Andy Robertson’s success comes as no surprise when you know his upbringing

Andy Robertson’s success comes as no surprise when you know his upbringing

By Kenny Millar

For all his qualities, fearlessness might just be Andy Robertson’s defining characteristic. When, towards the end of July, he grinned for the cameras while bashfully holding up a Liverpool shirt with his name emblazoned across the shoulders, it marked the latest chapter in a genuine football fairytale.

 


This article initially appeared in Issue 5 of Nutmeg Magazine – the outstanding periodical about all things Scottish football. You can pick up a copy of issue 5 here or grab a copy of the latest issue right here


 

After all, this beaming 23-year-old – a young man for whom the Anfield club have parted with £10m – was once deemed too small by Celtic; less of a ‘sure thing’ than new Inverness Caledonian Thistle recruit Joe Chalmers at left-back; and was eventually accommodated in the Queen’s Park under-17 B squad.

 

Robertson, though, has steel behind that smile. He was adamant that the kind of early setback that derails the dreams of so many young hopefuls wasn’t about to finish him. He need only look at his father to see an example of resolve and determination.  

 

Brian Robertson grew up in ‘The Barracks’ in Maryhill, kicking a ball around the streets with pals Charlie Nicholas and Jim Duffy. Yet while that pair established themselves as professional footballers, a back injury forced Robertson senior to wear a crude protective brace that meant he wasn’t even allowed to play amateur football. The wrong turn, twist or whack could have done serious damage but nothing would stop him from joining in games in the concrete jungle.  

 

 

“Brian stayed 50 yards from me and Charlie. We were, and still are, all close,” Morton manager Duffy recalls. “The thing that sticks in my head is the back brace he had to wear. It stopped him playing for a team because he was deemed a safety risk but it didn’t stop him playing in the street with us. Sometimes the brace would snap, but that tells you about his character.

 

“A big part of who you are comes from your upbringing and it’s obviously rubbed off on young Andrew. Playing football in Maryhill wasn’t for shrinking violets, never mind someone with a serious back injury, but Brian was as competitive as anyone and a more than decent player. He had an inner steel.”

 

Duffy talks with something bordering on paternal pride when he discusses ‘young Andrew’, who can also count on former Hearts coach Stevie Frail as an uncle. But even they would struggle to fathom the journey Robertson has taken from that Queen’s Park under-17 B squad to the Champions League in just a handful of years.

 

The first step was to force himself through the Spiders’ youth ranks and into the first team. All the while, he split his part-time playing duties with working behind the scenes at Hampden Park, his roles ranging from admin tasks to “washing the dirty, sweaty pants and socks in the kit room” after travelling in from the family home in his beaten-up Renault Clio.

 

However, his performances in the bottom tier of the senior game had caught the eye of Jackie McNamara, whose enthusiastic sales pitch enticed Robertson to Dundee United instead of Partick Thistle or St Johnstone in summer of 2013. The promised pathway was meant to include a bedding-in period with United’s second string, but Robertson had other ideas. He caught the eye in pre-season and refused to yield to more seasoned team-mates, instead completing a stellar campaign in which 44 appearances were garlanded with five goals and a first Scotland cap at the age of 19. Not bad for a proud Scotland supporter who – like Celtic rival Kieran Tierney – had been largely overlooked at the various youth levels.

 

That season was enough to convince Hull City to part with an initial £2.85 million for the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year, a deal that has eventually proved worth somewhere in the region of £4m once appearance bonuses and sell-on clauses have been tallied up after a further three years of progress on Humberside – two of them in the heat of the English Premier League.

 

 

United claimed around £600,000 when Robertson left Hull to sign at Anfield and the idea of those who have helped him along the way on what Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described as his “very special story” being rewarded is a recurring theme.

 

Upon receiving his first payment from Hull, the youngster bought a house for his dad and mum, Pauline. His brother Stephen, who was studying economics at university, was also looked after. It wasn’t done for acclaim but, when asked about it by The Scottish Sun, Robertson reluctantly offered this explanation: “It was great to be in a position to be able to give something back to them that would make life a little bit easier,” he said. “Growing up, we were never poor but I wouldn’t say we were flush. We’d get nice holidays every year but everything Stephen and I got was because our parents worked so hard to provide for us. The same goes for running me around the country to play for different football teams. So to be in the position to be able to do that is amazing. I think, no matter what job you’re in, that every kid would like to be able to help their parents, even though I’ll never be able to fully repay them for everything they’ve done.

 

“That is the best thing that football’s allowed me to do. I’ve played for my country and had some unbelievable experiences but it’s the off-field stuff that people don’t know about that are probably the most rewarding. Where I’m from matters to me.

 

“I think about that a lot and the people I played with at Queen’s Park. I was lucky that I was working in the offices at Hampden and they would let me away early to play in midweek games, but we’d have teachers and guys from other professions who would miss out because of their day jobs. They were the guys who helped me find my feet in senior football. They were playing for expenses and a love of the game.”

 

Looking after his family was no flash-in-the-pan social conscience, either. For his 21st birthday, Robertson asked those attending his party to forget about buying him gifts and instead make a donation to the East Renfrewshire food bank. Once more, no publicity was sought. There was no cynical exploitation for PR purposes or, in truth, any real thought behind it. Robertson just did what came naturally to him.

 

He is his father’s son, blessed with Maryhill mettle, with a selfless streak off the park that no doubt contributes to making him such a committed and respected team-mate on it. In the age of the ‘baller’, Andy’s Robertson’s an enthraller. For all the right reasons.

 


This article initially appeared in Issue 5 of Nutmeg Magazine – the outstanding periodical about all things Scottish football. You can pick up a copy of issue 5 here or grab a copy of the latest issue right here

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