Even the announcement of 2024’s General Election came with a Carlisle United theme...

As Rishi Sunak stood in the rain outside Downing Street, confirming July 4’s poll, the strains of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ by D:Ream were heard in the background.

The New Labour soundtrack for 1997, of course. But the Cumbrians did it first, running out to that very song in the 1994/95 season which also brought dramatic change. A new (deckchair) dawn had broken, had it not?..

But what of that and other elections, and what they coincided with in United history? Have the Blues’ fortunes been intertwined with the country’s shift to blue or red? While the nation was electing its government, what was happening in the infinitely more important world of Brunton Park?

Here is a look back to some polling days over the decades – and what was making the headlines where Carlisle were concerned too.


A quick one to sum up, this. The first General Election to take place in United’s history as a Football League club was on May 30, 1929.

It was a month and ten days after Carlisle’s maiden league season in Division Three North. The Cumberland Evening News which carried the election results contained…precisely nothing about the Blues.

The sports pages offered bulletins on Walter Hagen’s golf exploits, local bowls and hound trailing, and county cricket scorecards which featured some typical wicket-taking by messrs Larwood and Voce for Nottinghamshire.

But nothing on United, in a period where the close-season goings on at football clubs very much took lower billing to other pastimes in the summer. On the front of the paper there was nothing on the election either – but that’s because newspaper front pages were, in that era, dominated by advertising.

News and Star: 1929 news and sport pages...plenty on the election, not much on the Blues1929 news and sport pages...plenty on the election, not much on the Blues (Image: News & Star)

Page four got to the weighty matter of the “political stalemate” resulting from the national vote. Ramsay MacDonald’s Socialists, against Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives, won the most seats but a hung parliament was the outcome.

Accompanying reports detailed results, interviews and speculation as to what might happen next. United’s fortunes were, publicly at least, on the backburner until 1929/30 drew a little closer.


It was the time a major figure came to power. No, not Winston Churchill, who returned to office following 1951's national vote.

That autumn was also the advent of Jimmy Whitehouse, one of the most lethal goalscorers in Carlisle United’s history.

While Cumbria and the UK were digesting October 27's election outcome, United were weighing up a trip to Bradford City in Division Three North.

It heralded a debut for their new inside-forward from Rochdale who, our subsequent Sports Special report noted, made a “brilliant” bow with both goals in a 2-1 victory at Valley Parade.

News and Star: In 1951, there were big results in the election - and for UnitedIn 1951, there were big results in the election - and for United (Image: News & Star)

They were the first of a century of goals for 'Wham' Whitehouse, while the game also saw an opportunity in the first XI for the very first time for “the local lad, 19-year-old Ronnie Thompson,” better known as Ginger, who would also become a long-serving Brunton Park legend.

He and Whitehouse combined for the opening goal, which the latter rifled in off a post, and a second-half Whitehouse lob increased United’s lead and protected it against a Bantams fightback.

Carlisle sat sixth in the table, in a season when they’d eventually finish one place lower. On the front of The Cumberland News’ election supplement, meanwhile, it was noted that, like Bradford, the Labour party were on the back foot.

‘Socialist losses wipe out majority’ was out headline and, while Labour held Carlisle, Alfred Hargreaves holding off the Tories by just over 3,000 votes, blue gains were “creeping up” against Clement Attlee’s government. Our paper was out before the final count came in, which eventually showed Churchill’s Conservatives were back in control with a small majority.


A defining year in football and politics, the spring of 1966 bringing the country to the polls while United were embarking on their first ever season in Division Two.

The March 31 election coincided with a step onto the national stage by one of the Blues’ stars. While the news pages focused on the polling, the sport section hailed United right winger Eric Welsh.

He was pictured leaping back into Carlisle having made his international debut for Northern Ireland against Wales – scoring a goal in the process.

Welsh, we reported, had received 23 “good luck” telegrams before the game, which Northern Ireland won 4-1. “To score a goal on my international debut was just about the biggest thrill I have ever had in football,” he said.

News and Star: In the historic year of 1966, there was big news on a national stage on different fronts...In the historic year of 1966, there was big news on a national stage on different fronts... (Image: News & Star)

The winger, in prime form, scored in United’s first game after the election: a 3-1 win at Ipswich Town, en route to a mid-table finish. Meanwhile, The Cumberland News front was dominated by another jubilant Carlisle man, but this time one operating on the left: Ron Lewis, who held the city’s seat with a near 5,000 majority over the Conservatives’ Godfrey Iredell.

