Features & Blogs (71)
By now we all know the story.
Ever since he broke into the Liverpool first team at the turn of the year, reminders of Andy Robertson’s humble journey have followed the 24-year-old Champions League finalist wherever he’s gone.
A mere five years before he was competing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric on the grandest stage in European football, the former Celtic youth player was turning out for Queen’s Park in front of a few hundred fans a week in a near empty Hampden Park.
It was called a remarkable rise. It was fairy tale stuff.
But the truth, for the Scotland left-back, is that the path to stardom began long before his days in the fourth tier of Scottish Football.
As a youngster growing up in Giffnock, Robertson recalls it was at an early age that he discovered a love of football that would start him on his journey:
“As a young boy I was always running about kicking a ball.” He said. “I used to go and watch my big brother until I was at an age where I could join a team.
“I played with my local team [Giffnock Soccer Centre] and my dad coached us. I remember being four or five years old and playing 4-a-side football. I played there, with my dad as a coach throughout, up until I had to move to Celtic where I stayed until I was nine or ten.”
Unsurprisingly, Robertson is still thought of incredibly highly at Giffnock Soccer Centre, and his story is one the club hopes can inspire more up-and-coming young players.
Club Chairman Donald MacLennan said: “Andy joined us at a young age, before his talent was spotted by Celtic and he left to start his pro youth career.
“He was and clearly still is a very hard working, grounded young man.
“All of us are delighted to have been a part of Andy’s journey and he is regularly held up as an example to all of the boys and girls at our club.”
Despite being coached by some of Europe’s best, Robertson insists he still carries some of the lessons he learned as a youth player into every game:
“I think the most important thing – especially at that age – is to enjoy it.
“That’s what I always tried to do and to this day I still try and take that into every game. It’s served me well so far.
“You see a lot of the top players have a smile on their face and I think that’s key.
“I still go and watch some kids football, and I think that some coaches can take it too seriously at times and put a lot of pressure on the players. [My dad and other coaches] were very much of the ‘go and enjoy the play’ mindset.
“Of course, we wanted to win the games, but it was more important to enjoy than to win, and because we were enjoying it we won more than we lost.”
Robertson recalls that he was playing so much football at that age that remembering particular highlights or matches is a struggle; what he remembers most is the enjoyment he got from the sport.
“I think I was playing three or four games a weekend so trying to remember them all is hard, but I loved my time as a youngster just playing all weekend.
“Going to school on Monday was always a bad thing.”
However, he does admit that one game stands out – even if it’s not a particularly fond memory:
“We never quite managed to get to any cup finals or anything, but I did get to a school cup semi-final [with St Ninian’s High School].
“We got beat and I got sent off, so I think that one’s remembered for all the wrong reasons.”
But semi-final defeats aren’t the only adversity he’s faced; famously, he was released by Celtic at under-15 level. Looking back, Robertson believes the disappointment helped motivate him, and urges any other young players in a similar situation to follow his example:
“To get let go from the club you support is that wee bit harder, but I just used it as my motivation and tried to prove to the people that maybe didn’t think I was good enough wrong,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve managed to do that, and for people in the same position I would say try and do the same because there have been a lot of good players that I’ve played with at different ages that haven’t kicked on because they’ve had one rejection and not known quite how to deal with it.
“I think up and down this country there’s a lot of talent goes to waste. If people can try to use the rejection in the right way, then hopefully it can be positive for the country because there will be a lot more players making it.”
And now, with a wealth of experience under his belt, Robertson has returned home to help inspire the next generation of Scottish talent.
Ahead of his return to Merseyside for pre-season, he took the time to make an appearance at a ProAcademy session at Rouken Glen in Giffnock.
ProAcademy is a coaching initiative that aims to provide professional coaching to kids, and was launched in association with Robertson.
The Liverpool and Scotland star answered questions and signed autographs for the young players and is hopeful that ProAcademy will help pave the way for these kids to have bright careers in football.
“Although my dad was a good enough coach, I’d much rather be coached by someone like [Technical Director and former professional footballer] Simon Donnelly,” he said. “We’ve got Simon and other coaches that are so enthusiastic about it. The kids can come and get excellent coaching and, more importantly, try and enjoy it.
“I worked closely with Simon at Dundee Utd and I know how good a coach he is, so if he could transfer it to younger kids then that would stand them in good stead and it’s proven that way. It can only be positive for Scottish Football and we hope that it can make even a small difference, and that maybe we can find one or two players that can hopefully pull on the Scotland jersey one day.”
For the kids taking their first tentative steps into football, the thought of playing for Scotland must seem like a pipe dream.
But, as Andy Robertson has proven, nothing is impossible.
The GoFitba project went in to its final week and the focus this time was on the Kilwinning Sports Club in Ayrshire as the children were presented with medals and certificates to commemorate their time working on the project.
