“The ways I work can be sometimes a little bit…unconventional,” says Glen Johnson, Carlisle United’s new goalkeeping coach: the man charged with ensuring the Blues’ last lines of defence are primed and ready for anything in 2024/25.

Are keepers more accustomed to the unconventional than outfield players? “Yeah, I think so,” says Johnson. “And you want to put the goalkeepers under stress. You want it to be chaotic, and try and replicate the game as much as you can.

“I like to keep them on their toes, and have a lot of unexpected, unannounced practices and things like that. I can tell by the smiles on their faces that they’re enjoying it so far. But we’re getting the work done as well.”

This is the man under whose eye Harry Lewis, Gabe Breeze and Jude Smith will work in the new season, Johnson having joined United as Dave Timmins’ replacement. He comes to Brunton Park with a varied CV which includes coaching in the USA and India as well as England and Scotland.

Now the 38-year-old's task is to help Carlisle prove more forbidding at protecting their goal than they were in their League One relegation season. This is a job for the team, not just the keepers, but supporters will still want to see more clean sheets, more occasions when the men with the gloves shine.

Johnson puts United's keepers through their paces before the Penrith friendlyJohnson puts United's keepers through their paces before the Penrith friendly (Image: Ben Holmes)

“I met with Gabe and Harry individually, before I started, just to get an idea of what they were like as human beings,” says Johnson. “I think that helps with the process of being on the grass. If you've never met before, there's always an element of strangeness to it, which to me is quite a normal human reaction to change.”

Johnson is well aware of United’s struggles last season and is determined that all involved learn from it, but are not saddled with the experience. “Ultimately I’ve said, ‘Look, this is a fresh start’. You don't forget what went gone on. But you can't dwell, we can't change it.”

On Lewis, who joined Carlisle mid-season from Bradford City, Johnson adds: “We've had some honest discussions. I think that, potentially, there were certain things that he’d maybe look back and possibly do differently. But again, we can't change it. So I've said to H, ‘Ultimately, you've got to get in, you've got to work hard’.

"And my expectations of the goalkeepers… I'm quite demanding. I think we've got three good goalkeepers who are open to learning. That’s the biggest thing for me. And we'll see where we go.”

Where Johnson has been is a question that does not bring a straight-line answer. His is an interesting CV and it has not necessarily been a conventional route to Brunton Park.

Glen Johnson will work with Harry Lewis, Gabe Breeze and Jude Smith at first-team levelGlen Johnson will work with Harry Lewis, Gabe Breeze and Jude Smith at first-team level (Image: News & Star)

“I started in the US and was there for just over a year,” he says. “It came through a friend. I was over there just helping him with a summer camp for a week, and at the team, the equipment manager had resigned.

“So I was in the right place at the right time. I spoke to the head coach and said, ‘Look, I'm a goalie coach, but I can do equipment as well’. And fast forward six months later, I'm at the embassy in London, getting my visa and moving to America.”

Johnson was with Crystal Palace Baltimore. “It was an amazing experience. I travelled all over North America. Brilliant.”

Upon returning to England, Johnson joined Chelmsford City under Glenn Pennyfather, the former Crystal Palace player who had been his school team manager. “I volunteered with him, eventually got some expenses, then got a job with the youth set-up. And it sort of snowballed from there.

“I then went out to India. I was first-team goalie coach at Pune, in the I-League and the Asia Cup. Wonderful country. We played teams in Hong Kong, Singapore, went to Burma.

“I think having those life experiences helps shape you as a coach.”

Johnson went on to work with the Cowley brothers at Braintree Town as they came close to promotion to the EFL in 2016. After a stint at Boreham Wood, he worked under Peter Taylor at Gillingham, and then followed Taylor to Dagenham & Redbridge, before heading north of the border for three years at Queen’s Park.

Johnson has worked with managers such as Danny Cowley, left, and Peter Taylor, right, during his careerJohnson has worked with managers such as Danny Cowley, left, and Peter Taylor, right, during his career (Image: PA)

Rich experiences and learnings. “Even at Queen’s Park, we had Owen Coyle as the manager, and Marijn Beuker, who’s now director of football at Ajax. I learned a lot from both of them. Especially the stuff that Marijn does. And that's actually helped sculpt the way that I work with the goalkeepers now. There’s a lot of out-of-the-box thinking with it.”

Johnson was not necessarily itching for a move this summer but when the news came of Timmins’ departure from Carlisle, the vacancy intrigued him. “I’ve really enjoyed it at Queen’s Park, loved living there, great people at the club. So it was going to take a really good opportunity to bring me away from that. And I just felt that this was it. I'm so proud to be here, to be honest.”

What, then, attracted him to Carlisle? “When you look at the size of the football club and the fan base, and the city, that was a big thing – to be part of a community and to represent that community. And looking at where the football club want to go with the ownership.”

Johnson also took soundings from contacts with good knowledge of the Blues. “I’m quite close with Tony Caig [the former United keeper and coach who is now head of academy goalkeeping at Newcastle United]. I first met Caigy about 15 years ago on a coaching course, and we've kept in touch ever since and speak two or three times a week.

“He only had good things to say about the football club and where it was going. I know Timmo a little bit as well, and spoke to him, and he had positive things to say too.”

Johnson says he shares the ambition which is speaking its name very clearly at Carlisle under the Piataks and Paul Simpson this summer. “There’s no point doing something if you don't want to be the best at it,” he says. “And ultimately, for a club of this size, that [promotion] has to be the ambition.

“My role as well is to develop goalkeepers, so I'm going to have an input with the academy and also helping develop Roman Caig, our academy goalkeeper coach.

Academy keeper coach Roman CaigAcademy keeper coach Roman Caig (Image: Barbara Abbott)

“So that's a longer-term plan for me in terms of what my role is. But, like anyone, I'm ambitious. I want to be coaching and competing at as high a level as I possibly can. So…let's put it this way, my ambitions match the football club's.”

As Johnson touches on the broader view of his role, it brings to mind something Simpson said in the close-season, about producing more home-grown keepers. United’s boss feels west Cumbria could be a particularly fertile ground for this, given the history of men like Dean Henderson, James Trafford and Scott Carson from that side of the county.

Johnson has discussed this with Simpson and agrees that more development centres could be a highly relevant project. “We're starting to get a plan in place. This was one of the conversations I had with the gaffer when I met him,” he says.

“Between the two of us, we identified that that area of west Cumbria could be a real area to go and find goalkeepers and develop, especially when you look back at what's come out of that part of the world.

“That's something I'm really passionate about – to get out, find and develop our own goalkeepers. It's something we did well with up in Scotland.

“Young Callan McKenna, a local Glasgow boy, has been through the academy system at Queen's Park. We developed him and he's now down at Bournemouth sitting on the bench, doing really well. That's what we want to replicate here.”