Footballers' Lives with Josh Robinson: I regret my behaviour towards Crusaders during contentious move but Linfield is in my blood
In this week's edition of our popular series, Linfield ace Josh Robinson discusses his regret over his behaviour towards Crusaders during his contentious move to Linfield and his joy over expecting a baby girl.
Q: How did your career get up and running?
A: My first memory as a child was with my dad Alan. He would take me and my cousin Ethan down to the Moat pitches for a kickaround. Growing up in Dundonald, Dungoyne was my local side and first proper team. My dad was a big influence on my career.
If I didn't have football to turn to I don't know what I would have done as from an academic point of view I wasn't that interested. Football was a big passion from an early age and thankfully I could play a bit.
Football helped me in terms of education as I ended up at Ashfield Boys' School where Andy McMorran and John Spence did the coaching. I joined up with the Northern Ireland Under-18 side and playing schools' football helped my career get started. I had been a central midfielder but at Ashfield they felt my better position was at centre-half.
Q: Was a cross-channel career a main goal of yours?
A: That was a big goal from the age of 16 but it didn't happen then. Rangers started to show an interest in me and in an Under-19 tournament I performed well and Rangers gave me a one-year professional deal. I was 18 and it was an exciting time for me and my dad.
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I started off well and loved it. I was doing well but I felt the Scottish coaches tended to favour Scottish players. You need a bit of luck to do well across the water but it didn't work out for me.
I returned home to Northern Ireland and wasn't sure where my future was. I was at the Linfield Academy before I went to Rangers but when I came back I felt I wanted to play first-team football.
I might not have played at Linfield under David Jeffrey so I went on a few trials including at Leicester City but that fell through which was heartbreaking. My dad drove me everywhere and we got upset together. I gave him all my problems that he helped me deal with.
Then I went to Crusaders for a trial. Stephen Baxter and Jeff Spiers were great from the get go. Colin Coates, David Magowan and Paul Leeman were there and while believing I had a chance I also thought I could learn a lot from those guys. I signed and played straight away. It was a massive learning curve at the age of 18.
Jeff Spiers taught me a lot and the Crues defenders really helped me develop as a defender. We came second in the title race but developed a winning mentality and when we won the league I did well alongside Colin (Coates). The back-to-back titles were special but I still wanted to give it another go across the water.
Q: How did the move to York City happen?
A: Stephen (Baxter) let me go on a few trials and Doncaster were interested. A lot of scouts gave me false hope and it reminded me how football can lift you up and drop you down quickly.
Jackie McNamara offered me a two-year deal at York City and unfortunately he was sacked, Gary Mills came in and I struggled. I ended up going to Boston United on loan. The professional dream was fading and the travelling was crazy.
It was a learning experience but I had to come back home. I've no regrets about my time across the water but you just have to adjust to life back home and the dream being over.
Q: You are the only player in Irish League history to sign for two clubs on the one night after Linfield and Crusaders both announced your arrival. How do you reflect on that contentious move to the Blues?
A: Both clubs wanted to sign me which was flattering. Even Sky Sports picked up on the announcements and I got a lot of abuse for it, as did my family. I regretted the way I went about it and I have learned from it. I burned bridges with Crusaders and Stephen Baxter.
Deep down, I always wanted to give it a go at Linfield. I had achieved a league double with the Crues and while I had a lot of affection for that family club, Linfield was another exciting challenge for me. I was training with Crusaders before signing for Linfield and I accept that was disrespectful.
I was a bit lost coming back from England, realising the professional dream was fading but I chose the Blues. It was a tough year for me.
Q: How did you cope with the criticism?
A: I don't mind receiving stick because I deserved some of it but I didn't like it when banners were erected or abuse was directed at my family. I wasn't playing and it was a difficult time as my football suffered.
People made references to my mum and I was called a rat. Some of the stuff was hurtful and it did make my blood boil. I don't know how my dad felt because he's good at hiding his feelings. He's always supported all my decisions. Now I'm starting to play regularly in the team and as long as that continues I'll enjoy my football.
Q: Did you lose friends at Crusaders?
A: Bridges were burned with Stephen (Baxter) but we met up recently and talked about it. We had a friendship and he was good to me. Not to speak to someone who was so influential on your career is not right. It was hurtful for both of us.
We shook hands and put it to bed. There was a game in which we didn't shake hands but we both realised things shouldn't be this way. We can be professional and respectful now. Hopefully, 2019 is a better year for me. My girlfriend Kristina is expecting a baby girl at the end of March and we have moved into a new house in Dundonald.
Q: Is Kristina a football fan?
A: Kristina's not a massive fan of football but she supports me a lot. She would come to the odd game but hates how fans sometimes behave or when I end up getting hurt. She has helped me refocus in football and in life.
The news of a baby girl was a surprise but we are very grateful and blessed. Family is important to me and we are excited about the new arrival. We are doing everything at once but we wouldn't have it any other way. I'm positive about the future with her by my side.
Q: Tell us about your coaching.
A: Myself and my Linfield team-mate Andrew Mitchell realised that kids were spending a lot of time playing computer games so we wanted to set up AMJR Coaching to help kids get more active playing football with a smile. We work in schools mainly around Belfast and Glengormley. We do birthdays and one-to-one coaching. It's a challenge that takes your mind off match days. It's going well and hopefully it continues to grow. We want to see kids enjoy their football and forget about the pressure. It's nice to pass on experience and knowledge.
Q: Do you want to go into management?
A: I really haven't thought about that, I'm not sure. What matters is I'm enjoying what I'm doing now. This year I want to win silverware and we are looking good.
We have a League Cup final against Ballymena United on Saturday and hopefully we can perform well enough to win it. It's hard to win the league title but I'm confident we will keep challenging for it.
Q: Who has been a big influence on your career?
A: My biggest influence would be my dad Alan - he is my No.1 fan. He has been there from the start, taking me everywhere and watching every game. I take great pride in my father watching me. It's very special to me, it's our life. He goes through all the ups and downs with me.
My granny Rachel, who I couldn't live without, is always collecting the cut-outs from papers of me. I would like to mention my uncle Andy, he would have been involved helping me get the chance to go across the water. He is very supportive.
My granddad was Billy Millen who played for Linfield, as did my great uncle Geordie. I think that family history has ensured Linfield is in my blood and I was destined to end up there. My mum Dorothy encourages me too.
I have lost my grandfather Desmond which was hard for me and my nanny Rachel. Family and football are what I live for. My whole family would be supportive of me and my football. They would all be involved in it. I'm very grateful for everything.