“You’re a psychologist, physio, counsellor – whatever is needed,” says Sophie Birnie, whose official job title at Carlisle United is head physiotherapist but who will need to wear many more hats than that in the helping and repairing of injured players.

Birnie is the latest occupant of one of the Blues backroom staff’s most crucial positions, having been appointed to replace Chris Brunskill this summer. Previously with Newport County, Birnie brings a knowledge of the job, an evident enthusiasm for it – and an acceptance that few days are the same.

The physio must be a shoulder for rehabilitating players as well as a skilled practitioner. “My first degree is in sport and exercise psychology, which I think has helped a lot,” Birnie says.

“Sometimes I also think the female side of it can make people open up. I’ve had it in the past, in a bigger medical department, when some staff have said, ‘I’ve been here ten years, and they’ve never said anything like that to me.’

“There are so many different elements to it, but that’s what makes the role so interesting.”

Birnie admits football physiotherapy was not initially her plan but her love of the sport, and working in it, kept drawing her to such roles. “I started off in academy-based sport, and did bits in hospital,” she says. “I enjoyed my roles there, but I did a placement as a student at Blackburn Rovers, and then once I qualified, they contacted me to get me in there.

“My first first-team role was then at Rochdale, I was there for two seasons, and then I went to Newport. and then my first [footballing] role was at Rochdale. I always loved the football side, and it doesn’t really feel like work. And then this job came up.”

Birnie may not have been on United’s radar before but football is a small world and their stars aligned this summer after Brunskill announced his departure.

“I’m a Preston-based lass, so working at Newport was quite far, but I got on very well with the management – I started doing north west away games for them, and it ended up being full-time, but it was never going to be long-term,” she says.

“The manager there [former Newport boss Graham Coughlan] knows Simmo well [Coughlan played under United boss Paul Simpson at Shrewsbury Town], so as soon as this job came up, he was very encouraging for me to apply.

“I came to the interview and was just really impressed. It seemed like a really good club. I know last season wasn’t the greatest of seasons, but with the new training facilities that are coming, and the prospects for the club – it was really exciting. So I came away from the interview even more excited.”

Birnie says settling in to United has been “easy”, having been given a good welcome by players and staff, and she has been around the game long enough not to be intimidated by being a lone female in a male-dominated staff.

“Honestly, it doesn't bother me” she says. “I've always got on with people really well, so luckily I've not ever had any issue.

“Obviously you get a few [comments] on match days, but that personally doesn't bother me. I think there are bigger issues in sport. In previous jobs, people have gone, ‘We weren't really sure how the dynamics were going to be’, but then they realise it’s fine, and say, ‘It’s great – it’s actually better’.

“If it can be daunting, it can be more so for the other members of staff – but normally they end up wondering what they were worried about. It’s about the players’ fitness and wellbeing. That’s all that matters to me.

“I’m very much no-ego. We’re all here for three points, getting promoted, and it's that bigger picture. Gender's irrelevant really. Sometimes you get the odd thing where they wonder why you're grumpy and stuff like that, but it’s all in good taste.”

Birnie, though, recognises that visibility as a woman working in the professional game remains important. “I don’t notice it as such, and I don’t see myself as being a role model to anyone, but [in some respects] there’s still a long way to go. So if people see me in that sort of role, and it makes them want to do it, that’s amazing.”

The clear focus is on the job in hand. Ensuring she is a trusted figure by manager, staff and players is essential, as well as negotiating the various demands of football physiotherapy, Birnie says.

“It’s about weighing up that risk versus reward thing,” she says, when asked what she has learned from recent roles.

“In academy settings you're very rigid in the framework, but [here] it’s also the question of what can people get through? Obviously I'm here to look after them, so if there's any doubt then you pull them [out of sessions], but there's that bigger picture than that too.

“In terms of the environment, because I've always been kind of quite sensible, and boring, and quiet, I didn't think this sort of environment would be something that I would like.

“But I get on well with people, I've got no ego and I genuinely love football, so that's been helpful. So far people like working with me, and I work well with them, and I think I genuinely have their best interests at heart.

“That'll always be the first thing – being genuine in my approach, building good relationships with the players, building trust, and I think I'm quite good at my job, getting [players] back fit and robust for going forward.”

Injury rates at clubs have led to much headscratching in the modern and supposedly tightly-monitored era. Birnie is realistic about this as well as determined to play her part in keeping United on the right side of it.

“It’s happening at the top level as well, and they have access to everything – all their millions of staff members that we might not be blessed with. So if it’s happening there, it’s obviously a massive issue,” she says.

“At the start of last season, when they were adding so much extra-time, I was worried – then you saw the amount of goals being scored late on, from people being fatigued, and then the amount of injuries.

“The projection at the time was quite scary – 4,000 extra minutes – but luckily that got better and closer to normal again. Then there is the factor of extra games, and at lower levels you don’t always have that ability to rotate.”

Birnie talks about the physical “deloading” of the Covid-19 period, and a subsequent rise in ACL injuries. There is much to consider, plenty of it complex.

“If someone had the answer, then we'd all be very rich. We just have to try and control things as much as we can, then we don't have that.”

Birnie plays football as well as works in it, having long been on the books of Southport FC Women. “I started when I was ten, and I had the same manager [Noel Warham] for 23 years,” she smiles, noting the contrast in that kind of job stability to the professional men’s game.

“Last year, when I was with Newport, I played less, but I would still try to play a bit.”

For United’s Ladies, maybe? “Well, someone did contact me on Twitter [about that]. I don't know whether I'm a bit old, but yeah, I might try, it would be nice. I was wondering if they get the same kit, because I absolutely adore the new away kit this season – that would sign me up!”

The day job involves Birnie as part of a recently-expanded team which includes fellow physio James Counsell, and the strength and conditioning department that includes head of performance Jake Simpson, and S&C coach Adam Kwiecien.

When the games begin and the first player goes down, though, it will be Birnie very much at the forefront. The first experience of a packed Brunton Park, whatever the circumstances, is clearly an exciting prospect.

“I’ve only been here the once, with Rochdale,” she says. “Rochdale were winning 3-1 but Carlisle pulled it back to 3-3…there was a real buzz around the place then.

“It's a massive stadium as well, isn't it? I didn't realise how big it was, but it can hold 17-18,000. It’ll be nice to be part of that.”