“It’s a job where, if you think you’ve learned everything, then quite simply you haven’t,” says Ross Goodwin, Carlisle United’s new physio, whose fate was to move jobs and leagues in the middle of this strangest of years.

Goodwin is talking about professional development – “you need to be constantly going on courses, because things are changing all the time” – but he could just as well be talking about 2020, which has set football its own set of volatile challenges.

The man from Annan joined United in August as the successor to the long-serving Neil “Dolly” Dalton, who went in the opposite direction across the border and kept going, to Aberdeen. Making a career move in football is interesting at the best of times; doing so in a pandemic even more so.

“It was very strange,” Goodwin says. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done an interview through Zoom. The gaffer [Chris Beech] phoned me, and we talked for about two hours, and he was one of the main reasons that the club was sold to me.

“I obviously knew about the club before, but the things he said made it somewhere I wanted to be. Yeah, it was a strange process, but thankfully it’s been worthwhile.”

Goodwin left Kilmarnock, where he was a popular figure, in order to join Carlisle. After spells with Queen of the South as well as his home-town club of Annan Athletic, his bedding-in period at Brunton Park has included the belated pre-season and start to 2020/21.

“Going to any club must be difficult with the new restrictions in place,” he says. “You’re not really free to do your job properly. You still do as much as you can, but it’s not the same. That said, because the boys and the gaffer are so easy to work with, it’s made it a much easier transition.”

United have had their share of injuries early this campaign, not that they are the only club to be hit this way as the unique, compressed calendar takes its toll. This sets Goodwin another immediate test in his new post.

“It’s difficult, because we’ve signed a lot of boys in the summer and you don’t know what they’ve been doing in that period before – maybe too much, maybe too little,” he says. “I think you’ll get a lot of injuries in every league, basically, this season. It’s just going to be one of those things.”

It is impossible to think of Goodwin's position at Carlisle without considering the predecessor who held the job from 1997 to 2020. It is unusual to think of a physio vacancy as a case of huge shoes to fill, but Dalton was a legendary figure at Brunton Park.

“I didn’t think Dolly would ever leave,” smiles Goodwin. “I think he’s had a mid-life crisis going up there [to Aberdeen]! But it’s been good because it’s a brilliant opportunity for me. Hopefully I’m here as long as he was.

“I know Dolly quite well. I spoke to him before I came and since then we’ve kept in touch. Anything I need, I can just give him a call and he’ll help us out whenever he can. But I’ve had 11 years in the job myself and you get your experience through the years.

News and Star: Long-serving physio Neil Dalton, who left Carlisle for Aberdeen this summerLong-serving physio Neil Dalton, who left Carlisle for Aberdeen this summer

“It’s a different setting now. After 11 years in Scotland, I’m now dealing with new specialists, new grounds. It’s a new challenge.”

Goodwin says that this aspect, more than the geographical benefit of moving closer to home, appealed when the job came up. “When I spoke to the gaffer in lockdown, and he set out the club…he wants to be successful. You want to be part of that. If it was local but wasn’t a team that was progressing, I probably wouldn’t have come. The fact we want to challenge and do something here is a big pull.”

Being nearer to Annan, he does concede, “makes a massive difference because I’m 20 minutes down the road instead of one hour 40. It’s good to get a change of scenery. There’s 42 clubs in Scotland and I’ve been to 41 of the grounds. Unfortunately I never went to Stirling Albion, but it’s not a big miss…

“It’s slightly different here to being up the road. You’re kind of in a little bubble [in Scotland]. You play everyone four times and you get a bit comfortable in the role. It’s good to challenge yourself.”

Goodwin started with Annan Athletic, then spent four years with Killie, later returning to Rugby Park after a stint with Queen of the South. Seven of his 11 years in the profession have been spent as head physio and his time with Kilmarnock also gave him a taste of success.

“Winning the League Cup [in 2012] was a good day,” he says of their triumph over Celtic. “It’s just brilliant being part of that. Being part of any success is what it’s all about. Once you have a little taste of it you just want to push on and get more. It’s such a massive lift for the club and the community.

“Then, the last two or three seasons under Steve Clarke…compared to when I first came, it was like a new club when I left. He was a great manager who was very good at his job. Everything had stepped up a level. Finishing third behind Celtic and Rangers [in 2019] was a big achievement for Kilmarnock.”

Goodwin is experienced in both the physical and psychological tasks that a physio’s job requires. At United in the last few weeks he has handled hamstring tears, dead legs and shoulder injuries, and knows that the longer a player is sidelined, the more layered the challenge.

News and Star: Ross Goodwin, left, with United's injured loanee Ethan Walker (photo: Stuart Walker)Ross Goodwin, left, with United's injured loanee Ethan Walker (photo: Stuart Walker)

“You get a few complicated ones,” he says. “The biggest challenge is probably the mental side, [especially] the long-term boys.

“You need to know your players. Some are good days, some are bad days, sometimes you need to give them a wee cuddle, or a day off, and some days they might need a wee kick up the backside and you need to push them a bit more. It’s a physio job but you’re basically a psychologist for the boys.

“Your [most rewarding recoveries] are probably cruciates. When you’ve been with someone eight or nine months and you see them getting back out there, it’s nice. Seeing them get the first goal is a good feeling. That’s them part of the team again.”

There are inevitably times when a physio, concerned chiefly with the player’s welfare, is pulling one way, and a manager desperate for results another. It is no good being the man in the middle of those debates without a certain resilience.

“That’s one word for it,” Goodwin says with a wry grin. “The player’s desperate to play, the manager’s desperate to have his best team on the pitch. You explain why you should and shouldn’t be playing, basically.

“To be fair, there’s always pressure. It doesn’t matter how things are going, you always get slaughtered off the manager. It’s being able to take it and try to help to get your best squad out, but obviously not being stupid at the same time.

“You need to be realistic. If someone’s got a big game at the weekend and they’re feeling they can do it, at the end of the day it’s the player that takes the risk. But if you know they’re going to break down, you have to protect them. If it’s something like a head injury you have to step in and tell them that they can’t take the risk. My duty of care is to the player, even though I do want the club to do well on the pitch.”

Goodwin will work with Greg Short, United’s newly-confirmed first-team fitness coach, in the continued preparation of Beech’s players for a long and undeniably odd campaign. “That’s a big part of it,” he adds of this particular working relationship. “You need to be able to trust someone, looking after the data in training, [so that] they’re not over or under-working them, because that’s just as harmful.

“If I need to pass boys on for the rehab side, you need to be able to trust the fitness coach to take over and give them the correct running and ball work, and the strength work, because it’s a big part.”

Only a fool would predict what 2020 and beyond has in store. A quiet journey appears unlikely. Goodwin, though, smiles again when he says: “It’s a great dressing room here. I’ve just left a great dressing room as well. It’s always a worry when you come somewhere new but the boys have been brilliant. I knew Gav Skelton from Queen of the South, so I’ve got him to give a little bit of stick to every so often.”