First-year scholar Sam Fishburn has to be one of those young players who, occasionally, will find himself wondering what on earth has happened as despite the challenges to football thrown up by the pandemic, he's found himself plucked from the ranks of the local north-east football circuit to be catapulted onto the Carlisle United first team bench just under 10 months after joining the club.
With everybody reminding him that nothing has been achieved yet, it's still been a remarkable story for the 17-year-old who got his first call-up to the United squad for the 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in the Papa John’s Trophy home game in November.
He was named amongst the subs once again for the away game at Harrogate (abandoned with just eight minutes played) and then for the January trip to Walsall, which was to become the last run-out for the Blues prior to the current trail of postponements.
Speaking to head of youth Eric Kinder this week, we wondered if he’d been surprised by the impact made by his young forward.
“It has surprised me because I can remember when we signed him in March from local football in Newcastle during lockdown one, and the season got ended soon after,” he said. “During the summer we actually had to talk about who would play as our centre forward if it turned out to be the case that Sam couldn’t get to grips with it.
“We had nobody else like that in the group, so it was a possibility we would have to change our stye of play if we found that he wasn’t able to adjust. We didn’t know how he would do, he’d only ever played junior football, and we’d only really seen him three or four times prior to the close down.”
“We got back going again in July and August and we were really pleased because straight away he was more than worth his place in the side,” he continued. “He played well in our early games but he couldn’t score for love nor money and that was really frustrating for him.
“Then it clicked and he started scoring - some really good goals in amongst it all as well - and from there he got his call to go and train with the first team. They liked him, because of the way he plays, and one thing he must never lose is his work ethic.
“He never stops running and closing people down, and he actually does a lot of running he doesn’t really need to do, if we’re being honest. I’m not going to knock that out of him because I don’t want to change his approach to how he does things.”
An assist and a goal when he came off the bench to play 20 minutes in the December 5-0 reserve victory over Rochdale brought more praise, this time from assistant manager Gav Skelton in his post-match review, and that led to his subsequent inclusion in the matchday squads for Harrogate and Walsall games.
“We were delighted for him that he took his opportunity to show what he can do in that reserve game,” Kinder commented. “In six months he’s gone from junior football to being on the bench for the club that’s at the top end of League Two.
“It’s a big jump for him but it’s up to us and him to keep him grounded. It’s a wonderful world for him at the moment, but experience tells you that he’s going to have challenges to face and deal with.
“That’s what will define who he is as a footballer going forward from this. He’s been training with the youth team again recently and I know he’ll be fretting about that, because he hasn’t been involved with the last few sessions the first team have had.
“That’s an example of something he has to understand, and we’ve been talking to him about it, because these young lads are all the same, they’re all impatient.
“Overall he’s definitely surprised me with how well he’s done, but it’s been a nice surprise. Both Sam and Lewis Bell get excellent reports whenever they go with the first team, and that can only be good news for them.”
“As long as they understand that absolutely nothing has been achieved yet, which I know they both do understand, then they’ll continue to give themselves the best chance. That’s all you can ask for and want.
“It’s the same for our other lads as well. They need to pick up on the fact that their situation can change at the drop of hat. If you get a chance, be it in training or wherever, take it. There’s always somebody watching.”