Downtime: Andy Robertson
In the beginning, there was football. Andy Robertson, one of the world’s most exciting full-backs, has become a household name over the last 18 months and a pioneering influence in the sport. Playing the game in the same way me, you, or anyone who has ever dreamt about representing their club would; with a passion, drive and intensity which comes matched with a cultured left foot, an exciting attacking instinct and the ability to roll his socks up when times get tough.
But, away from his first love and what has now become a full-time job, there’s also golf. As a man whose life is soaked in the pressure of performing at the pinnacle for one of the biggest clubs in the world, he is always, where possible, on the lookout for some time to play golf. The grit and determination which underlines Andy’s journey to the top – a story which is often painted in some kind of Cinderella story mythos and does a disservice to the hard work he’s put in – is built on his incredible ability of being able to find quick solutions to the toughest of problems. Which is something he has honed on the golf course.
“Golf is a game that allows me to think,” Andy explains as we trot down to the first tee of Formby Hall Golf Club on a morning which I claim to be bitterly cold but Andy subtly describes as fresh.“It presents you with a challenge, an opportunity to think for yourself and analyse certain moments to find out how you’re going to get out of tricky situations. Maybe not a lot of people think about it but it can relate to life. I think all sports can. If you’re out on the golf course, you’re having to think independently and work out how to get out of certain problems. It’s a game which gives you a lot.”
And that’s exactly why we’re here. Rather than shining a spotlight on Andy’s already well illuminated journey to the top or asking him questions about just how good Liverpool are, we wanted to know more about the man who is annoyingly just as good with a club in his hand as I had expected. With a wry smile, which is regularly etched on his face following a lung-bursting run, a cross-field pass or a well-timed tackle, Andy hits his first tee shot of the day so sweetly that any nervous anticipation from anyone who thought this may not have been the best idea soon dissipates. He’s got a bit about him.
To explore the side of Andy Robertson which you so often don’t see, we joined the Liverpool and Scotland star over the first few holes of the round to find out what he’s learned from the game of golf and why he wants to see Bobby Firmino on the tee.
Who introduced you to the game of golf?
I grew up around it. All of my family are into it; my Uncle played golf, my Dad played golf. But it was when my brother joined the local golf club around the corner from us when I really got involved. I was too young to get a membership but I used to go down as the annoying wee brother and I used to just jump on and play with him and his mates. When I realised I was okay I just kept going, finally getting my own membership and from there I’ve always just loved it.
I’ve read that your brother was a half-decent footballer too…
Yeah, he was alright. I think you’re bigging him up a bit, though! He was a fox in-the-box, he didn’t really move much, but he knew how to score goals. I wish I had a bit of his goal scoring instincts. We had a few good games in the garden and that but I think calling him a good footballer may be bumping up his ego a bit too high (laughs).
How do you find the change in mentality when playing golf compared to football?
I normally just play to go out and have some fun with my pals. But, inevitably, the competitive nature always comes out. When one of your mates starts playing well you need to prove yourself. I’ve always been like that. I’m a winner. I need to win anything I do. Obviously, it’s different from what I’m used to playing football. As a team I’m used to relying on others and them having to rely on me but on a golf course you’re on your own. If you hit a bad shot it’s only you in the trees trying to find your ball, it’s a challenge. But I really enjoy it. I enjoy being able to play golf, being able to think for yourself and analyse moments to find out how you’re going to get out of tricky situations.
Do you consider this a place of sanctuary?
Completely, golf is that game for me. It’s a getaway. We’re in a high-pressured job. Especially during the season everything is full-throttle and we rarely have time to think. Also, family life is hectic as well – it’s enjoyable, of course – but it’s hectic. So, when I have a chance to go out on the golf course it’s all about just enjoying it and being able to have a laugh and a joke with my pals. Thankfully, we’re all half decent so we get a good game.
“If you hit a bad shot it’s only you in the trees trying to find your ball, it’s a challenge.”
You’ve touched on your winning mentality already, but where do you think you get that drive from?
My Mum and Dad are both retired now but when me and my brother were growing up they were very driven individuals – they would work extra hours and work extra jobs – to give us a better life. They were very driven and they drilled it into us. I look at my whole family, actually. We’re all a working class family – my aunts, my uncles – and we’ve all been working hard to survive and that energy will never leave me. I will never ever settle and be content with what I’ve got, I’ll always think of ways to improve. I think that’s why my career progression has been consistent, no matter the setbacks I’ve faced over time, and hopefully that continues.
