Centre back Paul Huntington ended weeks of speculation on Wednesday afternoon when he penned a one-year deal following a summer of talks with the club.
The Carlisle-born 34-year-old became summer signing number ten for manager Paul Simpson, having left his home city as a youngster to join Newcastle United, just at the point of signing schoolboy forms with the Blues.
There’s little doubt that this move fits on a number of levels, but the genuine excitement at now being a player with the club he supported from the terraces as a kid is clear, from the moment he starts to talk about this next challenge.
“Being born here and supported the club, I suppose it does feel strange to be here,” he admitted. “I’m just getting used to new surroundings and it will probably take a few weeks to sink in and get used to my new teammates.
“I was at Preston for ten years and you start to feel like part of the furniture, so it’s different coming to a new club. I think this is what I need, a new challenge.
“I know a lot of people who follow the club, which comes with pressure, but I’ve had that all my career in different ways. I made a lot of friends at Preston so it isn’t too dissimilar, but this is my hometown club and I’m looking forward to getting fit, then getting in the team.”
“It wasn’t just about location, for my last couple of years I would have gone and played wherever,” he continued. “It did come into it obviously, because it’s handy, but I think it will be a positive thing.
“Glenn Roeder told me at Newcastle when I was a young player there, have boots will travel, and that’s the case. I was always going to come back here after football, but the opportunity until this off-season has never kind of presented itself.
“I spoke to the manager about him coming back after a successful period, he turned it around last season, but he was saying he didn’t have to put himself out there and come back, but he did.
“I know football is very fickle, there will be ups and downs, but I’m hoping that once I get fit I can help the team along the way.
“It’s probably taken longer than we would have liked, but we’re done now and hopefully I can bring something to the party.
“In terms of coming here to play, I would say that I never ruled it out. The location suits, but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all.
“I’ve had, over the summer, some interest where, if I told you, you’d be laughing because it was here, there and everywhere, unexpected things pop up. It just feels the right fit.
“Having spent the summer at home with my family, I’ve got a young daughter now, I want to bring her to the games and hopefully I can do her proud.”
He’s a player with a record that speaks for itself, with over 450 appearances under his belt at League One or above, and there’s certainly no sense that he’ll be resting on his laurels as he begins the work of settling into his new club.
“It’s League Two, but that doesn’t bother me at all,” he told us. “I guess that’s something that I’ll need to adapt to.
“As footballers you adapt to different levels, League Two wasn’t really something I was looking at, but this club was the exception, which is what I said to the manager.
“I’m from here and I live locally, so the thought of coming here got me more excited than going to a team in a higher league. I felt as though this was the right fit for me and my family.
“It will take time to adapt, but you have to do that every time you get a new manager, and I think that’s modern-day football. It will probably be a lot different to Championship football, maybe more physical, although the first game against Crawley wasn’t.
“I’ll learn on the job, I need to get fit first then hopefully I can help the team on and off the pitch. Whether that’s being a sounding board or giving others advice along the way, I’ll do it.
“I only know a couple of the lads, I played with Jack [Armer] in a few reserve games when he was a young lad coming through at Preston, and I know Jamie Devitt from playing against him when he was at Blackpool.
“Other than that, the squad is new to me and a lot of them probably won’t know me either. I’ll come in with an open book and look to take in as much information from the staff and my teammates, and hopefully help them do the same from me as well.”
Difficult for anybody missing pre-season is that period of ‘catching up’ – a process that starts today for United’s new arrival.
“It’s been the unknown for me not having a club, it’s the first time it’s been like that for me for a while,” he told us. “If I had £1 for every time one of my mates had asked me if I was signing for Carlisle over the summer I would be rich.
“Hopefully the fans will take me on my merits and get behind me, as they do with the rest of the team, that’s all I want. When the crowd get right behind you it makes you feel 10ft tall. I need to get fit and work hard to get myself into a position to affect the team in a good way.
“Usually you’d do ten days of fitness before your first friendly in pre-season and having known my body over the years it does take a couple of weeks until I can get through 90 minutes.
“Time will tell, I’m really looking forward to getting into training and getting fit. I don’t want to rush it, I’ve been doing loads of work during the summer but football fitness is different.
“We’ll see where we are and take it from there. I’ve spoken to the manager about his later playing days and he knows how to manage me in terms of recovery and things like that.
“The most important thing is to be fit for the games, but I don’t just want to come and play, I want to come and win. I don’t want to coast, that isn’t me, I want to have a successful season.”
