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League Two

Andrew Jenkins: 60 years at Carlisle United

Life has been anything but dull for Andrew Jenkins throughout his time at Carlisle United. The 83-year-old has seen just about everything during a 60-year tenure at the club.

22 January 2020

Life has been anything but dull for Andrew Jenkins throughout his time at Carlisle United. The 83-year-old has seen just about everything during a 60-year tenure at the club.

From the kiosks at Brunton Park to the pitch at Wembley Stadium, Jenkins has been at the forefront of Carlisle United for over half of the club’s existence, experiencing nine promotions, nine relegations and six National Stadium appearances along the way.

A local businessman and a true football man, Andrew Jenkins’ love affair with Carlisle United started when he was just eight years old. Eight years old and bored, looking for something to do.

“What are you two doing with your day?” said a bloke plucking chickens (Jenkins’ family are in the meat business).

“I was eight years old at the time and we didn’t have any plans,” Jenkins recalls. “He suggested we go to the football. He told us to just go to the top of Warwick Road and just follow the crowd. And that’s how I first started watching Carlisle.”

That was in 1944 and like many young children after attending their first football match, Jenkins quickly became a fan.

Local to the area, Jenkins’ family own Pioneer Food Service, one of the largest and longest-standing suppliers of products to the catering trade in the North of England, and it was Jenkins’ father who provided the catering for Brunton Park on matchdays. Carlisle United very much in their hearts.

“It gets into your blood,” he said. “You want to watch your club as much as possible.

“After I watched my first few games I went to boarding school so couldn’t go to see them as much. I remember once biking home to watch a reserve match. I had to take all the back roads to not get seen as I wasn’t supposed to leave the school!”

Fast-forward to 1959, by which stage Jenkins was 23 years old, and he found himself with an invitation to join the Board of Directors, not that he knew much about it.

“My father used to do all the catering at the football ground for the kiosks,” Jenkins continued.

“As a local businessman he wanted to join the Board but didn’t get on right away. When someone retired the club approached him asking if he’d be interested. He actually said no, but put me forward instead – he never discussed it with me!

“The next thing I knew, I got a phone call from George Sheffield who was Chairman at the time and I joined the Board. I think they wanted someone a bit younger involved.”

So in came Jenkins, and with the appointment began an era at Carlisle that still lives on 60 years later.  

“It wasn’t always easy. Everyone was a bit older and had different backgrounds to me, I came from the catering business. But I got myself settled and everyone had their own specialities, so we set up a number of small committees to help with the running of the club. Gradually we started to make positive changes.”
 
Thirty years later, some time in the 90s - he can’t remember when exactly - Jenkins became Chairman of his football club, a title he still boasts now and in November 2019 celebrated 60 years at the club – an incredible achievement.
 
“We’ve played at Wembley and the Millennium Stadium six times while I’ve been here,” he says proudly. “Twice at the old Wembley, twice at the new Wembley and twice at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
 
The club’s first trip to Wembley in 1995 – 36 years after he joined the Board – proved an emotional one. Carlisle faced Birmingham City in front of more than 76,000 fans in the EFL Trophy Final and although they weren’t successful that day, it’s one that Jenkins remembers like it was yesterday.
 
“I remember having tears in my eyes,” he admits. “There were about 76,000 people there that day, more than there were for the England game previously. It was a very emotional day. To see your club walk out at Wembley makes you so proud and that’s something that you never forget.”
 
In total, there have been nine promotions, nine relegations – including a season in the top flight in 1974-75– and six cup finals, and Jenkins has been there for it all.
 
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“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of disappointments but some great times to remember as well. Being here when the club was in the First Division – which is now the Premier League – has got to be one of my proudest moments,” he recalls.
 
“Leyton Orient were playing Aston Villa, we had to wait for that result to find out if we were promoted or not. We were up at the local newspaper offices listening to the game! That was a great moment, we certainly celebrated!
 
“I remember winning our first three games, we were top and couldn’t believe it, but we soon found out how difficult it was. Yes we were relegated but we competed quite well to say we never had a penny throughout the entire season. Signing players for big money wasn’t our philosophy and still isn’t now.”
 
Wembley success came in 1997 and 2011 in the EFL Trophy – days that live long in the memory of Carlisle United fans. He points to a portrait of a packed out Wembley Stadium hung on his office wall. A year after being humbled by Southampton in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final, Carlisle made the long journey back to the capital in the same competition, the journey home much sweeter this time around.
 
“We were playing Brentford that day,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. I was on the pitch at the start being introduced to all the players; it was really special for me. The year before we’d lost to Southampton and the manager said to me ‘don’t worry, we’ll win it next year.’ And we did.”
 
Four-time runners-up and record six-time finalists in the competition, Carlisle United had their redemption.
 
Football is often full of ups and downs, and it’s been no different at Carlisle. 60 years with one club is a heart-warming story, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. The last 25 years or so, since becoming Chairman, have been anything but dull but one constant throughout has been Jenkins’ presence in the Boardroom.
 
“The biggest challenge for people in my position is certainly the financial side of the game. We’re a League Two side, we don’t get big crowds in here, we average about 4,500. There was a time when we got up to 7,000 but we don’t get that anymore and that’s one of the bigger struggles.

 

“Even when we were in the First Division we only got about 14,000 so every month can be a challenge financially but I’m proud to say that I’ve never had to go to anyone for additional money. Between us we’ve always kept the club going and it’s always been our own money.

“I’ve given the club my personal money but that’s just part of the job when you’re running a football club. Most Clubs our size, without a good cup run, it can be hard.

“There was a time a few years back when we upped our wage bill to about £2million and we didn’t get out of the division like we’d hoped so we cut back and now have a pattern that we stick to in order to run the club in a sustainable manner, and that’s the philosophy we’ve got as a Board. Rather than buy players for big money, we work to bring our youth through and develop from there.

“People always want more, of course they do, but it’s really important that you live within your means. We just try to break even every year, whilst making gradual changes to improve the club.”

Here is a man whose desire and commitment can be admired by many for years to come, especially when it comes to running a football club. Sixty years at the helm and 83 years old, so what keeps him going year after year?

“That’s easy,” he answers. “My love for the club keeps me going.

“I’m an incredibly loyal person. I’m loyal to my staff at the business, the staff at the club – I think that’s important. I work hard and just get on with it. I still really enjoy being involved with the club even at my age; I still go away with the team because that’s how it should be.”

“Some people are in it for the glory, I’ve never thought of it like that. I just love Carlisle United.”


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