Gillingham v Carlisle United is a fixture with an unremarkable history - unless you consider February 21, 1998. And you should, for that day at Priestfield saw one of the most bizarre cameos in the Blues' long history.

It is nearly 20 years now, and bearing in mind the solitary outing in a Carlisle shirt of the Cameroon World Cup midfielder Jean-Claude Pagal was over in 67 minutes, it is not surprising that many of his former team-mates and coaches struggle to remember it.

Some, though, do. Vividly.

Graham Anthony: “He did something I’ve only ever seen once on a football pitch...”

Scott Dobie: “It was something I’ve never witnessed before or since...”

Billy Barr: “I’d never seen it before in my life...”

John Halpin: “Why he did it, goodness only knows...”

More on what Pagal did shortly. But first, the scene. After the good times of the mid-1990s came the fall: the sacking of manager Mervyn Day, chairman Michael Knighton’s appointment of himself instead, flanked by coaches Halpin and David Wilkes, and the worrying departure of several key players.

February 1998 saw the most lucrative leave: Matt Jansen, sold to Crystal Palace for £2 million, with another home-grown star, Rory Delap, flogged to Derby. It left a void both in the team and supporters’ faith, since Carlisle were also struggling in Division Two, now League One.

A week later, Knighton dropped a highly unorthodox signing into that void. BLUES SIGN CAMEROON EX-WORLD CUP STAR roared the headline, and pictured in a blue United shirt was the dreadlocked Pagal, arm-in-arm with cult hero defender Stephane Pounewatchy.

There was understandable excitement at the landing of someone who had been part of one of the most romantic of all World Cup stories: the Indomitable Lions of 1990, Roger Milla et al, who progressed further than any African nation before England edged them 3-2 in the last eight.

Pagal, whose clubs to that point had been Racing Club de Lens, La Roche and St Etienne in France, played the full game on that tense night in Naples, as Gary Lineker’s penalties overcame goals from Emmanuel Kunde and Eugene Ekeke. Afterwards, he represented clubs from Mexico and Austria, with further colour added by his alleged punching of Cameroon coach Henri Michel when he was omitted from the 1994 World Cup squad.

He had also played alongside Pounewatchy at Martigues, a convenient connection given that Knighton was paying increased attention to the French market in spite of the one-game farce of another Gallic import, Laurent Croci, who had flopped against Preston four months earlier.

"Michael was bringing a few French lads over at the time," Halpin says. "One or two didn't look so bad. One or two weren't even close."

After a spell in Belgium, Pagal was eyeing England. After reported trials with Oxford and Derby, he spent two weeks with Carlisle before Christmas before, aged 33, signing month-to-month terms. “An agent, whose name I can’t remember, brought him across,” Halpin says. “We didn’t know about it. He just all of a sudden appeared. Michael just told us, ‘Do what you have to do with him’.”

Pagal appeared eager for the challenge - “I want to express myself," he told Cumbrian reporters - and Halpin, at the time, enthused about the midfielder’s “outstanding” ability and crowd-pleasing “character”. He also, though, added a prophetic note of caution. Only the competitive “hurly-burly” of England's third tier would examine Pagal in full, the Scot advised.

“You could see he had played,” says Halpin, now head of United's Community Sports Trust. “In training, he had loads of ability on the ball. And to be fair to him, he was a lovely lad. He could speak English, so he could communicate with us, and he joined in well.

“As with any player, we tried to pick his brains about what he’d done, where he'd played and so on. But he didn’t mention the World Cup at all. We brought it up more than he did. He just wanted to play.”

Pagal’s first chance to do that was a reserve game at Rochdale, a 3-1 defeat in which the African, according to Wilkes, displayed some “good touches”. It was not a great deal on which to base judgement, but with United sorely in need of post-Jansen flair, he was selected to start in the next league game. "We needed a spark," Halpin reflects. "So we put him in."

It was not, perhaps, the ideal place for a debut. “Gillingham was the usual long-distance defeat of the time,” remembers supporter Dan MacLennan, who travelled on the train to watch the game. “It was rare we picked up a win on the road that season - the only highlight being the debut of Pagal.

"It was fairly nondescript – but only after that was the legend whispered about.”

MacLennan is referring to something apart from the football, for there was nothing legendary about Pagal's performance in conventional terms. Although he received a possibly generous 7/10 rating from Anthony Ferguson in these pages, he struggled to influence the outcome, a 1-0 defeat for Carlisle.