The twelve week programme has focused on showing children from disadvantaged areas the benefits of healthy eating and exercise and it has been running successfully in the Kilwinning Community Sports Centre.
Kilwinning community sports club was opened in 2000 and is a voluntary organisation and registered charity. It aims to give local people the chance to engage in a healthier lifestyle and is able to promote these aims to young people through projects such as GoFitba.
Kilwinning coach Colin Hunter believes the Project has achieved these aims. “From the results of the quiz that the GoFitba project set out, the findings are very detailed. It is clear to see that they have taken the messages on board about being more active and staying healthy through diet and nutrition“.
The last week saw the children hit the books first to do the final piece of their learning journal “The Football Hour”. The children then headed outside to the five a side parks to take part in some drills and small sided games.
Shannon, who took part in the GoFitba Project in Kilwinning loved her time on the course. “I loved having the chance to learn new skills that I didn’t already know before. “My favourite part of the course was the opportunity to make new friends, seeing how it is to play with them and work together as a team.”
After the five a side games, the children were greeted by family members as they received their medals for their involvement on the project. Parents clearly see the benefits of their children taking part in the project also.
Debbie, whose son Jay took part in the GoFitba Project has seen benefits from the course at home. “Before he joined he wasn’t that interested in football and keeping fit but I think him coming along here has really helped his confidence”.
“He has always eaten healthily but this has really encouraged him to try new things and new foods he wouldn’t have tried before at home.” Hopefully it will help him make some better food choices in the long term.”
Colin Hunter is very happy with the progress the children have made. “They have really bought into it and have done what we have asked, playing football with a smile on their face. It’s been twelve weeks of fun”.
The GoFitba project has clearly had a positive impact in Kilwinning and has been a huge hit with parents and children alike. The GoFitba project may now have come to a close but from Kilwinning to Motherwell, it is clear to see that the project has made a positive impact on many young people’s lives up and down the country.
- Read PJ, Jimenez P, Oliver JL, Lloyd RS. Injury prevention in male youth soccer: Current practices and perceptions of practitioners working at elite English academies. Journal of sports sciences. 2018 Jun 18;36(12):1423-31.
- Oliver JL, Croix MB, Lloyd RS, Williams CA. Altered neuromuscular control of leg stiffness following soccer-specific exercise. European journal of applied physiology. 2014 Nov 1;114(11):2241-9.
- Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH. The effectiveness of a neuromuscular prevention strategy to reduce injuries in youth soccer: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. British journal of sports medicine. 2010 Jun 1;44(8):555-62.
PE at school and athletics club at night
Badminton with a parent
PE at school
Outdoor playing/activities with friends
GoFitba continued it's successful start in Paisley with another fun-packed day for the kids of Glencoats Primary School last Friday.
The project, which is being delivered by the Scottish Football Partnership Trust in association with community football clubs across the nation, was in its fourth week at the sunny venue of St Mirren Park.
St Mirren in the Community were the hosts, with several coaches delivering a two-hour session to the kids of Glencoats that promoted nutritional health values, as well as giving the kids their hour of activity in the club's stunning football dome.
The day was wrapped up with another healthy meal for the kids, which was scoffed down by all as there wasn't a crumb to be found!
Stephen Gallacher, one of the coaches involved with the St Mirren in the Community group, stressed the importance that the kids bonded with each other and have nutritional values educated into them.
"A lot of the kids can be stuck in the house all day within some of the communities where they live, so when you're getting them out and getting them to build friendships and eating together, then that community friendship and community spirit can be very important to them.
"If you look at the numbers of the kids coming along - we've had a full house every day - you can see the kids are enjoying it and obviously the parents are happy that they're coming along and seeing that they're getting involved in active activities.
"The programme is all about giving the young people an opportunity to be healthy, and then to provide them with a healthy meal at the end of it.
"The training session today was more to do with working in their team games - teams of two and groups of fours - and taking that into the game at the end. Obviously, we're hoping that they can then work as a team at the end and get some goals"
And get some goals they did. The kids, whose smiles couldn't be wiped off their faces, spent their hour in the dome practising dribbling, shooting, and control drills in small groups. The coaches tried to emphasise the need for concentration on the ball, and this was taken on board by the Glencoats pupils, who loved every minute of it.
This was transferred to their short games at the end, where the two groups had individual games against each other, with some lovely team-goals being scored and an appreciation from the kids about sharing possession of the football.
Stuart McCaffrey, whose leading the project across all member clubs, spoke about the importance of the kids getting involved in the football side of things to help boost activity levels.
"The ultimate goal is happier, healthier, more engaged children.
"Football is a very powerful tool and can be used to help lives for the better, and I think that projects like this have a real chance to engage with children at the right age where we can try and give them some positive messages. They can take these on throughout their life and can stay active and give themselves the best chance in life.
