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World Cup 2018

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'Losing a friend in car crash put things in perspective and I will always be grateful for the many sacrifices my parents made for me'

 

Linfield’s Andy Mitchell on trying to make his way as a kid with Man City, the death of a pal and plans for the future on and off the pitch.

Q. What are your early football memories?

A. My granny and granda were the first people to take me to football. My granda Morris doesn't miss a game. The Greenisland coaches - including Stephen Graham, Colin Sewell, Robert Gilliland, Lawrence Gilloway and Nigel Harris - made me play with only two touches. Take more than two and they took me off - it was a great education. I joined Greenisland around the age of six and I played with Corry Evans. His father Jackie was the manager. My dad Bobby told me scouts were watching me, but I was at Glengormley High School and just enjoying playing with my mates. I went to Everton for a trial but I struggled and felt I wouldn't be good enough to play at that level. I went to West Brom and loved it but then Manchester City came in for me.

Q. How difficult a challenge was moving to Manchester City at the age of 13?

A. I look back on it now and think, 'How did I do that?' It was incredible but I've no regrets. I can remember a few of us went over and I was thrown in at the deep end, on trial with a Slovakian kid called Robert Mak, a striker who played at the Euros (for Slovakia). I played with Vladimir Weiss and Micah Richards in the youth team. I was playing in the under-18 side and, looking at it now, it was a big challenge. I looked across and saw my mum and dad walk away. A City scout watched me and after the game I was very nervous about approaching my dad in case it didn't go well. I saw my mum Cathy crying her eyes out and my then my dad started welling up. I was thinking 'what's happening here?' I thought the club didn't want me but they said they wanted me to sign for them.

Q. How grateful are you to your parents for sacrificing so much to help you pursue your dream of making it as a professional footballer?

A. My mum and dad moved over with me to Manchester and it was a whole new life. I cut a lot of my childhood out because I wanted to be a footballer. Man City had players like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland and it was the club to join with a great Academy offering full-time training. My mum worked in a Chinese restaurant and my dad was a stonemason, they had devoted their lives to my football but they left their jobs to come with me to Manchester. I owe them so much even if I don't tell them enough. I went to school there and my dad picked me up and took me to training. Their lives were built around my football. They are crazy about my football. They could even be more prepared than I am when it comes to the game! They never pushed football on me but gave me the best platform to succeed. Pressure I feel comes from myself, not them. I'm proud to play for them. I have a brother Robert and sister Michaela as well, and they stayed with grandparents before moving to Manchester.

Q. A childhood pal of yours, Lee Smith, tragically died in a car crash. That must have been a huge shock.

A. Lee was in our Greenisland team and we were at West Brom together too. We were mates from early teenage years but he was 18 when he passed away. He was a cracking footballer. My dad stood with his father at matches and told me about it when I was in Manchester, it was hard to take and it put everything in perspective. He had played for Linfield's youth academy and I felt incredibly sad for the family. Lee had joined the army and the tragic accident happened in Hampshire in 2010.

Q. With your experience of going across the water at such a young age, would you encourage young players to take the leap of faith?

A. For me it was very hard to turn down at that age. City are a big club and the risk was I stayed at home and had regrets. It is 30 times harder to make it as a footballer over there. Sometimes there's an opportunity you should take, but we have also seen Paul Smyth leave Linfield for Queens Park Rangers and what he has learned in the Irish League is a good platform for him. You've got to make what you believe is the right decision at the right time. I was fortunate to train with top class players like Robinho but eventually I knew I wouldn't get a chance. Rangers made a move for me and City agreed to let me go.

Q. Was Rangers a difficult adjustment for you?

A. Man City was a learning curve for me as I had worked with Paul Power and Brian Kidd. At Rangers I was considered a name as I had been at City and I was in the papers and on Sky Sports. The first year I found it really tough as I couldn't nail down a spot in the under-18 team. I enjoyed going away with Northern Ireland teams more. Walter Smith was the manager and I was called into train with the first team. I made 23 first team appearances but the club was going into administration.

