Carlisle United’s relationship with Purepay Retail Limited was often described as an increasingly vague, unknowable thing. Pinning the matter down was becoming more difficult, more worrying, with each passing week.

Now the simplicity of it all has been laid bare. What Purepay wanted from the arrangement was not complex after all. They wanted paying.

The full whack, pretty much. Considering that was not forthcoming from United and their owners, the club’s former lenders exercised their quiet but firm power over the matter by doing the thing that troubled the Blues the most: nothing. They also said the thing that shook them more than anything else: nothing.

Enter, later, Castle Sports Group, the takeover vehicle for United’s new owners. They stumped up the amount necessary to acquire the debt and…lo and behold, deal done. That debt is now in the final stages of being “forgiven”; ie removed from United’s necks.

This is of course a major moment in the club’s recent history. It emphasises the commitment of the Piataks, and crucially renders the balance sheet ready for growth, not at the mercy of the daily look in the wingmirror.

It also buries, it would seem, an episode which generated much heat, much critical comment and which, we have to say, deserves a full viewing for its circumstances rather than the good guy/bad guy interpretation it became easier to make the longer it went on.

Carlisle were not passive participants in the matter the moment they went to Philip Day, accepted his company’s loan money, put club assets up as security and, via the owners, established personal guarantees.

The situation itself, back in 2017, was the culmination of a period of debacle regarding United's future, from the aborted Andrew Lapping talks to the several hundred-day saga with Yahya Kirdi which, in particular, appears more ridiculous, more appalling as a seriously-held consideration, each time you think of it.

Carlisle were a club that gave the impression of having no clue where to go, from the budget erosion of its latter League One years to the signing-off of a bonus system under Keith Curle which nearly took the club up but also left it weak. It was not so much consistent strategy as a best guess at which way the wind might blow them the strongest.

The Edinburgh Woollen Mill period, with its installed boardroom and footballing influences, and its tightened impact on United’s financial approach, needs no long retelling here. Yet it was another case of those running the club unable to do so in full – instead, they were at the mercy of others, including some who would not, ultimately, take the whole thing on. Owners in the sidecar, rather than on the bike's seat, is never a stable look.

News and Star: United's owners, during their relationship with Philip Day's (back, right) EWM, were never in full charge of the Blues' affairsUnited's owners, during their relationship with Philip Day's (back, right) EWM, were never in full charge of the Blues' affairs (Image: Stuart Walker)

Covid, EWM’s administration and the “novation” of growing debt to Purepay can now be regarded as a spell which could have led Carlisle United into a very dark place indeed. The relationship became less proactive, and grew instead into a matter of cold numbers and long-unanswered calls.

Now, through official comments from the top of United, comes a gradual degree of confidence to share a little more. Tom Piatak, the Blues’ new owner, had the stature and authority to question the notion of Purepay as “friends of the club” – a claim, in fairness, that remote company had not made (although EWM had, in public comment, led us to believe there was some connection that went beyond merely cash).

Then, a few days ago, there was this remark from United, via chief executive Nigel Clibbens, accompanying the publishing of the club’s 2022/23 accounts: “The breakdown in relations with Purepay and a key stakeholder after the changes in February 2022 all meant the future of the club was at risk, without the debt being addressed and their involvement with the club being terminated.”

A breakdown in relations. With a key stakeholder. One of United’s then owners, we have to think. This – unless the key stakeholder chooses to address it, and don't hold your breath there – might be one of the last unanswered questions of this saga as Carlisle move into new and refreshing financial times.

What was the essence of "the relationship" prior to February 2022's departure of David Holdsworth, the director of football connected to EWM, and the accompanying return of Paul Simpson as manager? How did it then “break down”, exactly? Who triggered whom? Was the exit of one figure - arising from a moment when those in charge did wrest back some crucial control - enough to dismantle the entente cordiale, even though things then got markedly better for the club on the pitch and off it?

Was it just this that led Purepay to back off further into the distance, to a point of increasingly limited contact and absolutely no reassurance that the debt would not be called in at any time? Yet the damage, we're told, was between Purepay and one club "stakeholder" in particular. So this would seem to go beyond one set of collective decisions. Was it more...personal?

And what, we have to ask, were the ramifications of all this on what then unfolded at United: finally a credible suitor in the spring of 2023, leading to an eventual takeover in its autumn? How much slower was the potential pace of change because of this "breakdown", and attempts – futile, until the Piataks came – to repair it?

News and Star: United finally have a much stronger and less worrying financial platform after the Piataks' takeoverUnited finally have a much stronger and less worrying financial platform after the Piataks' takeover (Image: Barbara Abbott)

It's probably a pipe dream to imagine the participants will fill in the gaps in this fascinating and essential chapter in United’s history. As Clibbens said of the accounts, it’s largely historic now. Yet now we’re seeing a glimmer of what the future can look like, can we also not hold onto a little frustration that it was not here sooner?

Yes - some of that leaves its mark even as you take in the rest of those accounts, note some of the landmark information within them and recognise that United’s structure, its platform, is now emphatically stronger: something we've wanted for ages, something we doubted might ever come.

What's next, naturally, is what matters now. A better page, thank heavens, has at last been turned. Identifying the fingerprints on some of the previous ones remains, as is often the case in awkward times, a matter for the lab.