An alternative look back at Carlisle United’s 2021/22 season which, although far from successful, was never dull.

Let’s start near the end…

WTF DECISION OF THE SEASON

You turn around a struggling football club from scratch. You embark on a brilliant month during which no other team wins more points. Only one side can match your achievements, and you beat them as well. Your name is Paul Simpson and no, I’m sorry, despite all the above you can’t have this manager of the month award because, well, Joey Barton's pretty famous. Tough. The panel know best.

News and Star: 'Winner': Joey Barton (photo: EFL)'Winner': Joey Barton (photo: EFL)

INEVITABILITY OF THE SEASON (1)

Carlisle have a long and proud history of bringing teams and players off bad runs, but events in Exeter took this to new but also still achingly predictable levels. The meeting between the Grecians and the Cumbrians saw Jake Caprice’s 321st appearance in professional football. Until that day: zero goals. Not one off his shin, backside or eyebrows, or even a measly penalty. Then along came the Blues…

News and Star: Inevitable: Jake Caprice (photo: Barbara Abbott)Inevitable: Jake Caprice (photo: Barbara Abbott)

CONDIMENTS OF THE SEASON

“I’ve never been relegated in my life,” said erstwhile director of football David Holdsworth in September. “I’m not even considering that. I’d rather worry about the salt and pepper on my chips.” Two things. One…salt and pepper on your chips? We’re going to have to have that culinary chat, David. Two – despite all the mockery…well, Carlisle did stay up, didn’t they? So he was right all along. Presumably the fries are going down well, wherever Holdsworth is now and whatever he's sprinkling on them...

News and Star: Fast food: David Holdsworth (photo: Barbara Abbott)Fast food: David Holdsworth (photo: Barbara Abbott)

PROTEST OF THE SEASON

Some disaffected fans storm the pitch with banners and smoke-emitting devices. Some tether themselves to goalposts. Some force games to be delayed or abandoned. Some gather in huge, unignorable numbers. At Carlisle, on the occasion of a second round FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury Town, about half a dozen tennis balls were lobbed onto the pitch, and quickly kicked back off it. Those in the directors’ box perhaps did not take cover.

News and Star: Balls: Protest at the Shrewsbury game (photo: Richard Parkes)Balls: Protest at the Shrewsbury game (photo: Richard Parkes)

JUXTAPOSITION OF THE SEASON

Ahead of Forest Green Rovers’ visit to Brunton Park in October, we had another of those wonderfully edifying and not at all expected outbursts from Dale Vince about the perils of being asked to wear a tie in the Brunton Park boardroom. Instead, the owner of football’s first vegan club sat with the travelling fans. Slap, bang beneath huge advertisements for a well-known Cumbrian supplier of steak, pies and sausages. No such thing as bad publicity, as they say. Right?

News and Star: Meaty: Dale Vince at Brunton Park (photo: Barbara Abbott)Meaty: Dale Vince at Brunton Park (photo: Barbara Abbott)

CRIMES AGAINST FOOTBALL OF THE SEASON

If you were anywhere other than the JobServe Community Stadium from 3pm to 3.45pm on February 12, 2022, then I hope you realise your immense good luck. Those of us required to be in Colchester United’s ground for that three-quarter-hour period were subjected to things we can never unsee. As the ball was kicked somewhere, anywhere, by a defensive, ambition-free Carlisle against a thoroughly impotent Colchester for the 800th time, I swear I could see it crying.

News and Star: Spectacle: United at Colchester (photo: Barbara Abbott)Spectacle: United at Colchester (photo: Barbara Abbott)

DRINKS BREAK OF THE SEASON

The other team has the ball, and it is possible you may have to defend an attack. This may not be the perfect time to toddle off for refreshments. Yet according to Lincoln City boss Michael Appleton, that’s exactly what one of his players did as Jack Armer scored for Carlisle in November’s meeting. “We’ve got a player off the pitch having a drink when the ball’s being played out wide,” he steamed. It was, though, the Pizza Trophy. Could anyone be blamed for nipping out to the Beehive?

