“Sky gave it to Deano, but it was mine,” said David Reeves, still showing the striker’s instinct more than 25 years after the event. He was talking about the crowning moment of a stunning Carlisle United season – the day at Colchester when the Blues received their crown.

It came late in the campaign of 1994/5, when Mick Wadsworth’s Blues had surged to the top of Division Three and also to Wembley for the first time in the Auto-Windscreens Shield.

Promotion was finally up for grabs at Layer Road – and Reeves, thanks to a glancing close-range finish – got the goal to take them up, and which sent the ‘deckchair army’ into jubilation in a corner of Essex.

“It was probably my scruffiest goal of the season, but the most important,” said Reeves, who scored 25 goals that season and, by the end, was United’s captain.

These memories never need any encouragement to flood back, but the Blues’ latest visit to Colchester – the JobServe Community Stadium, not Layer Road – is as good an excuse as any.

News and Star: The News & Star's back page after the Colchester game in 1995The News & Star's back page after the Colchester game in 1995

Reeves these days is 54 and the well-known agent of a number of football stars, including Everton’s former Carlisle United defender Jarrad Branthwaite. His agency, Revo Sports Management, also looks after some of England’s Lionesses Euro champions, like defender Millie Bright.

This is Reeves’ role in modern football, yet he is best remembered at Carlisle for his iconic frontrunning in a time of transformation in the mid-1990s.

By the autumn of ’93, the club’s transfer record had stood for 14 years since Gordon Staniforth’s move from York City, but chairman and owner Michael Knighton’s keenness to create a stir at every opportunity applied with the signing of Reeves from Notts County.

Mick Wadsworth, the director of coaching, had admired him since spotting him in Sheffield Wednesday’s reserves. “I’ll be honest: when they came in, I didn’t even know where Carlisle was,” Reeves said. “But Michael Knighton sold the club to me. He said: ‘Look, our record signing is £120,000, but you know what, Reevesy, you’re going to be our record signing now.’ I’m thinking: ‘Wow, they’re going to pay about 250 grand for me.’

“Knighton said: ‘That’s right – we’re going to make it £121,000.’ I nearly fell off my chair. That extra grand made all the difference!”

Reeves took five games to start repaying the investment with goals, but soon found his stride: “We were near the bottom when I signed and ended up making the play-offs. It was hard to get used to it, still living in Sheffield and travelling, and my relationship with my ex-missus ended because of it.

“But from a football point of view you were on cloud nine. And nothing was stopping us that second season. We were like a steam train bombing on.”

Reeves felt no pressure despite the record-signing tag and actively sought more responsibility. When Simon Davey left for Preston amid the 1994/95 title push, Reeves was named captain. He recalled: “Mick said: ‘Can you handle it, Reevesy?’ I said: ‘Give me the armband.’ Why would it be a pressure? It’s an honour to be captain of any football club.

“It actually gave me extra impetus when I went out on the pitch. I felt I had an extra job to make sure we won and everybody else pulled their weight.”

It was also a time when civic pride in the Blues was being restored. The players embraced the new affection in Carlisle. Reeves said: “A load of us would stay over a couple of nights a week and we’d have such a laugh on a Friday night that I don’t know how we had the energy to play on Saturday.

“But walking around town…you felt you were somebody. That’s what it’s all about: the hard work and endeavour, the miles, the fans. Not like now with all the money they get. We were working-class footballers, I would say – not earning great amounts of money, but doing something we loved.”

News and Star: Steve Hayward gets in a cross at Layer RoadSteve Hayward gets in a cross at Layer Road

Among the players who made that side memorable was the long-haired, moustachioed David Currie, whose subtlety in attack brought the best out of the wholehearted Reeves.

“He wouldn’t listen to a thing you said,” Reeves said. “We thought he was deaf, or wore earmuffs when he played. But if you made a run, he would find you. He would have that moment of magic to turn a game that no-one else would have.

“Off the pitch he was very dry, very calm and collected. A funny lad in his own way. I used to pick him up at Scotch Corner every day. He’d get in the car, eat his sausage and egg sandwich, then go to sleep until we got to Carlisle. He never drove his own car. I don’t even know if he had one.