Do you consider your mentality to be your greatest strength?
My career really has been like a rollercoaster, so I suppose you could say that I’ve had to be strong. When I started up in Scotland people were talking well of me but then I got released from Celtic and things didn’t go too well at Queens Park to start. I finally got in the team then we lost in the Play-Offs. Then, I moved to Dundee United and we lost in the Scottish Cup Final. Then, I go to Hull and I get relegated in my first season. I was playing well in that period but, like I said, it’s a team sport and collectively we weren’t doing enough. With Hull we went down to The Championship and then we got promoted, which was my first taste of success. Albeit it was bittersweet because we went right down again. Before I got to Liverpool it was all a bumpy ride. Being relegated with Hull City still annoys me now – it’s still a moment which hurts me.
On the topic of Hull, a lot is being made now of the famous picture of the day you signed alongside Harry Maguire. What are your memories of that time?
Because me and big Harry signed on the same day we became really close. I didn’t know anything about him before and I guarantee he knew nothing about me! His career at Hull was probably a little bit slower to start than mine because he had to wait to get in the team but with Liam Rosenior getting injured a day before the season started I was put straight in for my debut. But you could see his quality straight away in training. Would I say I thought he would be the world’s most expensive defender and be a big player for Manchester United and England? I don’t know if I would have called that. But I know for a fact he wouldn’t have called me as a Champions League winner for Liverpool (laughs). The potential was always there with Harry. If you look at him now he’s one of the best centre halves in the world and he’s still young enough that he’ll only get better.
“I’d love to see Bobby Firmino swing a golf club. I’d love to see what gear he would turn up in.”
Where and when have you been happiest in your life?
I would have to say right now. The last 18 months, or even back to the very day that I signed for Liverpool, my life has been on the up. I have two great children, me and my partner have got engaged in that time too. Off the field it’s been amazing. On the field it’s arguably been even better! Right now I’m at my happiest and I know I need to enjoy it because you don’t know how these moments will last. I’m realistic. There will be struggles, of course there will, but that’s why I’m enjoying it all now because I’ll be able to look back and know I’ve fully embraced this moment in time and lived life to the full.
What would you consider to be your greatest virtue?
I’m very driven. If someone tells me that I can’t do something then I want to prove to them that I can. That’s just the way I am. I think that’s why I have done pretty well for myself because throughout my whole life people have told me I won’t be able to do this or that. I’ve always had a desire to go against that. Luckily I’ve managed to do that and prove a few people wrong and that’s what I like to do. I’ll always continue to do that. I’ll never rest on my laurels. I think that’s my best quality; my drive and desire.
Beyond the golf course, what other places do you find inspiring?
We always used to go on holiday to Loch Lomond as kids and go climbing up mountains and all that kind of stuff and I sometimes still do that walk to bring back those special memories of family members who are no longer here. Loch Lomond is the place that inspires me the most. It’s ingrained into my memories of my family; the people that I’m doing what I’m doing for. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, it’s all for them too. If it wasn’t for them then I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have this drive and determination. I want them to be proud of me. If I’m ever feeling down going back there will always give me that lift that I need.
On this journey, who has given you the greatest piece of advice?
I will always remember the night I got released from Celtic. I was in bits. I went home and had my favourite curry because my Mum and Dad were feeling sorry for me. I remember my Auntie came up to the house that night and she was always so optimistic. She sat me down and was so convinced in what she was saying; she was telling me constantly that I would make it. As a 15 year old, you know, I didn’t really listen to her. A little later on, when I took my year out after school to really focus on making a career at Queens Park, she was the person who really believed. I think that my Mum and Dad were about 50% convinced at that time but she was always 100% convinced. She always used to say to them, ‘I really think Andy is going to be something special.’
For me, that’s the one thing that hurts me about my career. She saw me go to Dundee United, she saw me go professional. But, before Christmas time that year, she passed away. She’s not seen the best of what’s happened. I know she’s watching over me, looking down on us, but, for me, if there is anything I could change it would be to get her back here. She was the one person who really did believe in me no matter what. I don’t know why! But, she truly did. It’s the only thing that I look back on with my career which I want to change. To see her in that stand at Anfield or for her to see me captain my country. That’s something that drives me forward. I want to create those memories everyday.
