Part 12 of our mini-series counting down to the 25th anniversary of the incredible events of May 8, 1999...

With one day to go, potentially the final 24 hours of Carlisle United as a Football League club and…some brilliant news!

Well, if you were that way inclined. On the eve of their do-or-die game against Plymouth Argyle, which Carlisle needed to win and then hope Scarborough failed to beat Peterborough, the struggling Blues’ accounts were out.

And they made for impressive, yet highly bittersweet and indeed controversial reading. The Blues, the documents showed, made a profit of £1.4million in the previous season – more than Premier League giants Liverpool, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.

“Most companies in Carlisle would give their left arm for accounts like these,” said chairman and owner Michael Knighton.

News and Star: The front page of The Cumberland News on Friday, May 7, 1999The front page of The Cumberland News on Friday, May 7, 1999 (Image: News & Star)

The club’s profit was largely based on the sales of young stars Matt Jansen and Rory Delap, in a campaign when United had come down from the third tier. Carlisle had done so on a smaller wage bill than when they’d gone up in 1996/97, yet Knighton protested against the idea he had not invested in the team.

“We paid over £500,000 in wages and signing-on fees,” he said. “But to get success on the field and off the field is very difficult unless you are a very wealthy club.”

United’s figures did not impress supporters bearing in mind that relegation to non-league was potentially only hours away. Andrew Baker, editor of The Cumberland Sausage fanzine, told The Cumberland News: “This is the final straw with Michael Knighton’s relationship with the fans.

“If the club has made £1.4m profit in the season before it possibly goes out of the league, it is astonishingly bad management.”

This sort of sentiment was growing against United’s owner. Anger was bubbling ahead of the Plymouth game, to the point that Knighton requested police protection at the Brunton Park game – and was turned down by Carlisle police.

“The responsibility for crowd safety inside the stadium resides solely with Carlisle United,” pointed out Chief Inspector Steve Turnbull. “Only in very exceptional circumstances would the police consider giving specific individuals personal protection, and those circumstances do not apply in this case.”

News and Star: Nigel Pearson was attempting to rally his troops for United's do-or-die game against PlymouthNigel Pearson was attempting to rally his troops for United's do-or-die game against Plymouth (Image: News & Star)

Knighton anticipated a “rough ride” on such a darkly pivotal day. On the football side of things, the battle to prevent Cumbria being without a Football League club for the first time in more than 70 years fell to manager Nigel Pearson and his struggling team.

Only a win against Plymouth would give the Blues any hope of survival. “It is hard to put into words what it means,” said captain David Brightwell. “We have got to be positive. There is no point moping around.”

United’s plight was attracting some national curiosity. Correspondents from The Observer, The Independent and Sky TV had turned their attention to Carlisle’s potential Football League demise.

Over to the rookie manager Pearson, then, to set the scene. “It is a difficult situation for us, but we have got to believe we can win.

“Let’s not forget Scarborough are under tremendous pressure too.

“And whatever it takes to win the game, we will have to do it.”

You said it, Nigel…

Don’t miss tomorrow for special coverage of the 25th anniversary of the miracle of May 8, 1999…