A young midfielder with the world at his feet, a European move came after his involvement in one of the greatest domestic Australian matches in history.
At Subiaco Oval on the 11th of June, 2000, Perth Glory led the Wollongong Wolves 3-0 in the NSL Grand Final after 45 minutes under the West-Australian sun.
The introduction of Mark Robertson at half-time ? replacing Noel Spencer ? would coincide with a historic comeback and a memorable penalty shoot-out, in which Robertson would convert his spot-kick and help Wollongong on their way to winning one of the most stunning championships in the history of Australian football.
It was the match which should have sparked the blossoming career of a promising Australian talent. Unfortunately for the Sydney-born midfielder, injuries would provide a constant hurdle on his European adventure, disrupting playing spells which saw him travel between the likes of Swindon Town, Dundee, St Johnstone and Stockport County.
The ex-Marconi man ? who managed to earn himself a move to English side Burnley after three years with the Stallions – returned to Australia to play in the A-League with the Perth Glory, in a bid to resurrect an injury-ravaged career.
So often we hear of stories of success and triumph of Australia?s finest football exports; the likes of Kewell, Cahill and Viduka. The truth however, is that these are rare success stories in the cruel world of professional football.
Mark Robertson?s tale of agony and frustration is the untold story of the hundreds ? even thousands ? of Australians who have ever tried to forge for themselves a football career in the unsympathetic fires of Europe.
His return to Australia ? which should have provided some respite from his struggle overseas ? has been similarly affected by a long-list of injuries. Stints at the Perth Glory and most recently Sydney FC, have been cut short by a lack of fitness and match-readiness.
For many 31-year olds, such adversity would be the breaking point in any walk of life, the moment in which the individual would give up.
But credit must go this humble young man, who refuses to feel sorry for himself and who feels privileged to have had the opportunity to grace a football pitch at the highest level. Listening to Mark?s enthusiastic voice over the telephone, it becomes clear that this is a person who plays football purely for the love of the game ? a quality perhaps lost on some of the world?s most successful superstars.
Robertson – who is a qualified personal trainer – has set about rebuilding his football career with Sydney United in the Telechoice Premier League this season; recent performances have been promising.
Football NSW this week catches up with one-time Socceroo Mark Robertson, to find a man of determination and humility, who still feels the need to contribute to the development of young Australian footballers who were once like himself ? both on the pitch and off it.
FNSW: What motivated your move to the Telechoice Premier League?
MR: The whole reason I came to play in this league was because I was advised by the likes of John Kosmina that it was the perfect playing level for me to regain my fitness and get some much needed playing time. Being in the Telechoice Premier League has provided me with the opportunity to play consecutive games for the first time in a long while.
FNSW: How have you been settling in at Sydney United so far?
MR: The club has been really good to me, starting off with chairman and working all the way down through to the manager and amongst the players, everyone has been excellent. They?ve done everything possible to get me back into the A-League straight away and that is exactly what I needed. All the boys, young and old, they?ve been a real help.
FNSW: What motivated your return to Australia? Was it purely to play in the A-League?
MR: At first, coming back to Australia after my European career was all about playing in the A-Leauge. Despite my injuries, I can?t see a reason why I still can?t go back and play at the top level of Australian football. Even though I?d like to get back into the A-League though, I?d still like to continue my involvement with Sydney United as much as possible in the future and help them out in whatever capacity I can.
Having said that, I probably wouldn?t have come back to Australia if not for my injuries. Coming back to Perth Glory was more about picking up my fitness but I arrived only to get injured again because I was a little bit underdone. The same thing happened at Sydney FC. I know I?ve certainly got talent and ability but I just haven?t got the runs on the board that are needed at this level. When I came back from Europe I wasn?t expecting to play in the Telechoice Premier League but that is the way it has turned out. I?m not big-headed though, I am happy to be playing in this competition and I would be more than happy to keep playing in this competition.
FNSW: Now that you?ve experienced European football, what are the major differences that you perceive between Europe and Australia?
MR: Everywhere I?ve ever played in Europe, the culture of winning has been about being first past the post in the league. But in Australia, as we all know, it is totally different. With Wollongong, the focus was more on winning the NSL Grand Final than winning the actual league itself. So at Sydney United, we are similarly just trying to stick as close as we can to the likes of Sutherland for the moment. On the weekend we dropped points against Macarthur but we?re still trying to get as close as we can to Sutherland and second place.
FNSW: You are potentially approaching the end of your playing career. Is there a future in football for you, possibly in a coaching role?
MR: I?ll never say never. I?ve got to be honest though, I don?t really have much of a coaching mind! I?m more into my fitness, I?m a qualified personal trainer and as far as I?m concerned, I might be able to further my career in the game in that avenue with an A-League club somewhere down the line or even with the Olyroos or Socceroos.
FNSW: Your career has seen you journey across different domestic and international football landscapes. What have the highlights been for you personally?
MR: Playing for the Socceroos was a massive thing for me, even if it was only one cap. Captaining the young Socceroos and playing for the Olyroos, playing in the UEFA Cup and the Intertoto Cup in Europe, as well as some massive games against Rangers and Celtic in Scotland and playing against Premier League teams in England.
I?ve made a lot of good friends along the way, I?ve had some wonderful memories and maybe now it is my time to pass that knowledge on to the young players around me. I think maybe that is what I can offer, the professionalism that I developed in Europe that seems to be lacking a little bit in Australian football in some aspects.
FNSW: Mark, good luck with the rest of your season with Sydney United and thanks for your time.
-Interview by Chris Paraskevas