Bobby Burns made his debut in senior football as a 15-year-old in Northern Ireland’s top division with Glenavon.
He had a brief but enjoyable spell on loan to Knockbreda in the second tier of the Northern Irish competition. At the time they were running last and in a real fight to stave off relegation.
Burns impressed so much at his initial training session with Knockbreda, scoring a couple of goals, that he was deployed in an attacking role, despite going there as a left back or midfielder. He played eight games and scored eight goals.
“It went to the last game of the season and we stayed up,” he explained.
“It was a brilliant experience. It was class to be in that men’s environment and to be part of a relegation battle as a 16-year-old.”
He did have opportunities very early on to join the professional ranks with Bristol City and Rochdale. Both clubs offered him two-year contracts. This occurred while playing for Glenavon and Burns was still studying at school. He turned both contracts down.
“I was close to going but at 16 years old I wasn’t sure I was ready,” he said.
“All my mates couldn’t believe I was turning down the opportunity.”
Burns took a calculated risk and continued to ply his trade with Glenavon and he had a fantastic run, completing 39 games and eventually Scottish Premier League club Heart of Midlothian came calling. By this time he was 18 and felt ready and signed a three-year deal with the Jambos.
In 2018 he played five games for Hearts and later had a loan spell with Livingstone, adding another eight games to his tally. He played in the Edinburgh Derby against Hibernian, as well as a Scottish Cup semi-final. He had appearances against big guns Celtic and Rangers while at Livingstone.
Hearts had signed a number of new players, so Burns took the decision to be loaned out to the Newcastle Jets. He was keen for more first-team football and was confident that the A-League would be a good fit for him. He wanted to learn a different style of football. He had other options in the UK, but felt a new club and a new league was for him.
“I could have gone to England and played League One or Two,” he said.
“I don’t think I would have learned anything different. I may have got better at doing those things that I was already doing, but coming to the A-League, players pass the ball more, it is technical and there is the fitness element. I really think I’ve developed those elements of my game as in passing and my fitness.”
Burns’ introduction to the A-League was the F3 Derby away day. He entered the fray at half time and put in a solid performance in a 1-1 draw with the Central Coast. Most fans expected to see much more of the left wing back, but his contributions to the team were limited to very few minutes off the bench. He didn’t gain his first start in the Newcastle team until Round 12 against Brisbane Roar, again another 1-1 draw.
“To be honest, that was one of the most frustrating times of my career so far,” he said.
“The reason I came was to play games. You can’t do anything until you get a chance and I’ve worked really hard to get into the team. To be fair, I learned to be patient too.”
(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)
Patience has finally paid off for Burns and he’s put together a run of impressive performances as a left-sided wing back. His early balls whipped into opposing teams’ penalty areas are giving defences headaches they could do without, but his defending has been solid too.
His most recent outing away to the Western Sydney Wanderers didn’t start too well with Bruce Kamau’s pace proving difficult to deal with. He gave away a penalty and received a yellow card some minutes later. To his credit, none of this seemed to faze him. Newcastle got back into the game and Burns himself crashed a shot onto the bar in another game that ended 1-1.
On whether he’ll be a Jet or a Jambo next season, it is a little up in the air.
“The objective of coming out here was to get games and improve and then return to Hearts,” he said.
“My number one objective is to go back to Hearts and break into the team. In saying that, there are so many players there that you can go from first choice to fourth choice very quickly. There are so many variables, Hearts have a new manager too. There’s no point worrying about those things though. My objective now is to enjoy and play the best I can for the remainder of the season. Good performances will lead to positive results.”
Since the departure of Ernie Merrick and the appointment of new coach Carl Robinson, the Jets are learning fast to stay in games and not panic if things initially don’t go their way. Bobby Burns has certainly taken that on board and still believes they can finish the season in a positive fashion. He’s quickly becoming a fan favourite, with his positive forays down the left side.
With Wes Hoolahan due back into the team and with the return of Roy O’Donovan, Bobby Burns will make an Irish trifecta, which could be a first for the A-League.
“Hopefully with Wes back we can all start linking up and get a few goals for the Jets,” Burns said.
Burns is loving the Australian lifestyle and living in the heart of Newcastle, too. He has been homesick, but spending time with teammates has helped. On a trip to the golf course his shot landed close to a resident kangaroo. The boys told him to go over and take the shot, the roo would move. It didn’t.
“I’ve never hit a shot so rushed in my life,” he joked. “I’m usually under pressure playing golf anyway, but I thought the kangaroo was going to kill me!”
Hopefully for the Newcastle faithful, Burns steers clear of those kangaroos and lets his feet do the talking on the pitch.
Whether he’ll be a Jet or a Jambo next season remains to be seen.