News and Star: Refreshed: United v Lincoln (photo: Barbara Abbott)Refreshed: United v Lincoln (photo: Barbara Abbott)

DUNCE OF THE SEASON

Let them know you’re there. But not all the time, Theo Archibald. In the 49th minute of Carlisle’s game at Leyton Orient, the home player went in late on Jordan Gibson and collected a yellow card. Instead of taking a pause, taking a breath, taking a view, taking…well, anything, really, he went in late on Jon Mellish exactly a minute later, and collected another. Captain Mainwaring had a term for the likes of Archibald, when addressing Private Pike.

News and Star: Off: Orient's Theo Archibald, moments after being booked (photo: Richard Parkes)Off: Orient's Theo Archibald, moments after being booked (photo: Richard Parkes)

ACTING YOUR AGE AWARD OF THE SEASON

It’s difficult to know who to give this one to: the 58-year-old Mark Hughes, for sneaking up behind Gavin Skelton and giving him a shoulder-barge straight out of the primary school playground, or the Bradford City folk who thought this would encourage people to buy season tickets, and so packaged up the footage and published it on Twitter, cue lots of “my gaffer” maturity in the mentions. Football: always a serious game for serious people.

News and Star: Sparky argy-bargy: Mark Hughes (photo: Richard Parkes)Sparky argy-bargy: Mark Hughes (photo: Richard Parkes)

ASSIST OF THE SEASON

On the same basis that you can’t keep a good man down, you can’t silence a cheeky chap with a penchant for bucket hats, Instagram, Chelsea, machine gun celebrations, disliking Cumbrians and being annoyingly good at football. Harry McKirdy, in that ever-understated way of his, totally undressed Carlisle in Swindon’s 3-0 victory in February to the extent that they went and appointed Paul Simpson. Vamos.

News and Star: Thanks: Harry McKirdy (photo: Barbara Abbott)Thanks: Harry McKirdy (photo: Barbara Abbott)

SEMI-SOLID WHITE FAT PRODUCT OF THE SEASON

If someone had told you before the start of 2021/22 that, come the autumn, some kindly folk would be sending a lump of lard to Carlisle United, you might start making a few unkind references to the odd heavily-set player of yesteryear. But no: this was the real thing, an actual block of the white stuff, posted north by FA Cup opponents Horsham, whose fans have a long and unique association with the animal fat. The state Carlisle were in at the time, it could have held down a place in Keith Millen’s XI.

INEVITABILITY OF THE SEASON (2)

Some of us are old enough to remember when sage football voices said that grateful fans would turn up in their droves to watch the best young players on the books of Premier League clubs, if only they could be allowed to grace our humble lower-league backwaters on a regular basis. Anyway, September 28, 2021, Carlisle United v Everton Under-21s. Attendance? 875, the second lowest in Brunton Park’s history. Pizzatastic.

News and Star: Packed: Pizza Trophy fever at Brunton Park (photo: Barbara Abbott)Packed: Pizza Trophy fever at Brunton Park (photo: Barbara Abbott)

EXPRESSION OF THE SEASON

Hang this one in the Louvre, or at least Tullie House. As Carlisle United lost 4-0 at Sutton United in September, Blues fan and Brunton Bugler Lee Rooney, standing in the away end, provided an expression for us all. It is like one of those classical paintings where the look of abject hopelessness and silent agony follows you around the room. We’re with you, Lee. Let’s hug.

