Keeper Mark Gillespie joined United as a 16-year-old on his release from Newcastle United just over nine years ago not really knowing what his football future had in store.
He went on to build a second home with the Cumbrians as he worked his way through the ranks, proved himself with loan spells and with solid reserve team performances, before making the number one shirt his own for the best part of five seasons.
With 180 appearances and some wonderful experiences under his belt, he decided this week that it was time to look for a new challenge and to say goodbye to the club that has become such a big part of his life.
“It’s been a very difficult and massive decision for me to make, if I’m being completely honest,” he said. “The club and I have become synonymous with each other because of the amount of time I’ve been here, and with what we’ve all been through together, so the first feeling is obviously one of sadness that it’s all coming to an end.
“I sat down and thought about it and I felt that the time is now to look for something fresh and new. Like any decision you make you have to weigh everything up and I came to the conclusion that I’m at an age and a level of experience where something different could be a good thing.”
“The main thing I want to get across at the moment is how many people at the club I need to thank for the help and advice they’ve given me over the years,” he commented. “There are too many to name individually, but they all know who they are. They will always be really special people to me because they don’t shout about it, but they’re always there and are so willing to help.
“Within that are the fans as well. I remember starting my first game against Preston in the JPT and they were singing my name, even though most of them probably didn’t have a clue who I was. The amount of confidence that gives you is through the roof because you realise it’s a group of supporters who are going to back you all the way.
“That was the first step to me really establishing myself because I went on to play most of the games that season and I was able to kick on from there. There are so many memories and I definitely will miss people and the place in general. Moving on is tinged with sadness at the moment but I keep reminding myself that I have to look at it as an exciting step as well, and I’m looking forward to whatever the new challenge is.”
Those who met that young boy who came through the door at the age of 16 have had the pleasure of watching a player develop into a man who has a bright future ahead.
“The club has been and always will be a big part of my life,” he confirmed. “I’d just been released by Newcastle when I came across here and I was lost in terms of what I was going to do next, and where I should turn.
“Eric Kinder got me over here and it just felt right, and I thank him for that. I signed a contract the same day I first visited and I remember that my head was spinning, because I’d gone from being cast aside by one club to being wanted by another within a matter of hours.
“Who could have guessed that I’d still be here nine years later? Eric told me I’d get my chance if I came here and worked hard and he was absolutely spot on with that. I was given my opportunity to show I could cope with men’s football and that led to the 180 appearances I made for the club. It’s been a superb journey when you think about it.
“We’ve had ups and downs and I’ve had good days and bad days, but I’d like to think that everyone knows I’ve always given it everything. Even when I’ve had to battle through injuries I’ve had the help of Dolly and his staff and I know the club spent a lot of money getting me right a couple of years ago, which will always be massively appreciated.”
Last season, of course, saw him cast any sign of injury doubts aside as he went on to play in every league game as United mounted a serious push on the play-offs.
“Playing every game is what every player wants and it’s nice to have done it,” he told us. “Looking back I do know that I’ve developed and grown as a person, and as a player, and I’ve had my starting place under various managers because they’ve shown faith in me.
“Keith and Simon [Tracey] have been no different with that. They’ve looked at areas for me to improve on and I can’t speak highly enough of them. They also let me get on with my job and the manager introduced a new way of playing for us, by moving the ball from the back, and that’s added another string to my bow.
“Overall it’s just a great club to play for and work at. I mentioned the fans but the noise they make and the numbers they come out in – home and away – shows the potential this club has. They want to see their team do well and that comes across every time we play a game.
“I’m gutted that we missed out on promotion for them this season because the one thing I wanted with this club was some real success. It would have been great to have been able to celebrate with them. However, I know that Keith has the club heading in the right direction and I have no doubt they’ll go one better next year.
“It’s a club that deserves to be in League One because, like I say, the potential it has is massive. We’ve seen what the place is like when it’s full and I really do hope that becomes the norm and that the club becomes a real force.”
Looking back again at his younger days with United, he said: “It’s scary to look back at how I was when I first arrived. I was just a kid with a lot of ambition. I used to watch the games and wonder whether I’d ever get to the point where I was playing in the first team.
“You play in the youth team then you develop through the reserve team and end up sitting on the bench for a year or so. I went out on loan as well, and I remember it getting to a stage where I was thinking ‘is this ever going to happen’ because it took a couple of years for me to get that first chance.
“Finally it came and all of a sudden I was in the team and that was me. It was fantastic for Greg [Abbott] at the time to show faith in a 20-year-old goalkeeper in League One. Especially because it was on the back of having such an established number one before that – it was just a big call for him to make. I’ll always be thankful to Greg for that and I’ve never really looked back from there.”
“There are some obvious highlights along the way,” he added. “My full debut against Preston was followed up with a victory away at Hartlepool in the league. Swindon at home was my first league game and Paulo Di Canio was their manager. He said some nice things about me which sort of set me on my way.
“Liverpool was obviously unbelievable and there are some personal performances that I took pride in. Burton away is one that will always stand out and there are a few games in there where I feel I gave good performances.
“On the whole it’s a club which I’ve really enjoyed playing for. This has pretty much been my home and I’ll look back with some really fond memories. It goes without saying that I wish everyone at the club all the best for the future.”
Next in line, of course, will be the challenge of establishing himself at a new club.
“It’s going to be bizarre when pre-season comes round and I’m not turning up at Creighton,” he admitted. “It will be strange for me and it’s probably something I won’t be able to get my head round until it actually happens. I’ve just got to look positively towards a new experience which I genuinely feel is what I need for my own career.
“People can make decisions based on a lot of things but this has come down to what I think is best for my career at this moment in time. I had a good chat with the gaffer and we’ve left things on good terms.
“He’s let me play my football and we’ve worked with a bit of a different style in the last couple of seasons, and I think that has developed my game. As I say, Simon Tracey has shown a lot of care and done everything he can to try and improve my game, which has been massively beneficial. The gaffer has been great for me and I obviously wish him the best.
“I’ve no doubt that the team will enjoy success next season. Keith is very demanding and he wants the best out of everyone, and I’m sure he’ll get that. We were a few injuries away from really pushing for an automatic place last season and, in the end, we were within one kick of getting it to extra time.”
As for his affiliation with the Blues ... well ... that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
“The Carlisle results will definitely be one of the first I look for on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “It will be strange in more ways than one to be watching the results rather than being involved in them, but I’ve only ever had two clubs in my life.
“Carlisle United has been my professional club and the one I’ve called my own for the last nine years. I’ll still have a massive interest in what happens on and off the pitch and I really hope it goes on to be the force it deserves to be.
“The club has definitely left a stamp on me and I hope in a small way I’ve left my stamp on it as well - whether that’s with the people in the club or with the supporters.”