Most of my interviews to date have either been with players who have retired or are near the end of their career. That’s why it was great to chat with Bobby Burns who is still at the beginning of his footballing journey. I started the interview by asking Bobby about his early career in Northern Ireland and how that developed him as a player.
“I started off at Lisburn Youths when I was 12 and before that I wasn’t really into football, I was more into Gaelic. I joined Cliftonville when I was 14, I stayed there for two or three years but they weren’t that great at playing young players. I went to Glenavon and I progressed there and started getting into Northern Ireland squads from under 18 to under 21. I really loved Glenavon but I got a move to Hearts in the summer and now I’m in Edinburgh.”
I was interested to know if Bobby felt that learning his trade in Northern Ireland was more beneficial than joining an English club at a young age.
“I had offers to go to England when I was 16 from Bristol City and Rochdale. I was head boy at St. Malachy’s and I thought it was much more beneficial to to stay and get my A-Levels. It also allowed me to play 70 men’s games rather than playing academy football. You learn a lot more about the game when there’s real fans and real passion. Going from Northern Ireland to England at 16 is really difficult. If it was any other job and someone told you to move to England, you would say no chance, but when you say it’s football, everybody jumps at it. The reality of it is, that it’s very tough, it’s a rat eat rat environment.”
Education is one of Bobby’s main priorities and he is currently doing an Open University degree in business management and we discussed the importance of footballers having an education to fall back on.
“Everybody see’s the Premier League wages and unless you’re at that level, you’re not going to earn enough to live off for the rest of your life. Even if you’re at Hearts you’re earning good money, but it’s not going to last until you’re 65. It’s important to have a back up plan. I can be carefree and give the football a good crack because I have a degree to fall back on which is quite a unique position to be in. I’d be interested in working in the business side of football like the chief executive of a football club.”
The Northern Ireland under 21 star joined Hearts in 2018 and recently completed a loan spell at Livingston, I was interested to know how he felt about signing his first professional contract.
“It was a big change, but Hearts is a really good family club, there’s so many Irish people about. That includes coaches, reserve team managers and cooks, it’s a real home environment. I really enjoy it here, but I need to get over my groin problem and push towards the starting eleven. It’s hard when you get an injury but my university degree keeps me busy. I haven’t been homesick at all luckily enough.”
We discussed his love of golf and how he had the pleasure of recently playing golf in Spain with Steven Naismith and getting good advice from him. Hearts has a few players who used to play in the Premier League, including Aaron Hughes who Bobby has learned a lot from.
“Aaron Hughes is brilliant, he’s a great mentor to me. He’d always check up on me and keep me right. He’s much older now and he’s not playing all the time he still comes into the gym and works his socks off. He’s a great example to me that I would try and follow. There’s a great environment at Hearts to learn in which is good because I’m still early in my career. I’ll just give it my best and see what happens.”
Having made the move from Northern Ireland to Scotland, I asked Bobby if he noticed much of a difference in the standard of football.
“Not massively, no. You just get the ball down a bit more. I don’t really think about it, it’s all the same to me. There’s definitely a different fitness element but I’ve been able to get fitter and match up to that. There’s more tactical work and preparation, there’s more professionalism, but it is not a monumental gap that can’t be bridged. People like Liam Boyce who have come over to the Scottish League in recent years have shown that you can really grasp the opportunity.”
Since joining Hearts in 2018, I asked Bobby if he had any particular highlights from his time in Scotland.
“My favourite moment was probably playing against Celtic at Livingston and drawing 0-0. That was an unbelievable day. I played against Rangers in front of 50,000 people but that was a bit disappointing because we lost 3-1.”
Away from the club scene, Bobby has enjoyed great success with Northern Ireland under 21s which included a magnificent win over Spain. I wanted to learn more about how much it meant to him to play international football.
“In club football everyone comes and goes, you can change your club team but you can never change your national team. It’s brilliant at country level because you’re playing with people you’ve known since you were 10 or 11. You’ve got a friendship with people you’ve moved through the whole system with. You go away on some brilliant trips that you wouldn’t have got otherwise. International squads are picked heavily on club form and my target I suppose is to get starting for Hearts and hopefully call ups will come.”
As Bobby is just at the beginning of his career, I was curious to know if he has any major long term goals or if he is looking more at the short term.
“I’ll just take every day as it comes. I do though, want to get a Northern Ireland senior cap. I don’t really set massively long-term targets, I just set a short-term target, get it, and don’t rest on my laurels. It’s limitless the potential you can have in football, but you can go down as quickly as you go up. I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it because it never lasts forever. If you set long term ambitions sometimes things don’t work out. Hopefully at the end of my career, I can look back at medals and caps with great fondness.”