At some point on Saturday afternoon, a huge flag will be unfurled at Bradford City’s Valley Parade. ‘Simmo is our king’, it will read.

It is a familiar line, rooted in history – and, at this time of year some 16 years ago, belted out by another 2,000+ strong travelling support on a day of high celebration for Carlisle United.

It would be nice to think, come the end of the three-year deal he has just signed, that Paul Simpson will have presided over some sort of success; at least a day or two that could come close to the jubilation of Field Mill in 2006.

News and Star: United's players and management celebrate at Field MillUnited's players and management celebrate at Field Mill

It was Simmo’s crowning glory; the day he led United back into the third tier, the afternoon promotion was sealed towards the end of a season of gritty resolve and rumbling dominance.

At that point it very much felt like the future was Carlisle’s to claim. It was their first season back in the Football League after the Simmo-led bounce-back promotion of 2004/5.

News and Star: Simon Hackney attacks for the BluesSimon Hackney attacks for the Blues

After a mixed start, a surge. Bolstered by the summer acquisition of left-back Zigor Aranalde, and given a thick shaking of stardust by the remarkable loan (and then permanent) arrival of Michael Bridges from Bristol City, Carlisle appeared strongly equipped indeed.

News and Star: Fans in the packed away end at Mansfield (photo: Jonathan Becker)Fans in the packed away end at Mansfield (photo: Jonathan Becker)

It was a team of character and characters, from the iron captaincy of Kevin Gray at the back to the rapier goalscoring of Karl Hawley up front; from the midfield graft and craft of Chris Billy and Chris Lumsdon to the canny versatility of Peter Murphy.

Plus many more. Plus an owner in Fred Story who had put Carlisle back onto a positive path. Plus a fanbase revitalised after the late Knighton era of turmoil and the colourful chaos of John Courtenay.

News and Star: Chris Lumsdon wins a headerChris Lumsdon wins a header

From the moment United hit the top of the table with a brilliant 5-0 win over Chester City, Simpson’s team turned on the afterburners. They won seven straight games from February to April, dispatched rivals Northampton 3-0 on a heady Friday night and sent Darlington so comprehensively to the cleaners with a 5-0 away win that the Quakers can never have been so spotless.

News and Star: Michael Bridges gives chase for the BluesMichael Bridges gives chase for the Blues

By the time they headed to mid-table Mansfield in late April, only a point was needed to secure back-to-back promotions. The ITV cameras were there, Ally McCoist interviewed Bridges at the team hotel and Story at the ground, and…it was all a little more tense than ideal, once the game got under way.

It was by no means a swagger to the line as an often unattractive spectacle unfolded. Carlisle started brightly, with Lumsdon having a volley saved, Hawley denied a penalty shout and Bridges nearly unlocking the door a couple of times, but Mansfield were spirited in their attempt to deny the Blues a party.

News and Star: Richie Barker celebrates giving Mansfield the leadRichie Barker celebrates giving Mansfield the lead

Simon Brown, a buzzing attacker, drew a fine save from Keiren Westwood, while Rhys Day hit the post. Then, after 18 minutes of the second half, Brown cut the ball back from the left and Richie Barker turned the ball past Westwood.

News and Star: Karl Hawley (obscured by keeper) scores the goal that seals promotionKarl Hawley (obscured by keeper) scores the goal that seals promotion

Well, that certainly wasn’t in the script – although it did make the final stages dramatic enough to go down in United folklore. Mansfield failed to add to their advantage, Nathan Arnold passing up one good chance, and then Carlisle timed their comeback to perfection, just as the big and boisterous travelling army were wondering if today would  be the day after all.

The equaliser was not football at its slickest, but frankly, who cares? There was a launched kick from Westwood, a flick by sub Glenn Murray, and Hawley’s shot was blocked by keeper Jason White.

News and Star: Some United fans are on the pitch as the Blues celebrate Hawley's goalSome United fans are on the pitch as the Blues celebrate Hawley's goal

Out the ball spun, as Simon Hackney swung wildly at it. Bridges’ connection was truer, and White parried the attempt. It broke to the right, and the afro-haired figure of Hawley materialised.

He buried the chance clinically and set off immediately back down the pitch, in the direction of that surging away end. Some of the most memorable scenes of the era were now unfolding – and the final whistle, assuring promotion, was not the end of it.

News and Star: Simpson is embraced by Dennis Booth, Billy Barr and Kevin GraySimpson is embraced by Dennis Booth, Billy Barr and Kevin Gray

Champagne was sprayed, players cavorted. Physio Neil Dalton performed celebratory backflips and assistant manager Dennis Booth made to do the same before feigning a sore hamstring.

Simpson, meanwhile, was close to tears as he tried to interpret it for the media. “It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s something I will keep with me for the rest of my life.”

News and Star: Brendan McGill, centre, leads the celebrationsBrendan McGill, centre, leads the celebrations

It was a dramatic elevation for the manager into rare company indeed. Only the great Alan Ashman had led Carlisle to successive promotions until 2006 - and United went on to cap a superb campaign by wrapping up the title in the following weeks.

News and Star: A champagne-soaked Simpson applauds the fansA champagne-soaked Simpson applauds the fans

The last game of 2005/6 was also a moment in time: a substitute cameo at Stockport County was the 808th and final playing appearance of Simpson’s fine career, while it was also his last outing as Carlisle manager, since he joined Preston North End that summer.

News and Star: Party time in the United dressing roomParty time in the United dressing room

His last outing, that is until this February, since when he successfully set about a different but also highly welcome job in this second spell, which is now extended with that three-year contract. If anything, the man’s popularity is greater even than on that intoxicating east Midlands day.

United: Westwood, Arnison, Aranalde, Gray (G Murray), Murphy, Billy, Lumsdon, A Murray (Grand), Hawley, Holmes (Hackney). Not used: Williams, McGill.

Mansfield: White, Baptiste (Russell), Day, Hjelde (Jacobs), Wilson, Uhlenbeek, Dawson, D'Laryea, Lloyd, Barker, Brown (Arnold). Not used: Pressman, Birchall.

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