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INTERVIEW: It's a job I always wanted to do

We catch up with new head physio Chris Brunskill

8 February 2023


INTERVIEW: It's a job I always wanted to do

We catch up with new head physio Chris Brunskill

8 February 2023

Chris Brunskill has been a familiar face around Brunton Park since as far back as 2011, when volunteering to help out eventually turned into working with the younger age groups, before coming on board full-time with our academy as a sports therapist in 2014.

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He was elevated to the position of head academy physio in 2017, but left to join Blackburn Rovers in 2021 where he first worked with the under-23s before stepping up to cover the first-team squad.

The recent departure of Ross Goodwin to Kilmarnock left the senior role here open, and it somehow feels right that the boyhood United fan is now in the position it seems he was always destined to fill.

“It does feel like coming home, to be honest, and it was just the other day that I realised I’d been here five weeks already – it really has just flown by with everything there’s been to do,” he said.

“And it’s still a little bit surreal that it’s happened. It’s a funny one, I’d kept in touch with a few of the lads and I was actually talking to Josh Dixon when he came down to Blackburn to do a bit of testing a few months ago.

“We were talking about how it was going up in Carlisle and I mentioned that I thought Ross would probably be there for years, a bit like Dolly was, and part of the conversation was Dicko asking me if I’d ever come back.

“I told him it would be something I’d definitely consider, but that it didn’t matter anyway because it was never going to happen. That was a Friday, and it was literally the following Monday when he texted me to ask if I’d see the news that Ross had announced he was moving back to Scotland.

“I read up on that and I knew I then had to talk to the wife to see if we were going to do anything with the situation. We were pretty settled down in Lancashire, but it’s one of those where being head physio here is a job I always wanted.

“It wasn’t an instant decision, but once I knew that she was as interested as I was it was a little bit easier to make the step of applying.”


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Having taken the plunge to submit the application it quickly became apparent, importantly, that the manager was more than comfortable wit the prospect of bringing him back to the club.

“It’s encouraging to hear the manager say he felt he was happy to bring me in because when the job came up, and I was thinking whether or not to go for it, it was in the back of my mind that I didn’t know if it was the right fit or not,” he revealed.

“I’m still fairly young in terms of my career, so you have to ask yourself if you’re ready to be head physio at this stage. You wonder if you’ll settle back into the club, because it is daunting going into a new changing room.

“You know you have to earn the respect of everybody, and there are so many different factors that come into that. It does feel like it fits, like I belong here, and just being in and doing the job feels right.

“Just the other day, with the logistics of the house move and everything, I asked the wife if she still felt we’d made the right decision from a family point of view, and she agreed. Certainly job wise it’s the right fit.

“And part of leaving in the first place was because I was thinking about my career and how best to develop and progress.

“When Dolly left, which I was as surprised as anyone about, I put my name in for it but, having spoken to the club, I agreed that it was a little it too soon for me at that time.


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“I worked with Ross for a year, and it was one of those where I really had to consider what was best for me. I had to ask myself if it was better to move on or stay put, and I decided that moving on was probably going to give me more opportunity to eventually step up in roles.

“It worked out really well because I got the U23s job with Blackburn and then within three months I was with the first team. That was an unbelievable experience for me, but even through that there were times when I would wonder if the Carlisle job would ever come up again.

“I knew it was the job that I wanted, particularly with first team experience now under my belt, but it was just a case of whether or not it would come up. I’ve supported the club for a long time, my family is here, and it’s one of those where it feels like it’s my club.

“Like I say, when it came up we knew as a family that we had a massive decision to make because it isn’t just about the job, we had our whole lives to move back up here.

“It was the right time to leave when I left last time, it worked out really well in terms of helping me to get more experience, but I also think it’s the right time to come back as well.”

And in terms of qualifications, with a Masters degree being worked towards, that’s another area where the boxes are more than ticked.

“Getting that opportunity and experience with Blackburn, especially with the first team, has meant that I’ve learned so much,” he told us. “I’ve worked with some unbelievable physios and they’ve all taught me so much.

“Even though I wasn’t gone for ages I learned so much during the period I’ve been away, and I’m able to bring that to what I do here. But coming into the job with the experience and knowing how to deal with this, that and the other is massive for a role like this.

