It was raining in Rothwell as the mourners made their way up the path to Holy Trinity Church. Lightly at first, then a steady downpour.

The grass was soaking. Peter McConnell wouldn’t have minded that. Proper football weather, you see.

The setting, too, was fit for a captain. The church, on its hill, can hold 400 and there weren’t too many spaces on the pews. They had all come to say goodbye, to but also to celebrate an admirable chap.

George McVitie, another Carlisle United great, was in the church, and found that some of his words were to be read to the three-figure attendance. It came when Peter’s daughter, Cath, reached the Brunton Park stage of her father’s life: the period he captained the Cumbrians to successive promotions and became their first title-winning skipper in 1965.

McVitie, quoted by Cath, saluted his old friend’s “leadership and guidance”. He was, the winger said, “a man you couldn’t help but like and respect”.

McConnell’s inclination to stand tall among his peers defined Carlisle’s first golden age. He was known as “skip”, and it was moving when, later, his son James concluded his own tribute by saying to his dad: “You were a true pro, skip. Sleep sound. Forever in our memories.”

Those memories shared in this pocket of Yorkshire were both personal and public. After Peter’s coffin was carried into the church, to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Cath went to the lectern and summoned the strength to talk about her dad.

There was a light touch, since Peter was amusingly described as a man “with really deep pockets and short arms”, a “snappy dresser” in his youth, someone who loved sweets, a curry, a game of dominoes – something he played to his final days, with his carer, and even then, “hated losing”.

Peter loved to tell a story, particularly if it involved football, and this is no wonder, given the career he made. It began dramatically, after a county game for Cheshire Boys versus Lancashire. McConnell was one of a small number scouted for Leeds United but the only one to make the grade.

He was a contemporary of the great John Charles, Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner until he accepted Ivor Powell’s offer of the number four shirt and captain’s armband at Carlisle in 1962. As well as delivering 306 appearances and golden success, he made “lasting friendships” in Cumbria too.

Peter later represented Bradford before becoming a pub landlord at the Hare and Hounds, where yesterday’s wake was held. During his tenure there, Carlisle’s old skipper could often be heard on the karaoke mic, singing Sinatra.

He also spent hours in the garden, tending his lawn until it was as pristine as Brunton Park, and when dementia and cancer intruded on his life, he refused to bow to their burdens, retaining his sense of humour and defying expectations that he would simply slip away.

“He fought until the final, full-time whistle blew,” said James.

We heard of his marriage to Mary, and how he was a husband, dad, brother, granddad, uncle and friend. They played ‘New York, New York’ as he was carried out of the church, to be buried at Cottingley, and everyone then trudged up the road, through the rain, to the Hare and Hounds.

They were not short of stories to exchange, since Peter had told a great many in his 82 years: the team-mates, the battles, the tough dad (“naughtier than me…he was a bouncer”), the managers: gentle Alan Ashman and brusque Bob Stokoe, who McConnell once tripped in training and was pursued around the pitch.

The memorable goals, such as the rifle-crack past Workington which saw United’s Dick Young, shouting from the sidelines, coin the title of Peter’s autobiography (“Nice one, skip”). The wit: blaming a bad back on “carrying Bremner all those years”.

Most magnificently, through Cumbrian-tinted glasses, the games and the glory. It so happens that Carlisle are at home to Mansfield tomorrow and any appreciation of Peter McConnell must begin and end with the stunning occasion they beat the Stags 3-0 to become Third Division champions.

Brunton Park was packed and overflowing. There were cigars and champagne, and Peter hurled his jersey into the crowd. Many years later, a supporter approached Peter and Jack Charlton, who were together at a game, and told Peter he had grabbed the garment.

“What a night that was,” he later said. “We absolutely steamrollered Mansfield. Proudest time of my career was that. Best thing that ever happened.”

A great thing that Peter McConnell happened to Carlisle, too. Nice one, skip.

*The News & Star attended with the kind permission of Peter McConnell's family