There is a popular school of thought that says the return of Paul Simpson has shown Carlisle United’s owners something crucial: something that works, something that shines light down whatever road they may take next.

A Cumbrian, a former Blues figure with widespread popularity and respect…just fits, doesn’t it? And shows those running the club the sort of managerial decisions they might want to make in future.

True, to a point. But also: it can’t be too much of a lightbulb happening, because they clearly knew these things already. It’s just a shame it took until the moment of absolute crisis for them to push that particular button.

The fact they did is both telling and, in terms of United’s history, also curious.

At the exact point their Football League status (and who knows how much more of their future) was looking in excruciating peril, it was significant that the Blues didn’t play it clever. They didn’t try to game the system with another unheralded coach or a veteran from leftfield.

News and Star: United turned to Simpson in their hour of greatest need (photo: Amy Nixon)United turned to Simpson in their hour of greatest need (photo: Amy Nixon)

In their hour of utter necessity, they went for what, deep down, they knew. Simmo. And yes, his availability made February’s decision possible when, last October, it had not been. All the same – the reasons they dialled the 55-year-old’s number must always have existed in executive minds.

It just took the approach of the cliff edge for them to come to the forefront. The way things have gone since then – six wins from eight, survival likely, a manager of the month award surely incoming, public support revived to a real and significant degree – must make a few people wonder why they didn’t try this angle before.

You know: giving the controls of Carlisle United to a Carlisle United man. Someone supporters will immediately rally around. A person who will get grace in hard times but could also generate momentum early and in different ways.

Now, an old rule usually tends to apply in managerial recruitment. Get the best man, the most suitably qualified candidate, before all else, and if he happens to come from Mars rather than Morton, so be it.

News and Star: Mick Wadsworth's lack of Carlisle United connections did not stop him delivering great success to Brunton Park in the 1990sMick Wadsworth's lack of Carlisle United connections did not stop him delivering great success to Brunton Park in the 1990s

It’s a fair article of faith most times. Let's make no insular calls to close down top positions at Brunton Park to anyone who isn’t Cumbrian or a former Blue for ever more. In the autumn of 2019, I felt the Football League coaching background of the unconnected Chris Beech made him a more understandable choice than, for instance, the vastly popular former Blues striker Michael Bridges, who was in the running.

The successes of certain figures who’d barely passed through Cumbria before – Mick Wadsworth, for instance, made 1994/5 one of the best United seasons of all time – also show the basic merits of getting the right person whatever his provenance. 

And yet. Football is still a game of the heart as well as the mind. The words Carlisle United beneath those blue triangles on the Warwick Road End must still count for something.

They still mean, at core competitive level, that it’s this place against their place, us against them. Locality has vanished from the globalised game at many levels, but Paul Simpson’s success here now perhaps taps back into something more traditional and, in the circumstances, more powerful than it used to be.

News and Star: Fans have given their full-throated backing to Simpson (photo: Ben Holmes)Fans have given their full-throated backing to Simpson (photo: Ben Holmes)

It of course matters that he has a coaching CV that draws great respect. The fact he is one of us, though, does count for something too.

It got him here in the first place, after all. “I probably wouldn’t have done this at any other club,” Simpson said in February, explaining why he had agreed to United’s mercy call.

That standing, that connection, that Carlisle Unitedness – it worked both ways. Simpson is a man of this community as much as this community embraces Simpson.

In which case: isn’t it a little odd that United haven’t tried to maximise these sort of obvious ties in the past, over many points in their story in fact?

Before Simpson, the last Cumbrian to manage the Blues was…Paul Simpson, from 2003-6. There were certain links in his successors, but only to a marginal degree: Neil McDonald was a schoolboy Carlisle player but made his career elsewhere. John Ward was briefly a caretaker assistant here for a month or so in 2003.

Greg Abbott’s Carlisle links only began when he was appointed assistant manager in 2006. Graham Kavanagh’s United background started in 2008 as a veteran player and then coach. Keith Curle had not been on the club’s radar before, likewise John Sheridan, Steven Pressley, Beech and Keith Millen.

Go back further into recent decades, and from the gallery of hits and misses – Roddy Collins, Martin Wilkinson, Ian Atkins, Nigel Pearson, Mervyn Day, David McCreery, Aidan McCaffery, Clive Middlemass, Harry Gregg – it’s notable on how few occasions Carlisle have gone either for a local chap or someone fans instinctively revered (Bob Stokoe, second time round, was a different matter, and Alan Ashman's second coming needs no elaboration).

Heroes in the hotseat don’t always work. You don’t require this column to list the examples. The guaranteed managerial magician at United’s level also doesn’t really exist.

One wonders, though, if the effect we’re seeing just now is bringing something back into play in a game which can seem increasingly functional, neurotic and disappearing up its own technicalities.

It’s that thing we’re seeing and hearing on the terraces and in the stands; the big away followings, the urgent and vital support at home, the root-level footballing belief and love of something, someone.

News and Star: Danny Grainger recently said Simpson's return had made the club "feel like Carlisle United again" (photo: Barbara Abbott)Danny Grainger recently said Simpson's return had made the club "feel like Carlisle United again" (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Danny Grainger, another Cumbrian with standing at Brunton Park, put it well the other week. Walking around the ground at Simpson’s first game back in charge, he said “it felt like Carlisle United again”.

That’s a difficult phrase to analyse but an easy one to understand, and surely something to think about whenever this Simpson second coming ends, either in May or – let’s dearly hope – much further down the line.