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“I worked with Dolly for a long time and the head physio at Blackburn was fantastic, and I picked up a lot from Ross as well.

“I’ve got a great background in terms of what a head physio should do and how they should run things, and it’s now down to me to merge all of that so that I can make this my own position.”

Part of making the job his own is earning the trust of the players, which often involves being their confidante as well as their medical specialist.

“The thing with any job, and mine is no different, you have to put the hard yards in,” he explained. “I volunteered for extra things when I was younger, I worked with Penrith when I was really raw and young, just to gain more experience.

“Working with the academy teams was really good, and I obviously picked up a lot working with the youth team for four years. It’s an apprenticeship, that’s what it is.

“You do the University stuff to get the knowledge, but you then have to be able to apply it. That’s where working with as many teams, groups and players as possible comes into it.

“The actual knowledge and understanding of how a muscle heals, or what exercises are needed to help with that process, that’s important, but I would say that 70% plus of a job like this is actually the soft skills.

“It’s people skills - can you get them onside with what they need to do, especially when you’re coming into a new group of lads who are waiting to see how you work. I knew some of the players here, and the ones I didn’t have been top class with me.

“You have to earn the trust of all of them because with something like this, if they don’t trust you it affects the way they are around you. Again, as with any job, trust is a massive thing and it only comes from showing that you know what you’re talking about and building relationships within that.

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“Thankfully I’d kept in touch with quite a few of the lads anyway, and it’s just a case of building on that and getting to know the rest as quickly as possible. Some lads I know really well - I worked with Dicko on his first ACL and he’s had a horrible time of it.

“We’re actually quite close because of that experience, so things like that have made coming back so much smoother. It’s gone so well so far, and I can’t thank everybody enough for that.”

“And being aware of the mental health issues that come with injuries is also important,” he added. “I think here that’s especially so, because there has been a really unlucky run of injuries.

“I am a fan so down at Blackburn I was still keeping an eye on results and how things were going, and I could see the manager talking about the injuries as they happened.

“I was really feeling it for Ross because there were times when he must really have been under the pump, there was so much going on. I was hoping it was going to start settling down at the time I was due to come back, but we’ve picked up a few other little things since then.

“We’ve had Taylor Charters, which is a big one, with the operation he needed, and we’re waiting to hear what will happen with Tobi. They all just seem to be long-term injuries that we pick up, and that can be really tough to take sometimes.

“It’s tough for me, because I’ve got to work out how best to look after them, and then there’s sorting out surgery, appointments and rehab, and stuff like that, but it’s more the human side where you just really feel for these lads.

“I know what a drain it is on a player mentally when he can’t do the one thing he really wants to do. We’ve got a group of injured lads in there who could easily start to feel really sorry for themselves, because a lot of them still have a long way to go in their rehab, and that can bring some difficult days.

“It’s a long process coming back from surgery, and they’re all just working hard at doing it properly so they can put this behind them. Morale is a massive thing, but I have to say that they’re a great group.

“Taylor Charters is telling some of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard, but that kind of thing keeps morale up. We’re doing quizzes, riddles, all sorts of stuff just to keep them thinking about other things.

“I want the physio room to be a place where instead of it feeling like a difficult place to be, through the tough months of rehab, it’s somewhere where everyone is picking each other up and keeping it bright. Hearing Jack Ellis try to work out the riddles is frightening, to be honest, but that kind of thing really does help.”

And with all of that in mind, let’s not forget that his two-year-old daughter was joined by twins just over a week after he took up his new post … and there’s still the house move to be completed as well!

“It’s just been a bit of a whirlwind, probably chaotic at times,” he commented. “At the club I’ve had to get to grips with all of the different injuries and where they all are with their rehab.

“I’m getting to know how the gaffer works and stuff like that, which is obviously really important, and it really has felt like it’s been a million miles an hour.

“The twins came at the start of January and that’s brilliant, but the sleep has definitely gone! My wife has been unbelievable with all of that, she’s dealt with most it.

“We’ve got a little one who thankfully my parents have looked after and she’s loved that. My head is in so many places right now.

“We’ve still got to sell our house down there, find somewhere up here, so it’s all being juggled as we speak. But the way the gaffer has been with me, and the same goes for the lads, it's made it all so much easier.”

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