“And it always helps when you know a manager wants you,” he continued. “We had a conversation recently and I spoke to Greg [Abbott] as well, and everybody wants to be wanted.
“This felt like the right fit, the manager has got a good feel around the place going again. I used to come to the games with my dad when I was young, I think I was probably here when Simmo won the League Two title.
“I watched David Reeves, Rod Thomas and that team as well, and I was at Wembley. That means it’s got more meaning to come here.
“I could have gone somewhere else at a better level, and I wouldn’t have said my heart wouldn’t have been in it because I give everything I’ve got wherever I go, but this had more meaning. I got more excited about coming here than I did by the other offers.”
And knowing that he may have some fans to win over, he said: “I hope they can take me for how I do on and off the pitch for this football club. That’s all I can ask, really.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to and I’m hoping they give me the backing they give the rest of the team. I was at the first game of the season just to take in a game, it wasn’t for the reason I was potentially joining.
“There seemed to be a good atmosphere. It’s been a decent start and I’ll be looking to help out with that moving forward.
“I would like to just concentrate on the here and now and get own with helping the club. I think we all want the same things.
“Having been a young player, naïve, and whatnot, I’ve spoken about it before. In the moment, it happened when I was with Leeds, you look back and cringe a bit, really.
“Time moves on, I’m certainly not the same person or player I was. I rarely celebrate goals. I prefer to conserve my energy because I’ll probably need it in the 94th minute.
“If you see me not celebrating it’s not that I don’t like the lad who scored. I’m just very calm in what I’m doing. There were a few of us at Preston started doing that - leave them to put the ball in the net and we’ll concentrate on the other side of it.”
It goes without saying that the vast wealth of experience will be called upon inside what it a relatively young dressing room.
“I kind of pride myself on leading by example and I’m naturally a talker and an organizer,” he said. “There is added responsibility being an older player.
“I think you can be calmer and listen a bit more and I’ll be looking to help the younger players on the pitch, which will hopefully help them in their careers going forward.
“I’m not wanting to be a coach, I’m very much a player and just want to help the rest of the lads along the way. I’m looking forward to that responsibility.
“I’ll have to form relationships with the lads as well as learning all their names. They need to get to know me and the way I play as well. I’m looking forward to getting to know them off the pitch after training, to start striking up those relationships.
“In a back three I’d be looking to be the middle one and order people about a bit. From what I’ve seen and what the manager has said there’s some good athletic, young players around the pitch.
“I know people always say it’s a good group in the dressing room but from what people are telling me I think it genuinely is, which always helps. A lot of the time you get an odd ball who doesn’t want to fit in, which is pretty standard, but it sounds like everyone is genuine and on board with each other.
“We had that at Preston, we had good seasons and good players but there were no big egos, we were a workmanlike team who always left it all out on the pitch.
“Sometimes you’d come up short through lack of quality but never through lack of effort. We punched above our weight as a football club, and I think those are things I’ll take forward into this.
“I’ll be open to the change and I think this is something I need to kick me on. Rather than going somewhere and maybe be third or fourth choice at a higher level, I want to play and enjoy my last few years.
“That’s something I really want to do, and I’m really looking forward to wearing the shirt. I’ve spoken to my wife a lot about it over the summer and I think it’s really important for me to enjoy my last few years and play games. That’s what I’m here to do and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Now, as he said himself, the focus is on getting ready and in establishing himself in the team.
“I’ve kept fit, I’ve carried on over the summer in terms of fitness,” he confirmed. “But I get that it’s different to training daily. I reckon a couple of weeks then I should be up to speed.
“I didn’t need to put myself out there really, could have quite easily gone down the country or different clubs at different levels.
“It was more the fire, the energy to do it is still there. It will take me a few weeks to get up to speed but I’m hopeful once I get up to speed, my experience and organising a youngish team can hopefully show.
“It’s not just about me, it’s a team game, and we’ll all need to pull together in the right direction, and that seems to be the case so far from watching from afar, anyway.
“I do feel that I’ve got another few years in me yet. I didn’t play a great deal last season, maybe 15 or 16 times, but reserve games. The squad at Preston was huge, 35 big, and there was a lot of competition for places.
“But the nine years before that I played just shy of 310 games at Preston. I said to the manager I want to get that buzz back of being sat there at 5pm, you’ve left it all out on the pitch and you’ve got three points in the bag.
“That winning feeling, as well as doing it for yourself and your family, that’s why I play football. I’m hopeful of another few years yet. Looking forward to first of all getting fit, then getting into the team and hopefully we get some positive results.”
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