Q. Was the financial meltdown at Rangers a testing time for you?

A. I was a young player and the new wage structure was affecting the bigger players more. The club was a shambles and going through a bad time. We had players like Steven Davis, Allan McGregor and Davy Weir who were Rangers through and through. As a young player, I had a chance to play, and David Healy was there too. Players just had to do their jobs but, ironically, the day I made my debut against Dundee United was the day the club went into administration. That was incredible considering six weeks earlier I had been told I was being released. I can remember phoning home to tell everyone! I made the bench against Celtic in the next game. One proud moment was lifting the league trophy in front of a full Ibrox with my family looking on.

Q. You had loan spells at Southport and Annan Athletic before returning to Northern Ireland to play for Crusaders. Was that a difficult transition?

A. I could have signed for the Crues from my time at Southport. Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter called me and I wasn't enjoying my football. I gave it everything before coming home. The Crues were on the up and when I met Stephen I liked his honesty and was happy to sign. I felt comfortable in the league, but then you play Portadown against players like Robert Garrett and Michael Gault and it's a real introduction. It's a fast paced game and you don't have a lot of time on the ball. Family wise, things happened quickly and my mum and dad returned to live near Windsor Park.

Q. Why did you leave Crusaders to join Linfield?

A. I loved my time at the Crues but I didn't play as much as I wanted to. I played in different positions and I was honest with Stephen. There was no falling out. All the lads were great with me but my playing time was limited. I knew David Healy from my time at Rangers and he was always willing to help me. I believe Linfield are the biggest club in the country, playing in a fantastic stadium and David strives for perfection. He could be a Northern Ireland manager one day. When you're playing part-time football you need people like David, Roy Carroll and David's assistant Ross Oliver to drive you on.

Q. Crusaders lost the title to Linfield in heartbreaking fashion last season, how was that time?

A. I can remember sitting in the changing room at Ballymena United after the defeat and tears were welling up, it was not a nice feeling. I took a week off work and didn't speak to a lot of people. We knew we had fallen short. Myself, Jordan Forsythe, Craig McClean and Matthew Snoddy drove home and didn't want to go back to our houses so we went to a McDonalds and sat in silence in the car park.

Q. Who has been your toughest opponent and best player played with?

A. By a country mile, the best player is Steven Davis. Anything you needed, you could ask him, he's a fantastic role model who should be at a bigger club than Southampton. Toughest opponent in the Irish League might be Colin Coates or Billy Joe Burns but further afield I played against Paul Pogba when he was a younger player at United.

Q. What do you do outside football?

A I got my first job at Screwfix on Boucher Road where I now work full-time. My branch manager Richard and work colleagues are all supportive of my football and make things easier for me. I'll play golf when the weather's good.

Q. Are you prepared for another big match next summer?

A. On June 8 next year I will get married to Leanne Blair at Lake Garda, Italy. Our parents are going out there and we will have a party back home afterwards. I knew her from Belfast but we met up when I was in Glasgow and she was in Liverpool. She's from Belfast and works in a hairdressers in Newtownabbey. Most players will tell you girlfriends end up making big sacrifices. She moved to Glasgow and was with me through the Rangers, Southport and Annan time. She went across the country with me. We are currently refurbishing our house in Jordanstown. Leanne would go out of her way for anybody and she's always checking to see how the football is going in case she needs to stay away from me! I owe her a lot in terms of support and I'm looking forward to the wedding and hopefully having children in the future. I'm 25 and she's 29. Football has always been such a big part of my life and Leanne understands that.

Q. What makes you laugh at Linfield?

A. Josh Robinson's gear. We're best mates and were at Rangers together, but he wears some bizarre stuff.

Q. Could you play across the water again?

A. I would never say no. If the chance came and it was right for my family I would consider it.

Snapshot

Date of birth: April 6, 1992

Place of birth: Belfast

Previous clubs: Manchester City, Rangers, Annan Athletic, Southport (loan), Crusaders

Linfield record: Three goals in 17 games

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