“It was the twins’ first birthday and I was on the bus down to Exeter,” says Chris Brunskill, putting into context why he has decided no longer to be Carlisle United’s head physiotherapist. “Okay, they might not remember it, because they’ve just turned one.

“But I will remember that. And my wife will remember that.”

Brunskill, this summer, is walking away from a job that he long coveted with a heavy heart but a clear conscience. The demands of the role and its time pressures on family life are at the core of his decision.

He is instead setting up his own physiotherapy practice in Carlisle. Brunskill will offer his services via CB Physiotherapy based at the Sheepmount at the headquarters of DA Human Mechanics.

It is a step out of professional football: a move Brunskill made with honest conviction, however much he loved being part of Carlisle United. When he joined the Blues in December 2022 it was a rewarding return to the club for a man who had worked in the Brunton Park academy before building his career at Blackburn Rovers.

Since then he shared in the ups and downs of United’s journey, including last year’s Wembley play-off victory followed by last season’s struggle in League One, as well as his central involvement in treating and rehabilitating a host of injured players.

News and Star: Brunskill, right, is launching his own physiotherapy business based at the Sheepmount premises of Dan Anderton's DA Human MechanicsBrunskill, right, is launching his own physiotherapy business based at the Sheepmount premises of Dan Anderton's DA Human Mechanics (Image: Jon Colman)

Come last winter, though, and some of the sheen was fading. He says it led to “lots of in-depth thoughts and conversations with my wife, and other people I trust,” about whether he should continue.

“The biggest reason is family,” he says. “We have three young kids, and had twins not long after I rejoined the club. Having twins is so far and above anything you’d ever imagine, in so many different ways.

“And, as good a job as this is – and it was my dream, to have this job at this club – I found it just doesn’t fit with young families.”

Brunskill says the “trade-off” of a role he adored and the way it took time away from his parental duties, was something he felt he had to consider carefully but decisively. He is also keen to say that the way Carlisle’s League One season unravelled in 2023/24 is not a trigger for his decision to leave.

“Obviously the season has been tough, but that didn’t influence my decision at all,” he says. “Next season is a new season after all, and hopefully the club can push on and get back up.

“I had to take my footballing hat off when it came to this. It’s purely the expectation of the time commitment of the job. It’s essentially 24/7. I’m on call for players, but also staff, at all times of the day, every single day of the week.

“If I get a day off in the week – where I don’t have to go in to assess or treat a player, organise scans, speak to radiologists about scan reports, speak to the coaching staff, manager, players about anything at all – I’m sat at my laptop once we’ve got the kids to bed, planning rehab sessions, everything for the injured players for the week.

“It’s very rare that I get a day off. And if I do, my phone is constantly going off, which is draining in itself.”

Brunskill wants to stress that he was not blind to this nature of the job. It is also the case that United have expanded their medical department recently with a second physio, James Counsell, joining.

But the experience of the last 18 months has still led to some unavoidable conclusions.

“I could see it taking a toll on my family life and my children,” he adds. “My eldest is about to turn four, and it’s got to the stage where she’s making comments about me having to go on away trips, and missing me when I’m away.

News and Star: Brunskill says the toll the job took on his family life meant he has decided to leave the BluesBrunskill says the toll the job took on his family life meant he has decided to leave the Blues (Image: Barbara Abbott)

“I’ve asked a lot of my wife. She’s taken up the slack to a ridiculous degree, and I’ve seen the toll it’s taken on her at certain times. We’ve had a few away games on the bounce, I’ve not been at home on consecutive weekends, and she’s got all three kids by herself. She’s juggling work, needy young twins and a tantrummy toddler, and it’s really difficult.

“Look, it’s a great job. And this is not a sob story. It was just an accumulation of things and realising that I’m not going to get these years back with my kids.”

Brunskill says he spoke openly about his decision to Paul Simpson, the United manager, who accepted his reasoning. He admitted it was a difficult conversation because by nature he did not want to leave football or the Blues. “I love working here. I love the crack of the changing rooms and the physio room, getting to know the players so well.

“I’ve probably made a lot of lifelong friends. When things are going well at a football club, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Brunskill says he might well look to return to football when his children are older. In the meantime, he will reflect on a short but eventful time at Brunton Park; one which sadly ended with relegation and a learning experience in itself.

Initially he addresses the social media rumour mill which cranks up to a greater degree than normal after such a poor campaign – especially when a senior staff member such as Brunskill decides to leave.

“It was a slight concern of mine what people would think – ‘Oh, we’re getting relegated and he’s jumping ship’,” he says. “Football can be a bit of a fishbowl and everyone’s got an opinion, but realistically a lot of people don’t know everything that goes on.

“The truth, though, is that Carlisle’s my club. I grew up supporting them. If the opportunity presented itself to come back one day, once the kids are older, I would jump at the chance.”

Before talking about his new venture, we reflect on some of the more memorable aspects of his time in the head physio role. For Brunskill there are highlights both in terms of occasion, and individual achievement.

“Wembley was something you’re never going to forget,” he says. “It was incredible.

