They are Carlisle United.