Local lad Josh Dixon could barely contain his pride as he sat down for his first meeting with the local press as a professional footballer, having battled against adversity to clinch an offer which will see him stay with his hometown club until at least the end of the 2019/20 season.
The attack-minded midfielder had already caught the eye through an impressive first year of his scholarship, but was dealt a cruel blow when he suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament on the eve of the 18/19 campaign.
Unforeseen setbacks led to him having three operations along the long road to recovery, so there was little surprise that his was the biggest smile in the building on the day it was confirmed that he’d made it through to the professional ranks.
“I was over the moon when I was told I was getting a contract,” he admitted. “I just can’t wait to get back and started again because I’ve been out and injured for so long.
“Getting the offer was unexpected, really, because of that injury. It happened at a horrible time and I haven’t played for nearly a year because of it. Thankfully the coaches said I’d shown enough from my first year to see me through.
“It was a mentally tough year for me, to be honest. I had three operations in the end, and the recovery didn’t quite go as planned, which was difficult, but I have to thank the physios, Neil Dalton and Chris Brunskill. They helped me to get through it.
“It was hard to keep going sometimes, I have to admit that, but I found that I was improving every day. I had little targets to hit, like getting back to running, and things like that, and that’s what helped me to keep my focus.”
“Like I said, with being out for that long I wasn’t expecting to get a contract,” he continued. “I knew that the second year of my scholarship was vital, and I just wanted to prove myself and show I could get a contract.
“So, it was tough, but the work with the physios has helped me massively because it got me back to a point where I’m ready to play again. I found it hard when I wasn’t able to play, but I know that’s the same for any player. I feel like I’m stronger for having been through it and I just want to get on with it now.”
With the next step a return for pre-season training with the first team squad, he said: “I trained with the first team quite a bit during my first year and that was a good experience.
“The tempo is much quicker with the professional players and the sharpness and touch has to be there from the moment you start the session. It was quite difficult to get used to at first, but after a while you find that it starts to come together for you.
“I’ll be working hard through the summer because I know I need to be as fit as I possibly can be for pre-season. I want to be ready to take the chance if it comes. I can’t wait to get started now, I know I’m going to learn even more just from being with the first team players.
“The manager was really understanding of my injury and he’s told me to work hard so that I am ready when I come back. I’m really happy at the moment and I know I need to concentrate on getting back and playing again so that I can fulfil my potential.”
Having built up a reputation through his first season with the under-18 side as a player who likes to get forward, he commented: “I’m an attacking central midfielder and I like to get in the box as much as I can.
“I work hard to try to make as many tackles as I can, and I like to chip in with goals. The players I look up to are Kevin De Bruyne from Man City and Jamie Devitt from Carlisle. I like that creative attacking role.
“My contract is for a year so I just want to be given the chance to prove that I can play in this league. I’ll be doing my best to be in the manager’s thoughts and hopefully that will lead to another contract.”
A real success story for the academy system, he was picked up by the club having been spotted playing football locally as a nine-year-old, and has progressed through the age groups to secure this first deal, with his next target to be pulling on the shirt in a first team game.
“I’m from Carlisle and I’ve been playing here since I was really young,” he said. “I’ve supported the team all my life, so it’s brilliant that I’ve been given this chance.
“Darren [Edmondson] and Gav [Skelton] have been the big influences on me coaching wise because under-18s football and life is hard to get used to.
“It went from training on a Tuesday and Thursday when I was 16 to training every day, and playing tough games on a weekend. They were both really good with me through the two years and I can’t ask for anything more than that.
“My parents have helped me all the way through as well. They were also a bit shocked when I got the offer, but they were happy for me as well.
“We’ve all seen from what has happened to Liam [McCarron] that if you work hard the manager will give you a chance and you will go on to play a lot of league games.
“None of this has sunk in properly yet, to be honest. I do find myself thinking that next time I’m back at work, it’s for real, particularly with the fact I haven’t played for a while. Hopefully it’ll just be a really good season for me.”
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