That result featured in a landslide win for Labour under Harold Wilson, Lewis having more than doubled his 1964 majority. Mrs Iredell, we reported, was “shivering with cold” on the balcony of the Market Hall in Carlisle as she congratulated her husband’s vanquisher but observed of the national picture: “I think it is a great pity for the country…”


One of two elections in 1974 produced a cliffhanger to compare with United’s Second Division fortunes.

The poll in late February – Wilson’s Labour versus Ted Heath’s Conservatives – produced a hung parliament, the outcome of which dominated the Evening News & Star’s front pages.

The Cumbrian slant was stronger given the speculation that followed about Penrith & the Border MP Willie Whitelaw, who was said to be a contender to replace the beleaguered Heath.

As debate intensified over the way forward, things were no less tense on the back pages. Alan Ashman’s United were looking to take their own seat at the top table but a Division Two promotion push was far from convincing after a spell of one win in five games.

News and Star: In 1974, things worked out rather better for United than Mr Heath in the end...In 1974, things worked out rather better for United than Mr Heath in the end... (Image: News & Star)

The latest match, directly after the election, was a home clash with Bobby Charlton’s Preston North End. The Lilywhites were strugglers but stunned the Blues with two goals, entailing a much-needed fightback as Bobby Owen and Les O’Neill salvaged a 2-2 draw.

This, we reported, had “kept alive [United’s] outside chance of promotion”, while a cartoon Olga ventured: “A second half recount – and Carlisle split the vote.”

Things eventually grew clearer on both counts. In the country, Wilson’s Labour took power with a minority government, before claiming a majority with another autumn election. By then, United were a First Division club.


Contrasts in the worlds of news and sport were apparent in early May 1979. The Cumberland News front page declared the coming of a defining and divisive figure to power for a generation – while the sports pages lamented a time of frustration for others in blue.

MRS T’S TRIUMPH was the headline that said it all: Thatcher’s Conservatives claiming power with a “huge swing”. City MP Lewis retained his seat but with a reduced majority, yet it was a sixth victory for the “ageless” local politician, we reported.

Thatcher, our morning edition said, was on course for government and to become the west’s first female Prime Minister. There was no similar pioneering sense about the Blues, alas, even though they were on course for a sixth-placed finish in Division Three.

News and Star: Jubilation in 1979 for Mrs T's blues...less so Moncur'sJubilation in 1979 for Mrs T's blues...less so Moncur's (Image: News & Star)

A solid campaign under Bob Moncur had featured too many draws for a promotion push to unfold. Ahead of the last game of the season, at home to Oxford United, our correspondent Peter Hill noted how the Blues needed to find a “better blend” in attack the following campaign.

There was also, we reported, controversy over United’s new sports centre, with the promise of more details in next week’s paper, as well as the sense of “lost pride” in the Cumbrians’ failure to be at the business end of the promotion race.

Moncur remained in charge until the following February. Mrs T lasted a little longer.


More of the same…for the country and United.

It was another emphatic victory for Thatcher’s Conservatives, and success had recently visited United too, with no sign of particular upheaval at Brunton Park either.

The Cumberland News front page acknowledged ‘Thatcher’s Jubilation’ as the Tories were set to win by a 148-seat margin, strengthening the Iron Lady's grip on Parliament.

There were tense outcomes elsewhere, with Carlisle’s Ron Lewis retaining his seat but now with a tiny majority of 71. Willie Whitelaw’s majority in Penrith & the Border was also reduced, as the Liberal Alliance pushed Labour into third.

News and Star: No change at the top...but some familiar stories in 1983No change at the top...but some familiar stories in 1983 (Image: News & Star)

Nationally, meanwhile, the Alliance’s Shirley Williams was among its founding ‘gang of four’ to be defeated, while Thatcher, we reported, revelled in a “clear victory” for her Conservatives.

There had been enough of those in 1982/83 to keep United honest. The Blues had the previous year been promoted to Division Two and went on to finish 14th in a tough second tier under Bob Stokoe. The experienced boss was established, but the Blues were not in prosperous financial times.

Our main back page story concerned frustration at Brunton Park at a Football League vote which would scrap the rule which guaranteed a certain percentage of gate receipts to away clubs.

