When United boss Paul Simpson put the phone down on a call which raised the possibility of a return to the club on Tuesday night, he decided that as difficult as the task may be, it was one he was willing to face, with personal ties to the city a factor in him coming to a ‘yes’ decision.
“I’m not going to be all sentimental and say I’ve got unfinished business, because I don’t feel that way,” he said. “We had a brilliant time last time I was here, but all football things come to an end.
“Being really honest, there was a bit of an emotional reaction once the call had ended. I’m not really sure, I can’t say for definite, but I’m probably 90 per cent certain I wouldn’t have done this at any other football club.
“And it’s one of those situations where me and Jacqui were sitting in the lounge, she had the pleasure of watching Bristol City-Coventry with me on Sky, which I know she was loving, and I didn’t even discuss it.
“She just looked at me, and I sort of nodded. She went … ok. We didn’t really have a conversation. I did notice that when I went upstairs to my study to start watching Wyscout and looking at the players, she changed and watched some gardening programme, so she obviously wasn’t watching Bristol City!”
“I knew what I was coming to, I knew where I was coming to,” he added. “I have an idea of what’s going on at the place, I have an idea of what can actually happen at the place if you get some positivity.
“So I probably wouldn’t have done it for anywhere else, because I realise that if it doesn’t work, I’m sort of doing myself no favours at all. But I really fancied it, just fancied the challenge, the idea of it, the idea of helping if I possibly can.
“That’s the truth of it. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody had come in from the Premier League, the Championship, up at the top of the table I would probably have taken that - but that didn’t come.
“This is football, this is where we are. Jobs don’t come unless there are problems, unless you’re really lucky. That’s where we are and I’m realistic about that, so let’s crack on with it.”
The unbelievable reaction to the news of his appointment from the supporters is something that cuts through the seriousness of the current task at hand, albeit with a sense of a grounded approach once the dust settles and the football starts again.
“It’s been brilliant, but I also know that it can change,” he commented. “We’ve just got to get results, let’s not kid ourselves.
“Yes, I’m coming back, yes, I’m from Carlisle, yes, I’m delighted to be here, but the only thing I’ll say is let’s hope that everyone is still as positive at the end of the Bradford game.
“Supporters are usually really happy when a manager gets sacked because that means it isn’t going well, they’re never happy when you leave for positive reasons, but football moves on.
“It goes in cycles and it’s my turn to come back. It’s up to me to galvanise the players which, in turn, will galvanise the supporters and the whole club.
“Hopefully in May, there’s a little bit of a better feeling about it. It isn’t going to take away all of the issues that are going on off the field, but that’s for somebody else to concern themselves with.
“If I was coming in on a three-year deal, which I did at places like Preston and Shrewsbury, it was about building a football club and trying to address things, but I don’t have to concern myself with that.
“My role is to come in for 15 games, manage this group of staff and players and get some results, which will then get everybody smiling.”
His experience in the game is there for all to see, with trophies (including a World Cup, no less), promotions, titles and accolades aplenty, but taking on a club inside a relegation zone, outside of a transfer window and with a limited number of games to play, well …
“It is new to me,” he confirmed. “Stockport ended up being just for a short period of time, but that was because I was lied to.
“I’ve had ups and downs in my career, but Stockport was probably a bad decision from me to go there. I was deceived a little bit and it ended up being a short period of time, even though it wasn’t supposed to be. That’s the way it goes.
“This is different, but at least I don’t have to water myself down and look at different departments. When I came in last time I remember doing things like getting Halpy back to look after the community side of things and getting Wilkesy back to do the academy, because we needed all these different things addressed.
“I don’t have to do that now. It’s about 15 games of football. We’ve got seven of those at home and eight of the games are against teams who we’re competing with. I’m not trying to be clever or play any mind games or anything like that, but for me everyone from Rochdale down is fighting for their lives.
“We’ve got Rochdale to play twice, so we can affect the situation ourselves. People might say it’s out of our hands because of the position, but it isn’t because we’ve got plenty of games against the teams in the bottom part of the table.
“We can affect our own destiny if we go about our business properly. If we don’t then we won’t deserve to stay up, it’s as simple as that. It’s up to us how we go about it and how the players perform.”
Not used within the corridors of Brunton Park this season has been the term ‘relegation battle’ with a focus being set on getting out of the disappointing run and pushing on.
“The truth is, if it wasn’t a relegation battle, I’d still be sat at home,” he said. “We are in a relegation battle, let’s not kid ourselves and let’s not shy away from it.
“This is what football is about, it’s nice to be fighting at the top of the league but this is what football is sometimes.
“Like I just said, 24th to 16th are fighting for their lives. I would imagine Rochdale aren’t talking about relegation, but with a few bad results it can suddenly turn around.
“I keep using Rochdale because they’re in 16th place, but there are plenty of other teams between us who are in a dogfight. We can’t hide away from it; we just have to grab the opportunity and do our best to get out of it.
“Do we have the players with the fighting mentality - time will tell. I’ve got to tell you the truth, when I brought the likes of Kev Gray and Tom Cowan in last time, I knew about them, but I didn’t know they were going to have the affect they had on this football club during that time.
“This is an opportunity for players in that dressing room to stand up and take hold of it. We’ve got players in this group now who are strong, physical specimens.
“They’ve obviously got a level of ability, but now they have to go and show it. I haven’t even looked at previous games because everything has happened so quickly, but what has happened in previous games doesn’t really affect it now.
“It’s about what we do for 15 games, if they go and perform to the levels they’re capable of and show what their ability levels are, then hopefully we’ll be in a better place.
“I had a quick meeting with them yesterday after they’d waited around for four or five hours. It was a really disruptive day when a manager leaves, there will be players who will be glad there’s been a change who are out of favour, and there will be players who were close to Keith.
“I get that, I don’t have a single problem, all I ask is that they give everything to represent Carlisle United. It’s nothing to do with me, represent Carlisle United, represent yourself and do everything you possibly can to help this club.”
But where does not knowing the players sit with the immediacy of the need for a response?
“In a way, I think it’s sometimes good to not come in with pre-conceived ideas,” he insisted. “I’ve seen a couple of them, but I’ve seen Morgan Feeney play at U19 level, and this is totally different.
“League Two is a place where you’ve got to stand up and be counted, sometimes it isn’t going to be pretty.
“It isn’t all about silky football, which is what academy football is, sometimes it’s about rolling your sleeves up and putting your body on the line, putting blocks in and working as hard as you possibly can.
“Everybody has got to do their bit to make us right. I’ll do my bit, I expect the staff to do their bit, and hopefully everybody will respond in the right way.”
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