“But he was as good as gold. When I came in, the dressing-room wasn’t great, but Mick got rid of certain people and brought in the ones he wanted. Everyone could trust everyone and depend on each other. Those are the reasons why we won the league.”

Reeves scored flurries of goals as United dominated Division Three. While they dropped points in the nervous build-up to Wembley – an unforgettable day against Birmingham City where the Blues’ golden-goal defeat did not tarnish the occasion – the weekend after provided the opportunity to clinch the championship with two games left.

More than 700 travelling fans saw Colchester defy them until a scuffling game went the Blues’ way on the hour mark when Paul Conway helped on a corner by Steve Hayward.

“It came to the back stick and it hit me right on the top of my chest,” Reeves said. “I just had to force it in. Deano [Walling] ran one way, trying to claim it, and I ran off the other way. Sky gave it to Deano, but it’s mine. No argument.”

News and Star: Fans on the pitch after the gameFans on the pitch after the game

It was enough to edge a 1-0 victory: “At the end the fans came on the pitch and the relief, the jubilation, was incredible. But only when we sat down on the bus back did it sink in. We had some beers on that journey.

“Everyone had played their part in such a great achievement – the experienced lads, the young lads, Mick and Mervyn [Day], Joe Joyce.

“And to score the goal that won us the league was one of the highlights of my career. It will always be special.”

Reeves scored two more at Chesterfield before the end of what was, then, only United’s second title-winning campaign (Paul Simpson’s boys of 2005/6 went on to make it three). He then led Carlisle into the anti-climactic season of 1995/96, when a team deprived of summer reinforcements amid the expensive construction of the new all-seater East Stand came back down.

The following campaign he left for Preston North End and in 1997 he helped them to beat a listing United side at Brunton Park. “I should never have played,” he said. “I had a hamstring injury, but Gary Peters, the manager, said: ‘Are you bottling it, Reevesy?’ I went into a challenge with Stephane Pounewatchy about 10 minutes in and I thought I couldn’t carry on. I did, but hardly got a kick.

“Some fans were booing me, some weren’t. For some it was the worst club I could have gone to. But one of the main reasons was that it was closer to Sheffield. It was a good club at the time. Then I went to Chesterfield, which was basically home, a no-brainer.”

As United’s good times faded, Reeves prolonged his career with Chesterfield and a short spell in Northern Ireland, continuing in non-league football until his late 30s before setting up his agency.

When Reeves, years later in 2019, was driving back to Carlisle, overseeing the affairs of Branthwaite and another home-grown Blues player in Liam McCarron, he said: “Coming up the M6, I’d be getting all kinds of flashbacks. I went to a game at Brunton Park and I sat there thinking about the games we used to play, the different goals we scored, the way the Warwick was packed.  There was a bit of a lump in my throat.”

News and Star: David Reeves, left, with Paul Murray at last year's 1994/5 reunion (photo: Barbara Abbott)David Reeves, left, with Paul Murray at last year's 1994/5 reunion (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Reeves felt a lifelong affinity with the people who had embraced him in the 90s, when he shot their club to a title in a season which never seems to lose its dusting of magic.

“The Carlisle fans took to me. Okay, they didn’t when I signed for Preston! But they were brilliant even when I was missing chances and not having a great time,” he said.

“So to win the division that season was giving something back to those people who spent their hard-earned money, working day-in, day-out for football, to get to games all over the country.

“It was the first and only time I’ve won a championship. It was extra special for me. Even all these years on I’d like to say thanks to the Carlisle fans for what they did for me.”

Colchester ’95 will, then, always remain close to the hearts of the green, red and white-clad travelling fans, and all who followed the Blues in that magnificent campaign. “I played for 20 years and probably three or four were really good,” Reeves added. “In your life they don’t come around very often.

“But that was a special year at Carlisle. When we had the open-top bus parade, we could have been Manchester United or Liverpool driving around the city. It was that exciting. We were that proud.”

Adapted from Bolts From The Blues by Jon Colman (Vertical Editions, £14.99)