"I think it's been a fantastic start (for the project). It's been very well received with the children, which is the most important thing. Teachers have received it well too in terms of supporting that key element of one hour of activity to get the kids active.
"The project takes the kids on a 12-week educational journey, and it helps to make small changes so that their lives can be better and more active. There's a lot of team-building and other skills that are developed throughout the project.
"I'm obviously very excited with how it's started, and there's obviously a number of weeks still to run in this initial block."
There can be no denying that Stuart wasn't the only one excited with the project, as the kids of Glencoats showed real enthusiasm for football and a keen desire to learn throughout their hour of football inside the dome.
However, as well as the activity, GoFitba puts a high emphasis on nutritional values and educating children about the positives of a healthy, balanced diet.
This took us to hour two of the day, where the kids went out to the main stand for a quick picture in the St Mirren dugout, before heading up inside the stand to start the educational section of the day.
Week four is all about educating kids on how food is your body's fuel, and they certainly needed no reminder of that when they wolfed down their lasagne and garlic bread for dinner!
McCaffrey felt that the kids responded tremendously well to the health tips and nutritional education laid out to them, and described how GoFitba gets this message across to the young footballers of tomorrow.
"We spent a bit of time and researched how best to put that to them, so we created a 12-week interactive learning journal for them. Each week it's a colourful page they look at, and we try and make the learning creative and interesting for them.
"We try and relate it to football, and the nice thing is that the journey then goes home with them after week 12 - it's something they can share with their parents, brothers and sisters, and it's a chance to extend that learning.
"We try to make it as fun as possible in a football context, but also to use the learning journal to try and emphasise these positive messages."
GoFitba continues to express a message that positive, engaged children that live on a balanced diet can have greater performance in both school work and sport development.
McCaffrey confirmed that the project will culminate with a "showpiece event" in week 12, where the families of the kids involved can come along and see what their young ones have been learning over the block.
But what did the kids make of their fourth day at GoFitba?
YFS spoke to Mazy, Ryan, and Aaron who all spoke of their enjoyment at the project and how they couldn't wait to go back this Friday.
All three kids learned something new about nutrition and football from the day - ranging from Ryan's tip of drinking more water on a daily basis to Aaron's newfound ability to pass with the inside of his foot.
St Mirren in the Community's Gallacher believes that the project emphasises what community clubs like St Mirren are all about.
"I think it's in part showing that we're giving that hand back to the wider community. Being a community club, it's good to get the badge into wider places and to see that we're involved in not only the football part, but also the healthy choices.
"There's other programmes that St Mirren in the Community do during the day, during the holidays and after school - there's quite a few. It's to do with looking after the community and not just about playing football all the time - there's other parts St Mirren do and they have the community at heart first and foremost."
McCaffrey seconded those words about community from Gallacher, and stated that he hopes the project can only grow in the future.
"I think the coaches that involve themselves in clubs like St Mirren and other community clubs are so enthusiastic and want to make a difference to young people - they want to give them an opportunity to take part. I think that opportunity is the key thing - we're really giving people a chance and perhaps get the inactive active. Some kids maybe don't get the chance to play at clubs and maybe don't have the confidence to get involved.
"But the coaches we work with are there to improve their confidence and improve their skills, and hopefully give them a taster of what it would be like to play football more regularly and sport in general. This project gives that opportunity, and the coaches are key to it because they deliver the positive messages, the sessions, the educational resource - they're the catalyst for success.
"I think it can grow. It's something that we want to expand on, but the resource has been created and the project is up and running and straightforward to deliver. We've taken care of sessions on and off the park with the educational journey, right down to what the kids eat on a weekly-basis.
"We feel it's something that can be replicated, whether that's in the schools directly or by our delivery partners.
"And of course, the sport could easily be changed and it could be branded as something else, because the principles between the project and what it's trying to achieve can be transferable and can certainly be replicated.
"People need an opportunity to take part, and I think when people do take part and have that chance then they tend to stay in the game."
Whether the kids of Glencoats Primary stay in the game or not, there is an overwhelming desire from them to stay with GoFitba and continue what has been a tremendously fun journey for them.
It's been a strong few weeks for the project so far, but in the grand scheme of things, GoFitba is only just getting started.
- Physical advantage – some children are bigger, stronger and quicker and they will always dominate at a younger age.
- Emotional maturity – some children are emotionally more mature, can listen to coaches more effectively, deal with competition better and cope with situations in a far better way than some other children.
- Time spent – a child who has spent double the time on a chosen sport or a skill generally as a rule should have a significant advantage over the other. At a young age this can be even more pronounced but that does not mean that it cannot be caught up but it will need time.
- Skills – can be developed and they are not based on physical characteristics