In the summer of 2012, Liverpool FC and Andy Robertson found themselves at separate but similar crossroads.
Liverpool had finished an inauspicious eighth in the English Premier League in the season just ended. Not since 1954/55 had they finished lower. Worse still, their city rivals Everton had finished ahead of them. It was a dismal, dispiriting campaign that resulted in club legend Kenny Dalglish vacating the manager’s office for a second time.
As the Anfield board conferred over prospective heirs to ‘The King’, Dalglish’s fellow Glaswegian Robertson was weighing up his own options a couple of hundred miles north in his hometown. Having spent the last three years playing for Queens Park youths, he was reluctantly beginning to let go of his long-held dream of becoming a professional footballer.
His grip had started to weaken three years earlier when his boyhood heroes Celtic cut him loose. They said he was too small to make it. He was 15 and didn’t believe them. Now, though, he was 18, and doubts were starting to creep in as doubts are apt to do.
The quandary he found himself has become embalmed in perpetuity by a tweet he posted shortly after 9pm on August 18, 2012.
“Life at this age is rubbish with no money #needajob”.
Combining training with answering the phones at Queens Park’s Hampden home, where he mostly fielded ticket enquiries, wasn’t fulfilling him. He was, to coin a local expression, a bit scunnered.
Fortunately, he had brains beyond those in his feet. After his release by Celtic, Robertson completed his secondary school education and, when he left St Ninian’s High School at the end of his sixth year, he did so with four Highers – good enough for a place on plenty of university courses. Maybe that’s what he’d do. Perhaps he’d enrol in college. Alternatively, he could give his football dream one more year.
For a time that summer, everything was up in the air.
Everything except golf.
In 2012, Robertson was the junior captain at Cathcart Castle Golf Club. Established in 1895, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs on the south-side of Glasgow.
It has produced many notable players down the years, not least John Young. Three years after winning the 1957 Scottish Boys Championship, he became the then youngest winner of the Scottish Amateur. His performances earned him a Scotland call-up and, in 1965, he was joined on the national team by clubmate Walter Black – the first known instance of two members of the same club representing Scotland at the same time.
As a kid, when Robertson wasn't playing football, he was playing golf.
“I grew up around golf,” he told the Gaffer website earlier this year. “All of my family are into it. My Uncle played golf, my Dad played golf. But it was when my brother joined the local club around the corner from us that 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.”
Robertson’s ‘Sliding Doors’ summer of 2012 ended with him deciding to give football one more year. It was the right call.
A breakthrough season with Queen’s Park in 2012/13 earned him a move to Premier League side Dundee United.
A year later, having helped the Tannadice men finish fourth in the league, he was on the move again, this time south of the border where he joined English Premier League outfit Hull City for just shy of £3million. He made an immediate impression at the KC Stadium, winning the club's ‘Player of the Month’ award in August 2014 and making a total of 24 appearances in his first season. However, the year ended on a sour note, with Hull relegated to the Championship. They bounced straight back the following season but lasted only a year before dropping back down a division again.
Robertson made 99 appearances for the Tigers across those three seasons before, on July 21, 2017, he joined Liverpool for an initial fee of £8million.
The rest is history.
In just three seasons with the Anfield side, Robertson has played in two Champions League finals, winning the most recent as well as the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup. He featured in both the Premier League and UEFA 'Teams of the Year' in 2019 and has been branded the best left-back in the world.
Some Liverpool fans have affectionately christened him ‘Robertson Carlos’, such are the favourable comparisons he has drawn with the iconic Brazilian full-back. His face adorns flags waved in ‘The Kop’. He even has his own song – the ultimate seal of approval from arguably the most ardent supporters in the game.
More recently, he helped Liverpool end a 30-year wait to be crowned ‘Champions of England’ for the 18th time and, at international level, he has captained the Scotland national team since September 2018.
Yeah. He followed the right path.
Back in Glasgow, John McCallum, Robertson’s former junior team manager at Cathcart Castle, has followed his career with immense pride, not least because he had a huge hand in kickstarting it.
“When Celtic let him go, he came to me for a chat,” recalls McCallum. “He was a bit distressed about it all. I told him that, whilst it might have felt like it, it wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. At the same, I had a word with somebody at the golf club who was involved behind the scenes at Queen’s Park. I dropped a hint that Andy had been released by Celtic and that Queen's should maybe take a look at him.”
McCallum, who looked after the junior teams at Cathcart for 15 years, remembers Robertson as a “small lad, not as bulky as he is now”.
“He just had something special about him, even at a young age,” he says. “You know when there’s somebody in your midst that has that X-factor or whatever. He was one of them. He was a real determined character.
“Celtic letting him go, it gave him strength, you know? For want of a better word, he used his own gumption to turn things around.”
Head pro Stephen Duncan knew Robertson all the way through his time in the club's junior ranks.
“We used to have quite a bit of banter,” he recalls. “He was a big Celtic boy and I’m a huge Bluenose, so we used to have a great laugh. I remember he played for Queen’s Park at Ibrox back around the time that he was junior captain at the club. It might even have been the same year. It was when [Ally] McCoist was the manager.
"I can still remember sitting in the stands that day and saying to the boys sitting next to me, ‘By the way, this lad’s a player.’ Sure enough, he absolutely destroyed the guy we had playing right-midfield that day. He was up and down the wing like you wouldn’t believe.
“He was a great character to have around the club. Everybody liked him. He was never afraid to do whatever was asked of him. He was always willing to learn and listen and had this quiet confidence about him. It doesn’t surprise me what he’s achieved. He’s always had the attributes to succeed at whatever it was he wanted to do.”
According to one of Robertson’s former junior teammates, that ‘whatever’ could well have been golf.
Matt O’Neill was one of Robertson's predecessors as junior captain at Cathcart Castle and skippered him in the Fleming Watson League, a junior competition for clubs on the south-side of Glasgow.
“He was a cracking wee golfer,” says O’Neill, now 28, and still a member of the club . “He was off five at one point but had the potential to go much lower. Honestly, if he’d chosen golf over football, he could well have made it as a pro.
“He took everything on board, went out and did what he had to do for the team. It’s incredible to think that he’s now the captain of our national team and one of the key players for Liverpool – but, seriously, if you knew him and saw the way he went about everything he came up against, you wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”
McCallum adds: “He was extremely helpful. He had a very even temper and an amazing work ethic. You look at the way he is now, bombing up and down the pitch, busting a gut. He’s always been that way. He was such a dedicated team player. Sneaky long off the tee, too, considering his size. I don't actually recall him losing many matches."
Despite his meteoric rise to fame and success, not to mention having an entire football club’s support worshipping at his incredibly gifted feet, Robertson, according to Duncan, hasn’t changed as a person.
“Far from it,” he says. “I remember he came back up here to play with Allan McGregor when the pair of them were playing at Hull and, obviously, I was giving him a bit of stick. It was just like old times. Sometimes you get guys who make it as a footballer and suddenly they start to wander around like they’re ‘Billy Big Bollocks’ but Andy’s not like that at all. He’s brand new. He’s a really great lad."
Soon, Robertson will receive honorary membership of the club in recognition of his achievements. It would have happened in March when he should have been in Glasgow to lead Scotland into a European Championships play-off match with Israel. The coronavirus pandemic caused the tie to be postponed.
“He’s more than deserving of the recognition,” adds Duncan. “It doesn’t matter to anybody here that he’s made it as a footballer and not a golfer. We’re proud to have had him as part of our club and hopefully there’s plenty more success to come for him yet."