You touched on you captaining Scotland. What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
I think I lead in different ways. At Liverpool we’re blessed with many leaders. Hendo, for example, is second to none as a captain. He’s unbelievable. He literally has it all and it’s very rare that you get that. There’s a lot of other boys who have a sprinkling of different qualities – bits and pieces of that leadership – which is why I think our changing room is so good now. For Scotland, I believe I am a good captain but a work in progress. I’m still learning to pick up on different things. I wear my heart on my sleeve and try to give everything into it. I try to lead by example and be there for the lads whenever they may need me. Of course, on international duty it’s hard because you only ever see each other for two weeks at a time. But I try to talk to them, try to help them in any aspect of life which may help them on their way. As a captain, I love that side of the job and I love that responsibility. I’m working to be a better person and a better captain that the boys want me to be. I love putting on that armband and leading my country.
There’s a lot of talk around the topic of you and Trent redefining the full-back role. But, when you were younger, what full-back did you look up to?
In my younger days, Roberto Carlos was getting spoken about a lot. I’d pay good money to have a shot like his. It was ridiculous. Then, a wee bit later on, there was also Phillip Lahm. They were the two I really watched. Plus, Ashley Cole, of course. I think he, in the Premier League, changed the way the full-back moved and changed the way the full-back was considered. Before he was at the top of his game, the full back was very regimented and a solid defence. He changed that. He was too athletic and daring to be confined to that. He kept on going forward, he bombed forward and he made other people think along the same lines. I can’t say when I was 12 or 13 I was trying to take pointers off of them – as by then I still probably had dreams of being a winger! But what they’ve done for the game is incredible.
You’re probably too humble to admit this yourself, but do you think we’re in a new era of the full-back now?
I think we’re entering an era where the full back role is a lot more important. I don’t think Trent and I have had massive amounts to do with it, maybe a wee bit. If you look back to last year with our numbers and assists, people said they were ridiculous numbers. But, for me, I think that’s mainly down to the manager. The manager realising that we have two people here who can produce and perhaps teams don’t expect it.
Pep does some incredible things with his full backs too. It’s a lot different to how we set up but it’s incredible, how sometimes the full backs move into a number eight role and play out of midfield. There’s a lot going on with full-backs right now. Leicester’s two full backs (Ben Chilwell & Ricardo Pereira) are incredible, both fantastic players. The role is becoming a lot more athletic. I’m not saying it’s going to become the position as people will always want to be like Messi and Ronaldo and rightly so, but perhaps some people growing up now may fancy themselves as a full back. When I was growing up it was a bit of a dreaded position but now it’s a position of excitement – you can join in every attack, you join in defence – you’re involved in every way of play.
When you’re playing in massive games at Anfield – like the Champions League semi-final last year – how much of the moment do you actually get to take in?
Most of the time it’s a big blur. But, I remember the Champions League one a lot more because I was injured at half-time and I was sat on the bench for the Trent corner. I was absolutely gutted, I was raging at myself, that I had to come off injured in that game. But there was nothing I could do. In a weird way now, I look back on that moment and I was lucky in the respect that I was able to soak it in. The last ten minutes I couldn’t watch the pitch, I ended up looking around and observing the faces in the crowd. The atmosphere in the stadium that night was special. I would have loved to have been on the park for the second half but I took in a lot more of it compared to other games where you can’t because you’re involved. I still get goosebumps thinking back to it. That corner will go down in the history books of football, it was incredible.
Last question. If you could create the most entertaining four ball round of golf comprised solely of Liverpool players, who would you be picking and why?
What a question! When we partner up and play my partner is Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and I’m the one who has to reel him in because he gets way too excited and we end up losing the hole. So I’d have to go for him. Our usual four ball is me, Alex, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson and that is normally incredible. If I had to pick non-golfers, then I’d love to see Bobby Firmino swing a golf club. I think everyone would love to see that. I’d love to see what gear he would turn up in. So, I’d go Bobby, I’d go Alex and finally I’d have Trent. Because Trent has never swung a club in his life and he’s very, very competitive so I’d love to see him out there and see him throw a strop. He’s been known to throw a strop over anything. I think that’s the best four-ball although it will be the longest round of golf of all-time.
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