News and Star: Modern art: United fan Lee Rooney at Sutton (photo: Richard Parkes)Modern art: United fan Lee Rooney at Sutton (photo: Richard Parkes)

PROBABLY-DIDN’T-GET-THE-BEST-OUT-OF-HIM AWARD OF THE SEASON

A division north of Carlisle, a centre-forward spent most of the campaign scoring goals from the penalty area, the edge of the box, the halfway line and the Heysham to M6 link road. He finished the League One season with 26 to his name, and there is a feeling that Manchester City should have ignored Erling Haaland and sent Sheikh Mansour and his chequebook to the Mazuma Stadium instead. This was the same Cole Stockton who spent a fruitless, one-goal half-season at Carlisle a few short years back. At least, I think it’s the same…

News and Star: Prolific: Ex-Blue Cole StocktonProlific: Ex-Blue Cole Stockton

DOOFI OF THE SEASON

Ok, this category is mainly so I can use the word doofi. The truth is there are many less publishable terms for the people who ransacked United’s Pioneer Stand and made off with kids’ computer equipment, the groundsman’s buggy and all sorts else in a depressing raid. Supporters quickly rallied to replace the gear. Next – a crowdfunding campaign to pay for lobotomies for the dismal folk who got kicks out of stealing from children.

News and Star: Raided: Brunton Park (photo: Richard Parkes)Raided: Brunton Park (photo: Richard Parkes)

BOGEY GROUND OF THE SEASON (1)

The Peninsula Stadium. Sounds pleasant enough. Certainly doesn’t have the air of a place full of booby traps and evil spirits. Yet try telling that to Carlisle United, who emerged from the first half of their game at Salford City with not one, not two but three serious injuries, including one season-ender for poor Joel Senior. Twenty-four hours after the Blues had stocked up on deadline-day attackers, they were suddenly (but again, predictably) facing a defence and midfield shortage.

News and Star: Injuries: United's Salford jinx (photo: Barbara Abbott)Injuries: United's Salford jinx (photo: Barbara Abbott)

BOGEY GROUND OF THE SEASON (2)

What is it about the EnviroVent Stadium? Seriously? In the short history of Harrogate Town v Carlisle United fixtures, the Blues have made five visits to the small north Yorkshire ground. On three occasions, they’ve even played some football. On no occasions in that three have they scored or avoided defeat. Even amid the stirring Simmo revival, it was at Harrogate, last month, where United reverted to awful type. Time for a move please, Sulphurites. Betty’s will do.

News and Star: Harrogage: Bloody Harrogate (photo: Richard Parkes)Harrogage: Bloody Harrogate (photo: Richard Parkes)

ASSISTANT REFEREE OF THE SEASON

There was Tofik Bakhramov, and 56 years later there was Chris Isherwood. You might argue that allowing Geoff Hurst’s controversial crossbar-assisted goal against Germany in the 1966 World Cup final was more historically significant than ruling out a Jamie Murphy effort for Mansfield Town at Brunton Park in 2022. And you’d be completely wrong.

News and Star: Displeased: Mansfield boss Nigel Clough (photo: Barbara Abbott)Displeased: Mansfield boss Nigel Clough (photo: Barbara Abbott)

WISHFUL THINKING OF THE SEASON

The first was for an ill-advised lunge that sparked a huge melee and a clutch of cards, including one for Paul Simpson for the crime of not doing anything. The second was a kick so high it would have knocked off Rod McDonald’s hat, had he been wearing one. Two cast-iron, copper-bottomed, stone-wall red cards. And yet Tranmere Rovers contested them both. The FA returned their appeals to sender, increasing one of the suspensions in the process. Know when to stop, lads.

News and Star: Pagger: Tranmere v United (photo: Richard Parkes)Pagger: Tranmere v United (photo: Richard Parkes)

CELEBRATIONS OF THE SEASON

If United won, he would sprint across the pitch, jump up and down, throw his arms in the air, dreadlocks flying, with a smile bigger than a ship. If United drew, he would sprint across the pitch, jump up and down, throw his arms in the air, dreadlocks flying, with a smile bigger than a ship. Even when they lost at Bradford he was at it in front of the travelling fans. There’s only one Dynel Simeu. And we’ll love him forever.

News and Star: Loving life: Dynel Simeu (photo: Richard Parkes)Loving life: Dynel Simeu (photo: Richard Parkes)