Like any young football enthusiast, I grew up dreaming of playing in the highest divisions in English football and got an opportunity to achieve that with Leeds United.
(Robbie pictured above with current Leeds United & England midfielder Kalvin Phillips)
At the tender age of 17 I embarked on my journey into professional football and moved away from home in Northern Ireland to the bright lights of Leeds. The overriding emotion throughout this transitional stage was that of pure excitement laced with fear. I for one have always been a player who reads into things, often more than I should at times but the numerous thoughts of “Will I be good enough?”, “Will the manager like me?”, “Will I have what I takes?” are an ever constant throughout your day-to-day life in professional football. At the age of 24, those same questions hover over you, the elements of doubt and fear of failure are in fact the motivation and spark to keep you on your toes and to never feel comfortable with where you are at in your career. I have come to understand and embrace those doubts and fears. By harbouring them in your mind and using those emotions in a positive manner they become key components to improving every day and extracting every ounce of potential that you have in yourself.
Moving away from home at a young age was somewhat daunting but something I knew was part in parcel with football. In the young bullish manner that you associate with a 17-year-old you do not think much of it and occupy your mind through other means. At times it was difficult, and you miss certain home comforts, but these are just some of the sacrifices required to get to the highest levels of football. I loved training and playing matches, training everyday in an environment that had the best of the best in terms of equipment and pitches was something I really enjoyed. Wearing the coveted all white stripe of Leeds United during matches was a major source of pride and something that made me feel 7 foot tall. I loved game days, as that was the opportunity to showcase your ability and show everyone what you were about. However, such is life in the football world, managers come and go, and the metaphorical glass ceiling into the first team can at times feel unbreakable. 5 managerial changes in my 2 years made progression into the first team very difficult but that was something completely out of my control. In times like these, its important to do everything that you can and control the controllable. Hard work, determination, discipline, a good attitude, and sacrifice are things that require no talent or ability, and I knew that if I done those things my ability and talent would shine through.
As is so often the case, my first attempt at making myself an established senior player did not go to plan and I returned home to Northern Ireland at the age of 20. Setbacks and rejection at that age may seem like the end of the world, but I can assure you that it is not. The ability to manage those setbacks and use them in a positive way is the difference in forging a career for yourself or falling out of the game like so many do. Wanting to prove people wrong and prove to yourself that you have what it takes is the foundations in which you can springboard your career.
Looking back at my time in Leeds it is something that has moulded me into the player and person I am today. Through the course of your career there are good times and bad times, but you often learn more from the bad. The footballing education I took with me from my time in Leeds will forever be with me and its an experience that I can look back on as something that did not end the way I would have liked, but in a way that has left me in a better position as a person and football player. I am very thankful that I’ve gone on to accomplish what I have, and with plenty of years left in my career I hope to accomplish so much more. Without my time at Leeds it would not have lead me to where I am now, so for that I am always grateful.