United’s strength and conditioning coach Lee Fearn left Brunton Park to take up a new challenge away from football just after the final away game of the campaign at Port Vale, but he made sure he was available to carry out his duties one last time when Newport County were the final-day visitors.
Having been brought to the club four years ago by Graham Kavanagh, he’s since been through play-off campaigns, games against Premier League opposition and, of course, the December 2015 floods, as well as scooping a prestigious industry Medical Team of the Year award, he spoke this week about the affection he has for the job, and for his adopted home town and football team.
“I think leaving is probably the hardest decision I’ve made in my life, and certainly in my professional career,” he said. “It’s no secret that my missus [Sarah] and I have made a home up here and we’ve developed quite a deep bond with the club, particularly with everything we’ve been through.
“We’ve had the play-off highs and lows, the flood and everything else that came with it, and it was a big move for both of us to come up here in the first place from our base in the Midlands. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly, but we think it’s been done at the right time.”
Speaking more about the reasons for making the break, he told us: “I think I’ve just reached a stage in my life where I felt I had to make a decision. I love sport and football but it’s such a volatile business.
“I’ve had a great time with Carlisle United and I have a lot of fond memories, and I’ve made some new friendships for life. The club is great, it has so many unsung heroes, and I will genuinely miss being part of it.
“However, the time is right for a new challenge and that’s something that excites me. An opportunity has arisen, and I’ve made the decision that this new project is something I really want to do. I don’t think it’ll come up again if I don’t do it now, so it’s definitely the right decision for me.”
“Funnily enough, I’ve had other offers from clubs over the four years that I’ve been here, but there was never a hint of us leaving before now,” he added. “We both love it up here and I wanted to stay and do my best for the club. There was actually an offer for me to move down south after the play-offs last summer but, again, my only thought was to stay here.
“Now, a year on, I really am thinking more about family life and the need for stability. When you work in a football department, and it can be rightly or wrongly when it happens, results sometimes dictate that you have to leave a club.
“There are a lot of my peers who have lost jobs because they’ve been part of the football department when that’s been the case, and that has also happened to me in the past. It’s never down to your ability, so it does make it difficult.
“Another factor is that this is a dream business to be involved in. You work a lot to get into this position, but you do get to a point where you’ve got to think of your family, your mortgage and your security. The nature of football makes that harder to guarantee.
“I’ve had the experience of going into work as normal at eight in the morning, only to then get home later that day with the news that you’ve lost your job. That has a horrible impact on your family. Fortunately that was never the case up here because I think the club keeps staff if they feel they’re doing a good job.
“Certainly that’s the case in the medical department because Dolly has been here for over 20 years now, through various managers, and that’s how it should be. That keeps the continuity and consistency you often need.”
Looking back at a job which has seen him deal with all kinds of characters and a whole host of different individual requirements, he admitted that he was walking away with a huge sense of pride in what he’d achieved.
“My role was new to the club when I came in, they’d never had it before,” he commented. “Graham Kavanagh brought me here and the club has backed me with the job through the following four years.
“Introducing the role was one of the many things Kav tried to do to improve the professionalism levels on his side of things, and I’m grateful to him that he gave me an opportunity at a club like this.”
A natural assumption, given the recent circumstances, would be to think that his leaving was tied to the departure of Keith Curle and his management team at the beginning of May.
“Not at all,” he said. “I just feel this is the right time for me to move on. Pre-season has been planned by myself and Neil Dalton, because the intention for me was to still be here next season, whatever happened with the manager situation.
“Our department is separate to them, so it’s a decision completely away from that. For my own personal reasons, as I explained, it just felt like the right thing to do to give me the stability I feel I need.
“It was always going to be hard because it’s a job I’ve been passionate about for a number of years now. I love working with professional athletes and being part of what they do. You just can’t beat that.
“Back when I first set out on this path my dad took out a loan so I could volunteer and work without a wage for a year – I think I’m still paying that back – so there are sacrifices, but that’s the same for everybody.
“From there I’ve had jobs at some great clubs and in other sports, and I’ve put a lot of hours in to try to make it successful. I’m happy with everything I’ve done, when I look back at it, but I know I’ve been very fortunate with the support I’ve had from my family, my missus and from all of the people I’ve worked with.”
On the work he’s done with the players here at Carlisle United, he told us: “I’d like to think I’ve played my part in helping them to be as good as they could possibly be. There are occasions where you can lead a horse to water, and things like that, but almost every player who has been here has bought in to what we try to do.
“I’ve met some great people on the football side, and in the other departments, but the good thing is that I’m staying in the area, so I’ll be seeing a lot of them quite a bit anyway. I have nothing but good things to say about Carlisle United and it’s certainly been a big and positive part of my life. I feel privileged to have been part of it.
“It was a blank slate when I first came here and I’d like to think that Dolly and I have developed our department over the last four years. Injury records have gone down every year, which is something we’re really pleased about. I know fans often get caught up on players who are missing, but we’ve hit our targets of increasing player availability, and it’s made a difference.
“We have processes in place now which are helping to take things forward. Things like post-match foods have been helped by local businesses, and the new strength and conditioning facility post-floods is something we’re really proud of. We’ve tried to professionalise every area of our department by making ourselves accountable and I think we’ve achieved that.
“Mind you, there’s no doubt Dolly will be pleased to get his space back because he always criticises me for living life like a student. He’ll be glad that his room is tidier now!”
“On the playing side you have to mention senior players like Danny Grainger, Michael Raynes, Luke Joyce, Gary Liddle … there are so many of them who just do everything we ask of them because they know it’s for their benefit,” he commented. “It’s remiss to name names when I think about it because I’ll end up missing some, and the reason all of these lads are professionals is because they do things like this properly.
“Having said that, having a professional like Danny, who has been captain through most of my time here, is a huge boost because he sets such high standards. His role in terms of organising things can’t be understated and he’s been a pleasure to work with.
“I love the competition on a Saturday and I love that you’re helping people to prepare for that competition and that you’re a part of it. But, at the end of the day it’s a job, and you have to balance it against the other things that are important to you. That’s the stage I’ve got to now.”
So, will he be keeping an eye on the results come August?
“I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on how the club gets on,” he confirmed. “As I say, I’ll still be in the area, so it could well be me stood in the paddock on a Saturday giving abuse to the new strength and conditioning coach.
“That happened to me when we played Luton in my very first game here – the season didn’t start the way we wanted it to, we lost the game, and I’ll never forget as I was walking off the pitch that somebody was gesticulating, telling me to get back to Nottingham and telling me what a fat load of good having a sports scientist had done the club. That was a real welcome to Carlisle!
“I’ll really miss everything about it though, and I wish what is a fantastic club nothing but the best. I hope they get the success that everybody really does deserve.”
Click HERE to watch an interview with Lee Fearn on iFollow United now.