"In day-to-day terms, the satisfaction is from those young guys who’ve got injured and felt like the world’s ended, coming through the rehab. Working with them every day, and seeing them back on the pitch making a difference, is very rewarding.”

News and Star: Brunskill says he has made lifelong friends from his time as United's head physio, working with players such as Taylor ChartersBrunskill says he has made lifelong friends from his time as United's head physio, working with players such as Taylor Charters (Image: Richard Parkes)

Two cases in 2022/23 come to Brunskill’s mind. “There was Edmo [Ryan Edmondson] at Swindon [the striker scored a last-minute winner]. It was his first game back from his shoulder injury, which he did just before I came back to the club.

“I ended up kind of doing all of his rehab with him. So to see him come back in and score that goal...it encourages you through the difficult times.

“The other one is Taylor [Charters] scoring the winning penalty at Wembley. He had a bit of a disrupted season [with hamstring injuries], and we've unfortunately had to spend a lot of time together in the gym and the physio room. But we get on really well – and to see him score that goal that basically got us up and got us over the line, it fills you with some pride.

“You don’t try and take credit for it, but to know that you've had a small hand getting him back out on the pitch is something you take satisfaction from.”

The tougher experiences have involved the serious injuries certain players endured last season: Callum Guy’s ACL, Joshua Kayode’s shoulder and calf injuries.

 “The hardest part comes because you're dealing with people,” Brunskill says. “It's seeing the emotions that come alongside an injury, the difficulty of being stuck in the gym every day when your team-mates are going out to train or play.

“With Josh Dixon, I was involved in two out of his three ACL rehabs. It takes a massive toll, and you’ve got to be a bit of a counsellor to players, a friend. You build up that trust through those dark times and then hopefully you get to enjoy what you see when they get out on the pitch.”

Brunskill says he values the friendships built during these times, with players like Dixon, who is now with Annan Athletic. He will stay in touch with the many pros he helped even now that he is about to step out of football.

He is, he says, excited about his move to join the team at DA Human Mechanics, which is headed by Dan Anderton. Neil Dalton, the long-serving former United physio, also runs his own clinic on the same premises.

“I had a conversation with Dan and sounded him out about what I was thinking – and he said he totally got it, because he has two young lads himself and knows the time commitment, having worked in football,” says Brunskill, who will be self-employed but work under the DA umbrella.

“He said he’d be really happy to get me involved. The business is growing at a really healthy rate, they’re busy, they’ve got a brilliant reputation in the city, so it just felt like a natural fit to go down that route.

“It’s going to be an interesting transition for me because I've never worked in the private sector. I've dabbled in it here and there but never done it full-time and it being my only job. It will be a change, going from the physio room in football to working with people coming through the door as paying customers.

“But I'm looking forward to the challenge and hopefully being able to help people out who maybe don't have access to a club physio or that kind of medical help.”

Brunskill says he is keen to draw on the experience of both Anderton and Dalton, having worked with the latter at Carlisle. “He [Dalton] has been in and around the club helping out on days off, and he's obviously a great character to know and someone that you can just learn a lot from.”

Dalton had also walked away from United because he was ready to see life outside the football bubble. Brunskill has bounced his own ideas off the legendary physio and believes he can bring his own experience, and principles, to bear.

News and Star: Brunskill is working his notice at United and will soon be starting his own physio clinic, CB PhysiotherapyBrunskill is working his notice at United and will soon be starting his own physio clinic, CB Physiotherapy (Image: Jon Colman)

“I know their ideas and wants for the business are about trying to treat people like professionals,” he says. “I'm looking forward to getting people in who maybe are keen runners or football players or rugby players, or whatever, and my experience of treating what are elite athletes.”

Brunskill admits his name might not be as well known as Dalton’s in Carlisle but he has a respected CV, and his recent position with United also ought to help in terms of profile.

“I think I can bring a lot in terms of what I've experienced and learned from working with footballers at different levels, from youth team right up to the Championship, and some of those players are playing professionally in the Premier League now," he says.

At Blackburn, for instance, Brunskill helped Adam Wharton, the current Crystal Palace star who was this week called up by England, as well as Ash Phillips, who is now on Tottenham Hotspur’s books and has been playing on loan in the Championship with Plymouth Argyle.

In his Carlisle academy days, he also spent time working with a teenage Jarrad Branthwaite.

“He was a young under-16, with a June birthday, and was quite immature in terms of his body,” Brunskill recalls of the Everton defender. “He was very tall but not particularly strong through his trunk and core.

“I had him in the gym doing bits and pieces to try and help make him more robust.

“It’s good to see him doing so well, and at times I’ll send him a message. It’s a nice feeling when you’ve had an impact on someone like that, however small.”

Brunskill now hopes he can have a positive impact on the members of the public who seek his help, while in 2024/25 he will revert to watching United as a supporter: with the same passion but, he insists, no regrets.

“I’ve still had times when I’ve been asking myself if it’s the right decision, and if I’ve jumped the gun,” he says. “But then I get home and see the kids…and, yeah, it’s the right call.”

For more information on CB Physiotherapy contact cbphysiotherapy@hotmail.com, visit dahumanmechanics.co.uk or visit CB Physiotherapy on Facebook.