ROBBIE THOMSON - Shutouts & Shutdowns

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

There have been winners and losers since lockdown began. Financially. Commercially. Environmentally. But one other segment of our society that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted is the world of sport. Moreover, football. As Europe’s top leagues began to unravel as, at first Holland, and then France, null and voided their domestic seasons (albeit with the caveat of PSG being crowned champions), the pressure grew on the SFA to come up with answers on how to conclude our four leagues.

Then came the vote. The now infamous vote. I don’t want to dwell on that, or this introduction would soon turn in to an article of it’s own. But one club who did reap the benefits of it was Raith Rovers. Making it third time lucky, Rovers were crowned Champions of League 1 as a result of the SPFL ballot and Stark’s Park will play host to Championship football once again. The Raith faithful may need to wait a little longer to see it, however.

But, in a similar vein to Partick Thistle, albeit with the shoe being on the other foot, Raith’s success was seen as a bone of contention throughout Scottish football. Well, mainly in Falkirk. But that leads me nicely on to our feature.

As the country moved in to phase 1 of the lockdown restrictions, I asked Raith goalkeeper Robbie Thomson if he fancied chatting to us from the comfort of his garden. I wanted to learn about not only an interesting career but what it was like to win a title in isolation. Given we both reside in FK territory, the 5 mile rule could be adhered to. Here is what we discussed…

Let’s start from the beginning. It often seems that when goalkeepers are asked how they ended up in the sticks it’s by way of accident or emergency. Yet, you were picked up by Celtic at 8 years old. You are also the son of Scott Thomson - a former professional goalkeeper who played mainly with Raith Rovers and Forfar Athletic - was it always goalkeeping for you? For sure! You do hear other ‘keepers saying that they started off outfield but I was always a goalkeeper - I was never interested in being an outfielder! Mainly because I had my dad there - I just automatically looked up to him and wanted to follow in his footsteps. So I’ve not got that excuse that I was a failed outfield player!

You were born in Dundee, but did either your early attachment to Celtic or your father’s playing days influence which club you supported as a youngster? I always supported who my dad was at… and I got right in to it! My first memory of football is when my dad was at Raith; I remember going on to Stark’s Park and in to the players lounge - those are my earliest memories of football.

So, how did Celtic find out about you at such a young age? It was after we came home from England when my dad was at Hull. I found myself at Young Falkirk, which was essentially the early days of pro-youth. I remember we played in a tournament at Little Kerse - the Thistle Cup - and I was scouted there.

Tell us about your upbringing at The Bhoys and who you worked with as you progressed towards the first team? Stevie Woods, who is the goalkeeping coach at Celtic just now, was actually taking the young kids back then. And then, on a Thursday night, we would be trained by one of the younger goalies on the periphery of the first team - so you’re talking David Marshall, Michael McGovern, Scott Fox. To get that at such a young age was brilliant as we looked up to those guys.

But, with regards to our team, it was full of quality players. A couple of months ago the head of the Celtic Academy retired. Before he left, he done this thing which showed how many players went on to make 30+ professional appearances after being at Celtic - my team was a joke. The main ones that I came through with were James Keatings, Callum McGregor, Dylan McGeough.

Youth team days often get referred to as a players best days in football. But do the friendships you forge at youth level still stand the test of time as players forge a career for themselves at senior level? Take, for example, James Keatings who would have come up against countless times in the Championship. He always seemed to score against me - thats probably why we get on so well! But, when you’re playing against your mates, you really don’t want to lose. You probably are fired up even more. It adds to the intensity of the game as you wan’t to avoid any post-match embarrassment - you want to get the upper hand!

One thing I wanted to ask you about was your peer group when growing up. A lot of your close friends were also coming through academies at the same time as you - Callum Tapping, Jamie Clark, Graeme MacGregor - did it help having people around you that were equally as focused on becoming a professional footballer? I have always been really self-driven. We all go through that phase when your friends begin to go out drinking but I never got involved in that. Even though I am still very professional now, when I was younger I was ridiculous. With regards to the guys you mentioned, it definitely did help having them around and knowing what I was going through. I also had my dad around, so I always had that structure of being devoted and professional; I was just used to it. It never felt like I was missing out on nights out or being told I couldn’t eat certain things - and I think that rubbed off on my friends too. As it’s not often you see a friends group that go on to play that many games in senior football.

You were registered in The Hoops’ Champions League squad for the 2012/13 campaign yet you signed for Stenhousemuir on loan in September 2012. Was it your decision to go out on loan? Also, did your Champions League registration cause any stumbling blocks when trying to push through the move? Well I was basically only in the Champions League squad to be a homegrown player. But it’s still something I look back on with real pride. It feels amazing to be able to say it. I still have my Champions League shirts in the loft! I don’t blame you - I would go to sleep with them on! 100% - despite only being in the squad to make up the numbers, I will always cherish that shirt.

But the loan to Stenny was strange! So I was preparing for an away game with the Reserves to Aberdeen on the Tuesday night - the same night of the Inverness game. It was just a normal day, I hadn’t heard a thing. We came in to Celtic Park for breakfast and were leaving soon after to head up the road. So I got on the bus and it was literally pulling out of Celtic Park when I get a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. “Robbie, you’re no going to Aberdeen, son. You’re going to Stenhousemuir and you’re playing against Inverness tonight in the League Cup”. My first ever game! And it was a big game for Stenny. That was an experience! So I had to jump off the bus, drive to Ochilview, sign my loan papers for a 90-day emergency loan, have my pre-match and then it was the game!

I was actually at the game and recall you performing very well. What are your memories from the occasion? Because it had been so much of a whirlwind, I never had much time to think about the match, so I did really well. I had played a few Reserve games against senior players but that was my first game playing against a proper team - I remember Billy McKay being up front. But that Stenhousemuir team, though… Wow. They were absolutely mental! The characters in that team were incredible and it was so good for me to experience.

That leads me on nicely to my next question, would you recommend going on loan to a player in a Premier League Academy? 100%. I was playing well with the Under-19’s and the Reserves, but it doesn’t mean anything to people in Senior football. Other club’s don’t value it. But they do if y