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‘If Andy Robertson had listened to my advice, he'd have gone nowhere’

How a Dubliner helped Andy Robertson make the transition from hopeful amateur into genuine star.

Robertson in action for Dundee United in 2014.
Robertson in action for Dundee United in 2014.
Image: PA

Updated Jun 27th 2020, 7:27 PM

WHEN THE CLOCK ticked just past 10 on Thursday, Sean Dillon took out his phone to scroll through his list of contacts.

With every name there was a story – the youth cup run with Darius Vassell and Keith Fahey at Aston Villa; the European Under 16 championship experience with Fahey, Stephen Kelly and Brian Kerr; the FAI Cup wins at Longford Town; the 2006 League of Ireland with Shelbourne.

But most of the names and the stories revolved around Dundee United, the club who inducted the Dubliner into their hall of fame in 2016. That’s how Andy Robertson’s number ended up in his phone and by the time Dillon had scrolled down to it, his face had already broken into a smile, the sight of so many old faces stirring memories of high-jinks and half-forgotten days.

“I try and keep in touch with fellas irrespective of whether they’re going up the way or down the way,” Dillon said. “Now look, Andy is someone I could talk all day about. The fact he is a world class footballer isn’t the reason we all like him. We’re fond of the fella because he’s a brilliant bloke. You’ve probably read about all the stuff he does, the money he provides for food banks, the charity work.

“Well, that’s Andy. The year he played for (Dundee) United, he was unreal. He’d come from Queens Park and look, I’ve no idea what he was earning, but it wouldn’t have been very much, a few hundred quid a week maybe. Honestly, I don’t know.

tottenham-hotspur-v-liverpool-uefa-champions-league-final-wanda-metropolitano Robertson (second from right) with the Champions League trophy. Source: PA

“The club housed him in a place in town, him and three other lads and seriously, like, you were envious because of the fun the four of them had. Andy would give you everything in training, and then later, you’d be driving to town for some reason or another and you’d see the four housemates out on the green, playing headers and volleys or using this gadget yoke they had to practice their sprints.

“Any time you saw Andy, he was smiling. He loved his year here and do you know what, I’d say part of him didn’t want to leave. Like, it was a no-brainer financially – the club getting a £3m offer, Andy getting multiples of the wage he was on – but he was happy here. The lads all loved him. The gaffer (Jackie McNamara) trusted him. If he made a mistake, it was a case of ‘let’s learn from that’.

soccer-scottish-cup-final-ross-county-v-dundee-united-hampden-park Dillon lifting the Scottish Cup in 2010. Source: EMPICS Sport

“And he did. Andy had this have-a-go attitude. He’d charge up the wing and I’d be screaming at him, ‘oi, get back here’. He’d just give you this look, the kind of smile that basically said ‘see you later, pal. I’m away here down this flank’.”

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Soon he was on his way to Hull, to relegation, promotion and another relegation. He became a Scottish international when he was at Dundee United, became a man when he was at Hull and a millionaire superstar when he transferred to Liverpool.

“Did you know he was going to go on and become that good?” Dillon asks, pausing for a second to consider the answer to his own question. “Did you think he’d win a Champions League and a Premier League? Well, not when he left for Hull – no disrespect intended to them. Like, when he was with us, it’s not as if every cross he delivered was immaculate; or that every run he embarked on was perfect. He was mobile, extraordinarily fit and comfortable on the ball.  

“And he’d listen. He wanted to improve. Thankfully, though, he didn’t listen to what I was saying about tracking back. Had he done so, he’d have gone nowhere.”

Despite poking fun at himself, Dillon knows he had a certain influence – Robertson admitting as much during a recent zoom call with the kids in Dundee United’s pre-academy where Shea, Dillon’s son, plays.

Spotting his former captain’s face on the screen, Robertson broke away from the script to tell the attendees that the 37-year-old defender – who is still carving a living out of the game with Montrose – ‘was one of the lads that helped me along the way’.

“Straight away I was onto my young lad – ‘now, I said. Andy Robertson says he listened to my advice but you won’t!’

“But I’d be lying if I said there were these deep heart-to-hearts between Andy and I. That wasn’t the case. I was one of the older pros; he was breaking through. I’d say there were times when I was barking positional orders at him and inside his head, he was thinking, ‘would you ever get lost?’

“He’d never say it, though. He was respectful, a hard trainer, a brilliant guy. And his story is a microcosm of that Liverpool story. Very few of them got to Anfield without some bump in the road. In Andy’s case, it was being let go by Celtic, being on amateur terms for a while, suffering relegation at Hull.

He’s got there the hard way and deserves everything he gets.”

So Thursday’s congratulatory text for winning the league was an easy one to send. Minutes later, the reply came. The address may be different, the salary bigger, the company a lot more famous but to Dillon, Robertson is still that 19-year-old who landed in Dundee with a few quid in his pocket and a dream in his head.

Sometimes,” Dillon says, “the good guys win.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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