There have been plenty of obstacles and distractions along the way that have led Mitch Roberts from Sunday League football all the way to Birmingham City’s first team.
The 21-year-old achieved a lifelong dream when he went out on St. Andrew’s against Reading on Saturday week, a nerve-wracking event that came with just 90 minutes notice and from which he came out with an ambition fulfilled and his reputation improved.
With the help of namesake, teammate Marc, Roberts made good use of the left side of the Blues’ back three to complete the first of what he hopes will be many appearances for the club he joined ten years ago.
It has fittingly been a long, long road, one that has seen him on the sidelines for more than a year, a loan move with Harrogate ruined after an hour and at a time that got him in the crosshairs of Manchester City and Celtic.
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Their interest, which came in the summer of 2019, was unanswered, and Roberts is happy that he got to take his big step in Royal rather than sky blue – even though Reading emerged as victories on the day.
“I definitely came from there with mixed feelings,” Roberts told BirminghamLive. “It was clearly a high, to get my debut and to score so early, I’m not kidding, it was the best moment of my life when Scotty [Hogan] scored.
“I ran over and it felt like I had scored, I wanted to make a knee or something.
“I’ve been in the club since I was 11, I played in the Carabao Cup, but it was just a completely different atmosphere, the stadium was much more crowded, and when we scored, the pitch broke out.
“I was like ‘Wow, that’s what I wanted to achieve, I want to be here, I want more of this’.
This year’s BrumWish, the appeal launched in November, resulted in more than 3,300 Christmas presents being purchased for 1,800 homeless children in the city.
We have already secured hundreds of gifts for babies and toddlers, but lack the goal for children over the age of six.
It’s all through an Amazon Wish List – which means you can personally purchase a gift that will be delivered by December 25th.
This year’s campaign is now over. Thank you to everyone for your support and contribution.
“I think I did ok in the match but we lost. I was happy but not happy. I just have to look back and take away the things I can personally do better, use that as motivation to keep going and hopefully play more matches. ”
Playing games is the key to a young man who only managed ten in his entire two-year scholarship.
As a young teenager, an osteochondral defect in his knee kept him out for 14 months, as each attempt at a comeback resulted in his knee ‘blowing up’.
When he recovered from signing his first professional contract in 2019, an impressive display for the Blues’ Under 23s on the Etihad Campus brought him to City’s attention – and warned Celtic.
He insists his head has never turned. “For me, my mind was always set on focusing on Birmingham and trying to break through there,” he said.
“I’ve been here since I was a young boy and almost adored the whole first team environment, going out on St. Andrew’s, these things. Achieving it the other day makes it all worth it.”
The knee injury has not been the only setback.
He tore his hind thigh when he played for the 23s a year ago, and just as he recovered he was loaned out to Harrogate, where his professional debut would last 54 minutes when he collapsed again.
Encouraged by his return to fitness at the end of last season, which brought three more League Two appearances, he returned this summer determined to break into Lee Bowyer’s squad – before getting the coronavirus.
Fortunately, he has recovered to health and his luck seems to have reversed: “People at the club definitely know I’ve had some setbacks with injuries and stuff like that, so no matter I play first team this season, the fact is, to – touch – I have played every game I have been available for this season, 23ers or first team, I played every game, 90 minutes.
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“I have a little pain here and there, but pretty much without injury – for me it’s a blessing. Just to play football and improve, because when I was a scholar and last season you just can not move on and that’s it “worst as a young player. You want to break through, but you can not because you sit there and do nothing.”
The Roberts family, who watch every single one of his matches – even in Norwich on a Friday night last month – were present against Reading and could be forgiven for their shared enthusiasm.
As it turns out, the tension was subdued. “I came back and said to them, ‘We should go out and celebrate.’ But they had literally just ordered a Chinese and it was on its way ‘So let’s not do it’.
“It’s not something that comes around often, it’s not only an achievement for me, it’s also for them.
“They have been taking me to training since I was six years old, whether it’s the Sunday League or higher levels for Birmingham the last ten years.
“It was just a quiet, I think I finished my protein shake from the Blues, and my mom made chicken in black bean sauce for me – so that’s how I celebrated it.”
Maybe bigger festivities are around the next corner.
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