A true football man: Andrew Jenkins survives nine relegations, decades of debt and Knighton

Life beyond the Premiere League: 'You see the Premier League and the amount of money they waste. It’s sad'

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Andrew Jenkins was eight years old. And bored. "Go down Warwick Road and watch the football then son if you want something to do," said a bloke plucking chickens.

So he went to the football, to watch Carlisle United. That was in 1944.

By 1959, by which stage he was 23, there was an invitation to join the board of directors. He accepted.

In the 90s - "I can't remember which year exactly," he says - Jenkins became chairman of his football club. On Wednesday, with his ground near full, Jenkins took the usual walk to his seat in the directors' box to watch his football club play Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup.

"We had two lads who came on as sub on 500 quid a week, they brought on the England right-back," he laughs.

Fifty-three years with a club (once we reach November). It is a heart-warming contrast to those that play with clubs (largely in the Premier League) like fashionable toys.

"It's a difficult job," he says. "For clubs of our size it's a challenge to pay the wages every month. It's very sad. You see the Premier League and the amount of money they've got and they just waste it.

"It was supposed to be for the good of football, but it's only good for big cities and big clubs. All the money they spend on transfers, they could spend some of it on home-grown players and some of it would stay in the country.

"They tend to be bullying us, the smaller clubs. More money should come down but it doesn't. At one time they were all football people, not now, they're business people and they're not bred that way. At one time they would do things for you but they won't do a lot now."

There is much to shoehorn in here, but a first appearance at Wembley, when Carlisle faced Birmingham in front of more than 76,000 fans, at the famous old stadium in the Auto Windscreen Shield final in 1995, proved an emotional one, 36 years after he had joined the board.

"There was water in my eyes," he admits. "I couldn't believe we'd ever get there. It was very emotional. That's what's good about the competition; that small clubs can get there."

In all there have been nine promotions, nine relegations, a season with England's elite (before the Premier League), two appearances at the old Wembley, two at the new, two at the Millennium Stadium and three play-off campaigns.

"My happiest memory was getting promotion to Division One [in 1974]," he adds. "We had to wait for Leyton Orient and Aston Villa, depending on their result to see whether we went up. We were in the Cumberland News office, listening to the match from London. They drew. We got into the First Division. Did we celebrate? Oh yes we celebrated. We had a drink there and then. We went top of the league after three games, we joked that it was easy. In the end we went down by five points."

His father, who started the family Pioneer business ("it's food distribution, mainly catering" with a current turnover of £32m), and was employing the chicken plucker who told his son Andrew where to go, had tried and failed to get on the board.

When Andrew succeeded, he became effectively marketing director, a new idea at the time (in 1959, the next year David Dent would follow him on to the Carlisle board). They invigorated the club, started draws, made it possible to end the annual summer clear out of players.

The last 20 or so years, since he became chairman, have been anything but dull.

"Jimmy Bendall died and we took it over, but we found it difficult and we had to look for somebody else to come in and Michael Knighton came. He was here for four years and he came in with a big bang. He tried to get Manchester United before us.

"It was good for the club at that time. He used to bring in trialists and he was really very good was Michael to start with. Eventually, one way or another he went too much the other way, he built a big stand which still isn't paid for. He got a lot of players in like Matt Jansen and Rory Delap and sold most of them. The crowd got sick of it, he got abuse and he had to go. He's into antique furniture now.

"John Courtenay came in and tried to run it from Ireland. It was impossible. We had a couple of years where we lost £2m and he lost a lot of money. Fred Storey came aboard, a local builder who was doing very well and after John decided to jack it in he gave it a big boost and we went to running it properly, like we run our businesses."

Nothing will likely ever beat the moment Jimmy Glass, an on-loan goalkeeper, scoring in the fourth minute of injury-time to stop Carlisle falling out of the Football League in 1999. "I thought we were out and then he was running up for it, it just fell for him and it was crazy. Half of Carlisle jumped on top of him.

"We've had some good moments, some good managers and we've got a good manager at the moment in Greg Abbott. He works really well with us. We hope he stays with us for a long time. He's a good bloke. He keeps hold of the dressing room. No one takes a lend of him. The players get on well.

"I don't really like being too much out in front. I like to work. I don't want to be at the club if I'm doing nothing. That's the way I've always been.

"From time to time I've put my hand in my pocket. We have maintenance people we will send down to the football club. We do a bit of that. We put money in or write it off. We try to run it like you don't have to but unfortunately, sometimes you do.

"We really need crowds of about 6,000. We are averaging 5,200. We managed to stay around the same all season. John Nixon does a very good job as our chief executive. You're always looking for a cup run."

The visit of Spurs could bring in around £50,000. It really is manna from heaven.

"I'll have been here 53 years in November," he says. "It just seems like yesterday. I love the club. I still love being involved with it. To be honest, I wouldn't like anything to happen to the club. We're all local people and we try to look after it."

And in that is something incredibly reassuring.