Ferguson’s match report refers to a couple of semi-promising moments – a good through ball for Nick Wright, and Pagal almost reaching an Ian Stevens cross in the box – but otherwise, the strongest impression is of the culture shock Halpin had feared. The “hectic pace” had flummoxed him; his second touch, Ferguson wrote, often had to be a tackle.

"It quickly became apparent that he couldn’t run," Halpin says. "At that level you need to cover the ground, and unfortunately he couldn’t do that.”

Pagal, in Carlisle’s green, gold, red and white away strip, lasted until the middle of the second half, before being replaced by Dobie. United failed to get back into the game after Steve Butler’s 25-yard winner for Gillingham, but it is not for the score that the day is truly remembered.

It is for something Dobie saw from the bench and others from different vantage points, and while there is a little dispute over the finer details, all are agreed that, at some point in proceedings, Carlisle’s exotic new signing marked his Priestfield territory in a most unusual way.

“About 20 minutes in, he got knocked off the ball, went down and stayed down,” Dobie says. “He then slowly got to one knee, in a groin-stretching position...”

“I’m running past him [Pagal],” continues defender Barr, “the game’s going on around him, and he’s on one knee, with his other leg out, covering his todger with his hand - and he’s peeing!”

Anthony, who partnered Pagal in midfield, also clocked his team-mate “going to the toilet on the halfway line”. How long this lasted is unclear, but when physio Neil Dalton eventually reached him, the waterworks either resumed or simply continued.

“When Dolly came back off,” Halpin says, “He said, ‘You’ll never believe what I’ve just seen. He’s just asked me to gather round him, and while I was going to treat his injury, he’s had a p*ss on the pitch’."

Halpin laughs. "So that’s a true story. It might still be yellow, that part of the pitch.” Dobie drily adds: “I only gave him [Pagal] one high-five rather than a double, so that I didn’t touch his holding hand when he got subbed."

One man who did not witness it appears to be referee David Crick - or if he did, no punishment was served. That meant Pagal was more fortunate than Max Crocombe, the former Carlisle goalkeeper who was sent off for urinating during a game for Salford City this October.

The fact the story drifted into United mythology was no doubt helped by the fact Pagal did not play for the club again. Although some reports suggest he was on the bench for the following game at Preston, the News & Star account of that 3-0 victory confirms otherwise. Barr does not remember Pagal being involved in training ahead of the Deepdale fixture, and although he was mentioned in brief dispatches over the following month, the Gillingham trip was the extent of Pagal’s Blues career. On March 19, he was released.

So, what happened? "Maybe Michael thought, after selling Janny, that it would pacify the fans a bit, saying we’ve got this World Cup player," Halpin says. "But he was a million miles away, and I'm sure Michael quickly realised he was paying out for somebody that wasn’t what he thought he was going to be.

"Maybe he was told to expect something slightly different. But he was gone very quickly."

He did, though, make a positive impression on at least one young player. Dobie was only 19 then and, whilst a temporary colleague indeed, Pagal reached out to the west Cumbrian.

“He was the first older, experienced pro to pull me aside and speak to me frankly about my style of play, the potential I had and how I needed to put performances in week-in, week-out,” Dobie says. “It was an eye-opening conversation.”

Barr, too, remembers Pagal as a “nice enough person” but, ultimately, a pawn in an increasingly strange game at United, whose high times under Knighton were becoming less certain.

“I’m guessing Michael got these players in cheaper than he could have got English players,” Barr says. “But ultimately it diluted everything Dave and John were trying to achieve as young managers and coaches.

“I felt sorry for them being caught up in it, to be honest.”

As for Pagal, he wandered on, finding clubs in China and Malta before returning home. His appetite for the unexpected remained, for a decade after his Carlisle cameo, Pagal signed for Cameroon club Tiko United, becoming one of the top division’s oldest players at 44.

Since then, Cameroon Voice has reported Pagal in a general manager capacity at AS Lausanne d'Anguissa, as well as involvement in humanitarian work and youth football schemes. Companies House also reveals he was director of a London-based sports agency from 2014-15.

And now? “He is in Cameroon and living a quiet life,” confirmed a sports journalist from the country this week. Too quiet, alas, to return the News & Star ’s calls. But memories of his greatest days endure, and there was also, in 2012, a reunion match in the capital city Yaounde involving many of those Indomitable Lions of 1990.

Milla scored and did his trademark corner-flag shuffle. Francois Omam-Biyik, slayer of Argentina, was there, likewise Ekeke, Kunde and Benjamin Massing.

So too was Jean-Claude Pagal, many years after he helped Cameroon shake up the world, and slightly fewer than the time he came, saw and very much went on one strange, surreal afternoon with Carlisle United.