An immense and unprecedented amount of Carlisle United’s history has died with Andrew Jenkins. Through sheer longevity, dedication and the committing of his life to the club, it is no exaggeration to describe him as the most significant figure in Brunton Park history.

That claim could alternatively be made for great players, great managers, other crucial owners and, of course, the devoted fanbase. Yet who else has given so much of themselves to the complex and often incredibly hard task of keeping a football club going? Who has set aside so many of their thoughts and so much of their time for that thorny business, for better or for worse?

There is nobody on the list above Jenkins. To know that he first became a United director in 1959 is to be hit immediately with his stature in the club’s story. The UK’s Prime Minister that year was Harold Macmillan; there have been 14 more since.

Carlisle’s manager was Andy Beattie; the amount of them since is in the 30s, many – most – appointed by Jenkins. Other things that happened in 1959: the invention of the first long-lasting alkaline battery. The marketing of the first plain paper copier. The introduction of the first fully automatic camera. But not the patenting of the audio cassette – that was still three years away.

Sixty-five years, then; the great majority of Jenkins’ adult life. And so, whenever opinions have been ventured forth on the running of the Blues, whenever debate has been firm and fierce – this is football, it usually is – this knowledge remained a touchstone. It afforded Jenkins a level of respect that survived all the undulations of life with Carlisle United, and which is enshrined upon his passing.

Andrew Jenkins pictured in 1959, the year he first joined Carlisle United's boardAndrew Jenkins pictured in 1959, the year he first joined Carlisle United's board (Image: News & Star)

His sweep of the Blues’ timeline is extraordinary and unsurpassed. He directed the club in the top flight, the Conference and all divisions in between. He helped oversee promotions, suffered relegations, knew periods of tantalising prosperity, endured eras of hardship. He operated under owners and chairmen as diverse as George Sheffield, Michael Knighton and Fred Story. He very often assumed those titles himself.

He frequently, too, sustained the place. This is where his significance is greatest. There have been plenty of wretched times at United where help – often emergency help – was needed and, from most sources, scarcely forthcoming. When the need was at its most chronic, whatever the reasons for such a position, Jenkins was invariably there.

It is easy to take this for granted, harder to see the alternative universe where Jenkins was not there, supplying the financial help, many of them loans from his business, at times written off, at others offset against sponsorship, at most supplied at the drop of a hat. At stages since 1959, the Sliding Doors story of the Blues does not bear thinking about: United left to drift, United hobbled beyond repair, United killed by crisis, nobody there with the first-aid kit – a diminished, even obsolete state.

Jenkins guarded the gate when that fate loomed. There was no obligation on him for this to be the case so often, so taken-as-read. Carlisle are fortunate now to have extremely wealthy and committed owners in the Piataks. They are lucky that the Jacksonville family came along when Jenkins had reached a stage in life when he and the Blues knew his financial shoulder could not keep being leant on, further on into the distance.

Jenkins was always there for United in good and hard timesJenkins was always there for United in good and hard times (Image: News & Star)

Yet in other spells down the decades, there were no Piataks, no golden ticket. The wages had to be paid, the shortfall had to be attended to. United, those working for and running it, often had cause to be immensely relieved for the loyalty of the Pioneer Foodservice chairman.

Maintaining a community club, often in spite of itself, is a notion that always comes back to that first c-word. Keeping United alive, when he did, was for all of us, not simply the men with the most shares or the players on the biggest bonuses. If the Blues have been a powerful thread through many thousands of lives, that means many thousands have, on some level, grounds to thank Andrew Jenkins, endlessly.

It was often joked, especially in recent years and decades, that a conversation with Jenkins would soon take you down the byways of United’s past. Yet who had more earned the right to seek nostalgia’s embrace? And who, for that matter, was better placed to take you on that journey?

From the Ashman glories to the Stokoe stories, the surging 60s to the shimmering 70s, the gritty 80s, the lurid 90s, the noughties, the tens, the twenties – each period an epic, filled with casts of characters who defined our Carlisle United memories. Each one a period when Jenkins was there.

His fervent pride in United was worn on his sleeve. Those who worked with him easily recall the tears that tumbled on the great days, when league titles were won, or cup finals attended. His pride also led him to face criticism the best way. Jenkins, in spates of flak, often saw the merit in standing opposite a supporter to give his views straight.

If fans were minded to protest, whether in the distressing early 1990s or in other agitated times a decade or so ago, Jenkins came out of the boardroom and fronted up. Whether or not spectators agreed with his perspective, they surely respected its direct and sincere delivery. When the media took heat from him at times, we still recognised the place his words came from.

Another immensely important fact is that Jenkins was known as a trusted employer, both at United and Pioneer: a man traditional in approach who worried about the consequences of decisions. Hence a great many in Carlisle and Cumbria can be grateful to him. Hence his grieving family can look upon his legacy with admiration and pride.

Jenkins pictured in 2015 receiving a lifetime achievement award from Bob Moncur - one of the many United managers he worked withJenkins pictured in 2015 receiving a lifetime achievement award from Bob Moncur - one of the many United managers he worked with (Image: News & Star)

His bequest to the Blues is a potentially great future, the eventual handing over of control to the Piataks the kind of outcome he and his directorial colleagues always said they wanted but which looked maddeningly elusive until 2023. Jenkins, when the well-heeled Americans pushed at the door, did not block the way to succession. If passing on the controls must, on some level, have been hard, he still signed the necessary documents, still recognised what had to be done, how the greater good needed to be served.

It is of course a great pity he will not be here to watch that future flourish, yet Andrew Jenkins at Carlisle United can’t be regarded as a story incomplete. There are many, many things a wealthy businessman can do with his time and money – many of them more luxurious and comfortable than operating a lower-league football club – so it was the Blues’ gift that they proved, since 1959, his unending passion.

It is easy, in football, to be the person selling a line, painting on the emotion, playing for likes. It’s harder to let your actions speak for so incredibly long. In 2015, Jenkins walked to the stage at the Carlisle Living Awards to accept one of several lifetime achievement awards he accrued in his later years. A moving film accompanied the presentation, and there was a telling line when his voice wavered. He was talking about his love for United, and how he would hate “anything to happen to it.”

All the years, you felt reassured that there was someone there not just thinking those things, but ready and able to act on their meaning. He’ll always be known as Mr Carlisle United, and it’s impossible to think of someone who’ll ever be worthier of that name.