This, blasted Blues chairman Jim Bendall, would cost United £20,000. He said league president Jack Dunnett “seemed most anxious to placate the big clubs and I can only presume he feared a breakaway.”

At least those ideas never took root at the top of the game…


Dreams were shattered in the mid to late 1980s…for reds and blues.

It was, the Evening News & Star front page reported, another ‘Landslide win for Thatcher’, the smiling PM pictured waving from an upstairs window of No10 and quoted as saying: “We will indeed endeavour to serve the people of these islands in the future, as we have in the past…”

No such luck for Labour and Neil Kinnock, who reacted to his party’s June 11 defeat by predicting that Britain would be plunged into “an even greater abyss of division”.

There was history made elsewhere, we reported, a 32-year-old Diane Abbott becoming Britain’s first black MP – and, in a sporting sense, there were new opportunities emerging at United too, albeit in bleak times.

News and Star: No sign of green shoots for Labour in 1987...but some for the stricken BluesNo sign of green shoots for Labour in 1987...but some for the stricken Blues (Image: News & Star)

It was, overall, an increasingly desolate period at Brunton Park, where Harry Gregg’s team had just suffered a second successive relegation back to the Fourth Division and crowd numbers were tumbling.

Yet shoots of promise were at least emerging through Gregg’s youth policy. Our back page told the story of three young players from Cockermouth who had been signed on schoolboy forms.

Rob Edwards, Jeff Thorpe and Lee Armstrong, all 16, were now on the United books. “No matter what happens to me or the board at this club, the youth policy must go on,” insisted Gregg.

“When I first Carlisle I was led to believe there were no footballers as if the mothers and fathers only had girls. But now I realise that there are lots of players in Cumbria.”

Indeed there were, and Edwards and Thorpe would go on to establish positive first-team careers. The future, then, was bright – even if it wasn't easy to envisage at the time.


Unlikely leaders? A climate of struggle? Welcome to 1992, which was the last staging point before new eras could begin on both the political and Carlisle United fronts.

In Westminster, John Major defied the polls to defeat Kinnock’s Labour and keep the Tories in power. “It’s Nice To Be Back”, our headline quoted the PM as saying, as he was pictured with wife Norma waving to crowds in London.

It was, the Evening News & Star observed, a “shock poll victory” in spite of predictions which had leant towards a hung parliament with more Labour seats.

The local angle on our front page reflected Dale Campbell-Savours’ increased majority for Labour in Workington in spite of the overall Conservative success, and if he was increasingly secure, things weren’t quite the same for Carlisle United’s manager.

News and Star: Leaders on borrowed time...events around the 1992 election and at UnitedLeaders on borrowed time...events around the 1992 election and at United (Image: News & Star)

Aidan McCaffery was on course to survive a dismal United campaign which would see Carlisle finish bottom of the Football League in 1991/92 but avoid relegation thanks to the implosion of other clubs and a reorganisation of the divisions ahead of the new Premier League.

At the time of the election there were five Division Four games to go, and a state of worrying uncertainty at Brunton Park, where directors, headed by Andrew Jenkins, were appealing for financial salvation amid increasingly hard and barren circumstances.

A sign of how things were progressing at the floundering club emerged in our back page interview with McCaffery on his plans for next season. “I still have to discuss it with the board, but I can see us having 14 or 15 professionals plus five or six part-timers.”

A young striker, Dean Walling, scored the first goal in the post-election days, a consolation at Mansfield Town, as United shuffled through their final fixtures of a dark campaign before a diluted professional future could then materialise.

Dramatic change, though, was coming. 1992 turned out to be the summer of Michael Knighton’s takeover and while McCaffery limped on, he was eventually replaced later in the year.

Major also limped on, a while longer. And then…


Whose results were better in this tumultuous year – Labour’s, or Carlisle United’s?

It’s a close call, bearing in mind the campaigns of success and glory waged by both.

On May 1, Tony Blair’s reds swept to power by obliterating the Conservatives. A huge landslide returned Labour to office, Blair was the youngest prime minister for 200 years and our front page headline told the tale: ‘SLAUGHTER – Cabinet stars booted out as Labour sweeps the country’.

It was also the biggest post-war majority recorded by any party, and all this was highly impressive…but so were Mervyn Day and his colourful Blues.

