The fourth and final part of a mini-series looking back at Carlisle United takeovers – what happened, what was said and how we reported it…

And so to the present day, but also the past. An era lasting more than 15 years got under way at Carlisle United in early July 2008. The Blues had just come agonisingly close to the Championship, play-off defeat to Leeds United dashing their dreams, and then, less than two months later, they were sold.

Fred Story, whose four-year reign had overseen significant success and steady improvement, decided he wanted out. This had been the topic of speculation in the preceding weeks and things came to a crescendo on July 3.

The definitive news reached the News & Star that morning, in time for the day’s late final edition. It was once again a case of the Blues elbowing everything else aside on the news agenda as our front page exclusive reflected the drama.

UNITED SOLD was the simple headline as we revealed how director David Allen was set to step to the forefront of the new regime.

At that exact point the make-up of the new ownership was not completely clear, though we did report that 40-year-old accountant Allen would not be in “sole charge” of the club.

News and Star: Our front page in July 2008 reporting United's takeoverOur front page in July 2008 reporting United's takeover (Image: News & Star)

Allen had close links to Story, having advised the outgoing owner when he bought United from John Courtenay, while his chartered accountancy practice became the club’s auditors until Allen’s appointment as a director, which meant the firm had to resign to prevent a conflict of interest.

An accountant heading the Blues was perhaps not the colourful and lucrative splash supporters had hoped for, but much was yet to come in terms of detail. A press conference at 2pm was announced and that can now be regarded as day one of the regime that has, with one notable exception, remained in place ever since.

It was a smooth transition in one sense, Story deciding local business heads were the best option for the future, though not in another given that 2002-04 owner Courtenay had emerged back on the scene with a public intention to buy back the club.

That dashed scenario would not go quietly – while the new regime, once fully presented, looked to put itself forward as the opposite of a big noise.

Instead the accent was on responsibility. Allen had joined with existing directors John Nixon, Andrew Jenkins and Steven Pattison to take Story’s controlling share, and the accountant was the new chief executive as well as the public-facing frontman for Carlisle’s top table.

The first message was that United had been saved from something much less pleasant. “We got the idea to do this when we realised that other people who were coming along didn’t have the right attitude towards the club,” Allen said.

News and Star: John Nixon, Steven Pattison, David Allen and Andrew Jenkins pictured in 2008 after their takeover was announcedJohn Nixon, Steven Pattison, David Allen and Andrew Jenkins pictured in 2008 after their takeover was announced (Image: Stuart Walker)

“We didn’t want somebody coming in, making a load of promises and it not working. Before the last four years, people have come in waving big promises around. They’ve all ended in tears. A good, sensible approach is what is needed.”

The new regime spoke to the media, describing themselves as “custodians” over the club’s well-being, and Allen discussed things further with the News & Star. There were, he said, no plans to move United from Brunton Park, while the decision-making risks attached to a shared ownership were dismissed.

United would, Allen added, operate with a steady “business model” based on the success of the Story years, rather than behave flamboyantly. “We want success today and we’ll have the party tomorrow,” he added.

The news was, to some, underwhelming – where was the major investment United needed to push on, where were the bold statements of intent? – but the club’s new leaders continued to embrace the lower-key image.

Once more Allen talked about rescuing the club from itself. Before Story’s arrival, he said “the club was in administration, couldn’t pay bills and it was very, very close to going to the wall.”

News and Star: David Allen's comments about the takeover on our back page in July 2008David Allen's comments about the takeover on our back page in July 2008 (Image: News & Star)

Allen was an advocate for Story’s financial management of the club and professed that his successors could emulate the approach of “straight talking, hard work and doing things right”.

“We’ve got to bring some fresh ideas and we will do that,” Allen added. “But we’re not going to jump in with both feet and change things that aren’t broken.”

John Ward, the manager, had the new owners' faith, and the squad would be strengthened, they said. Realism, though, remained in areas such as the fate of star striker Joe Garner, who was the subject of transfer interest from Nottingham Forest, with no promises over his retention made. Keiren Westwood, the brilliant goalkeeper, was also departing for Coventry City.

The future, then began to unfold with a gentle and slightly uncertain turning of the page rather than a total rewrite. Questions undoubtedly remained – some of them posed by those inside the building.

Soon after the takeover was confirmed, the team’s captain, Danny Livesey, put forward his share. “We’ve only been back [for pre-season] for a couple of days and the takeover has happened,” the defender said. “Hopefully this week they will come in and talk to us, lay out their plans and give us the chance to ask them some questions.

“I just want to know whether they are going to invest. That’s the main thing. We don’t want to turn into a selling club where we get a good team and then the bones get picked out of it.

“I want to ask them, ‘Are you going to invest? Are you going to take the club forward?’”

News and Star: Our front page featuring John Courtenay's claim that he would be opposing United's 2008 saleOur front page featuring John Courtenay's claim that he would be opposing United's 2008 sale (Image: News & Star)

That was for the future - while the present remained chequered. On our front page, the former owner and denied suitor Courtenay spoke out against the sale, even saying he was planning to oppose it.

The Irish businessman’s issue was that an agreement for him to receive 106 acres of floodplain land as part of the Story takeover of 2004 remained unresolved. United’s supporters’ trust had launched a legal action to block the transfer, arguing that the land could potentially be a valuable future asset to the club.

“I have been with my legal team and we have gone through it and we will certainly be opposing this sale,” declared Courtenay. “Whether that needs an injunction I don’t yet know, but there’s unfinished business in relation to the floodplain land.”

And so, even at a time of seemingly sober transition, there could never be an uneventful day at Brunton Park – and the following decade and a half was not, it’s fair to say, entirely easy to envisage at its 2008 starting point.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Carlisle narrowly avoided relegation from League One in the new regime’s first season, while a fall-out the following autumn saw Allen leave. Jenkins, Nixon and Pattison remained in control, Carlisle reaching two Wembley finals in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before relegation in 2014. Nine years in the basement division followed, including one play-off campaign and some relegation scrapes, before the appointment of Paul Simpson as manager in February 2022 inspired a dramatic recovery and promotion back to League One the following year. Off the field, the owners oversaw Project Blue Yonder, a doomed bid to move to a new stadium at Kingmoor Park, and were involved in several failed and in some cases farcical outside investment proposals. After a financial relationship with Edinburgh Woollen Mill ended and left the club with seven-figure debt, the Piatak family from Florida emerged as would-be owners – and now, after 15 years and four months, United is on the brink of change again.


Michael Knighton in 1992

John Courtenay in 2002

Fred Story in 2004