Happy New Year! Well, let’s hope so. 2021 was not a vintage one in the life of Carlisle United. What dare we expect from 2022?

Okay, 'expect' is usually pushing it with a club as unpredictable as the Blues. So let us simply settle for a few hopes and wishes for the next 12 months.

1. The S-word. You know the one. Name of a Netflix show. First seven letters something United haven’t had for a while.

News and Star: Can United directors deliver lasting top-level change in 2022? (photo: Barbara Abbott)Can United directors deliver lasting top-level change in 2022? (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Top of any list for 2022 surely has to be for “succession” to be nailed once and for all.

It feels like we say this every new year, in the wake of something either possibly happening, threatening to happen or not happening at the top of Brunton Park.

The demise of long-standing takeover discussions involving Edinburgh Woollen Mill / Philip Day left the Blues with debt and without a clear new dawn.

Scepticism among supporters hangs heavy. The status quo feels less tenable than before. The club’s future depends on proactive solutions finally being found.

2. The other S-words. Safety. Survival. Carlisle spent much of the second half of 2021 looking like they were on a rickety train to the National League.

News and Star: Can Jon Mellish and his team-mates achieve League Two survival in 2022? (photo: Richard Parkes)Can Jon Mellish and his team-mates achieve League Two survival in 2022? (photo: Richard Parkes)

That grim scenario not coming to pass depends on Keith Millen’s continued work with the squad, and the sort of touch he and the Blues can display in the January transfer window.

This is firmly not the time you want to be sinking into non-league’s top tier: a hyper-competitive division which chews up downwardly-mobile clubs (see Southend).

Stay up, and any further rebuilding can be done with a mopping of the brow. Go down and you fear for what it might do to the Blues.

3. Another form of survival. The Omicron variant, and its recent effect on the fixture list, has reminded United and their fellow clubs that football is still living in the age of Covid.

News and Star: United must continue to negotiate the challenges posed by Covid-19 (photo: PA)United must continue to negotiate the challenges posed by Covid-19 (photo: PA)

Carlisle, having been burned badly by the virus last season, have seen more games sidelined towards the end of 2021.

The thought of another campaign being derailed is a dispiriting one. It also brings a reminder of how financially precarious the game can be at certain low levels.

United’s approach of managing their resources so that they can breathe, rather than gallop forward, may need further patience. How quickly they can get back up to speed on the pitch after a three-week break is also key.

4. Carlisle need to leap through the window like that chap in the office on the Twitter meme. No bones about it: this is a crucial January in the market.

News and Star: it is a crucial January window for manager Keith Millen and director of football David Holdsworth (photo: Barbara Abbott)it is a crucial January window for manager Keith Millen and director of football David Holdsworth (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Too much emphasis, probably, is being loaded onto a notoriously tricky period of mid-season shopping. But the evidence since August says United have little choice.

All recent noises have suggested that Millen will be backed. Truthfully there’s little alternative, given the long-term risks of relegation.

United do not always improve on the back nine. This time, bolstered by signings, they must.

5. Fan engagement. Back to this one. United score highly when their communication with supporters is measured.

News and Star: United communicate in detail with fans in some respects - but not in others (photo: Richard Parkes)United communicate in detail with fans in some respects - but not in others (photo: Richard Parkes)

Their output to fan groups is detailed. Imagining this to be enough, though, is dangerous. The void remains when it comes to communication involving those with the real power at United.

Corresponding by occasional statement, programme notes or a simple refusal to comment is not going to spin opinion regarding the owners.

Chief executive Nigel Clibbens and manager Keith Millen are confident figureheads. But they cannot speak for every issue – and supporters know which ones.

6. Fan representation. Supporters’ trust CUOSC may have regained some standing when they explained why they couldn’t support the most recent “succession” deal (because it wouldn’t have delivered immediate change of control).

News and Star: CUOSC were praised by some fans for knocking back the latest "succession" deal - but fan representation at United still seems to have a voidCUOSC were praised by some fans for knocking back the latest "succession" deal - but fan representation at United still seems to have a void

But there’s still something clearly lacking when you look at the swathes of United’s fanbase and see so many pockets of discontent, so many who don’t feel they have a representative home.

There needs to be a way through this if Carlisle fans are to feel truly as one.

Whether this is via a new group, or the recalibrating of an existing one, 2022 would be a constructive year if more of United’s followers could be brought onto the same page.

7. Celebrate good times. The year of 2022 brings the potential to mark at least three fine achievements from United’s past.

News and Star: 2022 will bring the 25th anniversary of United's first Wembley win: the Auto-Windscreens Shield in 19972022 will bring the 25th anniversary of United's first Wembley win: the Auto-Windscreens Shield in 1997

The 1972 victory over Roma in the Stadio Olimpico is already high on the agenda. Also, this summer, it will be 40 years since Carlisle’s last promotion to the second tier: the boys of 1981/2, who were remembered by BBC Radio Cumbria in an enjoyable documentary recently.

In April, meanwhile, it will have been 25 years since Carlisle first won at Wembley. Mervyn Day’s Auto-Windscreens Shield XI sometimes sit in the shadow of 1994/5’s vintage.

This year, let Stevie Hayward and the rest step forward in their Stobart colours.

8. Let’s hear JP again. First, to declare an interest. BBC Radio Cumbria’s James Phillips is a good friend and someone with whom I’ve shared a great deal both on the United beat and away from working life.

News and Star: James Phillips: Hopefully the commentator will be back behind the mic soon in 2022 (photo: Richard Parkes)James Phillips: Hopefully the commentator will be back behind the mic soon in 2022 (photo: Richard Parkes)

So this is a personal wish rather than a strictly impartial one – and is certainly no slight at all on the good and dedicated people who have filled the void since October.

The circumstances of his on-air absence are not to be speculated upon here. It is simply to say that James has been missed, judging by what’s been said on social media and those who’ve asked me personally to pass on their wishes to him.

Passionate, independent voices covering United are always needed, and James is certainly that. I hope my mate’s back behind the mic as soon as is feasible in 2022.