News and Star: All change in 1997...and it was coming for United tooAll change in 1997...and it was coming for United too (Image: News & Star)

United, after all, had just bounced back to Division Three promotion. They had also made history by winning at Wembley for the first time, lifting the Auto-Windscreens Shield against Colchester United clad in the green, red, gold and white colours of sponsor Eddie Stobart.

Day’s 3-5-2 manifesto had proved irresistible. Stephane Pounewatchy was a towering defence minister. Then United’s leader – a certain Michael Knighton – was quick on the attack to ward off interest in their stars.

Aberdeen were watching Pounewatchy and inspirational midfielder and skipper Steve Hayward, we reported. “We would be setting substantial fees,” warned the chairman and owner, at a time the Blues were planning an open-topped bus tour to show off their Wembley silverware.

While Blair settled into power for a decade, United’s own sheen faded much more quickly. Manager Day was sacked a few months later, Knighton went from messiah to something much less appealing, and the team and club badly declined. Things could, as D:Ream had not thought to warn us, actually get worse.


The election was another one-sided affair, which had also tended to be the case, more often than not, when teams came up against crisis-ridden United in this period.

No troubles for Mr Blair, who was ‘Back For More’ according to our News & Star front page, having “blazed to landslide No2”.

Labour had delivered another “thumping majority” in face of the Conservatives’ challenge under William Hague. The ruling party’s local candidates all held their seats, albeit with reduced majorities, Carlisle’s Eric Martlew included, and Britain remained very much red-dominated.

The outlook for the Blues was much less confident. Come that June, United were plotting a new season in the fourth tier amid a now familiar climate of strife and struggle.

News and Star: Labour were on slightly firmer ground than United in the summer of 2001Labour were on slightly firmer ground than United in the summer of 2001 (Image: News & Star)

Ian Atkins had somehow led a threadbare side to a gutsy late survival, yet well into the close season the manager still did not know how much he had to spend for the following campaign’s sorely-needed squad rebuilding.

“It will not take much to stabilise,” insisted the manager, but his own future was far from certain amid speculation that Carlisle could activate a sacking clause halfway through his two-year deal, and with lots more intransigence from those at the top of Knighton's Unietd.

Atkins had held things together manfully in trying times as the Knighton era grew more troubled. Eventually he decided to scarper for the seemingly calmer waters of Cardiff City, where he became assistant manager.

A new leader at Brunton Park was duly elected: Roddy Collins. Stability was not yet ready to make its return.


The 14 most recent years of Conservative rule got under way this year...while the men leading both the Blues in government and the Blues in League One at the time are both still on the scene today.

In Westminster, David Cameron’s Tories fell just short of a majority but, our News & Star reporting accurately speculated, was on course to seek a coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

That would spell the end for Labour’s 13 years in office, with leader Gordon Brown contemplating whether to fight on. Labour’s election supremo Peter Mandelson claimed his party – the sitting government – should get “first go” to form a new executive, according to “the rules”, yet the force was with those in blue again.

News and Star: Ins and outs...Blues news in 2010Ins and outs...Blues news in 2010 (Image: News & Star)

There was change in Carlisle too, where John Stevenson took the seat for the Tories for the first time since 1964…while at United, the more modest idea of upheaval concerned potential interest in their star leftie.

Late in the 2009/10 campaign, the main speculation surrounded the future of Ian Harte, the former Leeds United defender who had hit a remarkable 18 goals during the season under Greg Abbott.

He had been named in the division’s team of the season and was attracting attention from Championship clubs, we reported. Manager Abbott, in an article written by a reporter with slightly more hair than today, said a suitable bid would be referred to the board. “But at the moment that has not been the case with Ian Harte or any other player.”

Carlisle signed off the season with a 2-0 win at Norwich City as Britain prepared for life under a coalition government. Harte’s pact with the Blues lasted until early the following season, at which point he left for Reading.

Plenty has changed at the top of United, and indeed the nation, since. Yet Cameron remains close to the Conservative summit, as foreign secretary, while Abbott is still in high places at Brunton Park, now head of recruitment.

What will become of both men, and their respective organisations, when the events of July 4 unfold in the short and long term?

We will duly find out. One thing's for sure, though: by the time the Blues play their next game - a friendly at Penrith comes the evening after 2024's big vote - we will very much be ready for the simple pleasures of football again, and for thoughts of a different kind of campaign.