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Over the Pond: From the Bhoys to Boston

Greig Robertson was in with the bricks in the Academy at Scottish champions Celtic. Now he is laying the foundations for a bright future at a top American youth club.

Football Careers client Greig is Director of Coaching at Boston Bolts and is at the end of Year One of his American adventure. Bolts have over 2,000 players, with their top MLS Next Academy sides playing against the likes of New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC.

In Episode Two of our Over The Pond blog series, UEFA Pro Licence coach Greig talks Celtic, Brendan Rodgers, fighting against the win-at-all-costs attitude in youth football, and his peaks and troughs adjusting to a new life in America.

By Greig Robertson

For 18 years I lived and breathed coaching at Celtic.

I was working for my boyhood heroes, brushing shoulders with those I once watched from the stands, living a dream in many ways. It was a privilege.

Yet towards the end of my time back home in Scotland, I was plagued by this picture that was living in my head. I had this image of me being this old guy walking up the hill from the local Spar with my pint of milk when I was finished coaching, and I’d never experienced living in a different country.

I said to my wife I didn’t want to live with that regret. Yes, I was in with the bricks at Celtic: I’d been there for almost two decades. But during the COVID-19 lockdown, I started to think deeply about my future.

I dearly love Celtic, they are the club I support and it was an honour to work there. Yet the prospect of being there for all of my working days began to fill me with fear.

I’d known the hierarchy at Boston Bolts from the partnership we’d had when I was in an international development role at Celtic and we had a great relationship. They had spoken to me before about possibly moving out to the States but I felt that I was still climbing the ladder at Celtic.

Latterly, though, I was Head Coach of the Under-18s and I couldn’t really see what my next progression was.

At first, I didn’t think it was achievable to move out here: you need luck and connections. Then I took a deep breath and made the great leap forward — but I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to those I learned from at Celtic.

I draw on those lessons every day. Take Brendan Rodgers — I loved spending time around Brendan and his staff, people like his assistants Chris Davies and John Kennedy.

Greig Robertson, Boston Bolts' Director of Coaching
Image: Boston Bolts

Life and learning at Celtic


Brendan was heavily invested in the Academy and he would spend so much time doing presentations for all the staff. He would grab me when I was working away at the hot desk inside the Lennoxtown training complex and take me into his office for five minutes to have a chat about football.

Brendan was so clever in that way, how he managed people. I’d take way more from those five minutes than Brendan ever did but he knew how to include you and make you feel involved.

Martin O’Neill was the Gaffer when I first arrived at Celtic in 2003 and my first job was to set up the Grassroots program. It sat under the late, great Tommy Burns’ guidance and we couldn’t get started until Martin had approved it.

I went in with my best suit on. We had just lost a Champions League game the day before and I was a bit fearful. Martin just said: “If what you are doing is good enough for Tommy, it’s good enough for me: on you go, son!”

Ronny Deila was a superb coach on the field, a quirky character but a great football man. I went to see him when he was in charge at New York City FC and I learned so much from his training sessions — he loved to develop players.

When Ronny was boss at Celtic, I took on a part-time role as First Team Analyst because I wanted to learn about that sphere of the game: but also I wanted to put myself in that elite environment. I’d film the training, cut it up and send it to Ronny, John Collins and John Kennedy (who is still Ange Postecoglou’s no2) every day. I did other projects on goal and assist analysis and just being around that every day was an education.

Now, my official title here at Bolts is Director of Coaching. Everyone is a Director of something these days, a Director of picking up the cones, Director of filling up water bottles!

Seriously, for me, the term Director belongs in the boardroom of a football club. I am just a guy who helps coaches develop and progress. I give them guidance and structure to execute ideas on the field. That’s the part of this job that interests me most.

At Celtic, I worked with one team and a small group of staff. I wanted to try and work in the coach education space and share ideas to develop people. And that means parents too: we have to educate them on what success looks like at youth level in the States.

During my time at Celtic, I didn’t measure success on winning games of football and that’s also the way I live and work here. For me, I want to see players develop into good human beings. You can judge it in 10 years when they meet you in a shopping mall and tell you how much they enjoyed working together.

I also wanted a fresh experience for both me and my family, to equip my kids to see something different and live outside their comfort zone.

Greig Robertson, Boston Bolts' Director of Coaching
Image: Boston Bolts

Adjusting to a new life in America

Year one for a family of four has been a process of adaptation with two teenage kids. If I said to them today that we were packing up and going home, they’d still probably be delighted: but they can see the chances they have in the States.

My son plays a multitude of sports, my daughter has had to adapt to a new friend circle. They have challenges, but I feel it has been a wonderful experience for them.

Being here has opened my eyes to just how many full-time roles and opportunities there are over the pond once you get here. You don’t have to have a great playing background here, they assess you completely on what you can do in the job.

The flip side is that with so many paid opportunities, you have some people who are in it for the salary and a low-stress career. Back home, the pay is not great and everyone in the game in roles like mine is there driven by passion. So that’s a big difference: in North America, there are openings and side-gigs and that can lead some people to get involved for the wrong reasons.

One other huge plus here is that you are working with super-receptive kids who are so respectful of the coach and come to learn and improve. Every session.

The biggest frustration is the win-at-all-costs attitude from some coaches and parents, they are shouting for yellow cards at every game. That is so short-sighted, to measure success on whether one team wins and one team loses.

At the Bolts, we measure our performance a whole lot more robustly than just the scoreboard. We might lose 1-0 but we outscore the opposition in other key metrics that we analyse. I won’t park our Game Model and our style of play for a result at U15s, it means nothing.

When I came here at first, we implemented a possession-orientated “build from the back” way of playing and we took a couple of bloody noses. Yet to the credit of the players and coaches, they stuck with it and now we are playing good football and winning matches.

My caveat to that is I take the Under-16s who keep getting outscored in every metric we treasure but we keep winning games of football! At least they come off the field understanding that, though, and looking disappointed because they know they haven’t played well even if they’ve won.

With me, the process to come here was done through the club and an immigration lawyer who was based in Edinburgh. When the job opportunity came up, she led me through a journey of documents and testimonials to support an application for an 01 Visa which is a real challenge. That secures my employment for three years. The downside is that none of my family members are allowed to work, which jars with my wife.

In year one, she was getting us settled here in the new house but now she wants to contribute and work herself, which is something you have to consider when you emigrate.

I will always have my links to home and I am a proud graduate of the Scottish FA coaching pathway. I came right through it to earn my Pro Licence but those 18 years I had watching and learning from seven different managers at Celtic were invaluable too. Informal learning like that is vastly overlooked in my eyes.

I feel there’s a massive gap in mentorship, and that’s where I see my role in the States. I am working in a country where they respect the profession of coaching. I give those above me budget headaches with what I ask for here but they support me. We have HUDL, unlimited game breakdown, we have GPS units and we are on StatSport to see their physical outputs.

In a pay-to-play culture, you can ring-fence money for technology and staff development and I think that would open the eyes of coaches back home when they land here.

Coaching is a profession and a vocation here and there’s no question it’s a land of opportunity. I will never regret taking that great leap forward, whatever happens next.

At least now when I am walking up that hill from the Spar with my pint of milk in years to come, I can turn to someone and say: “I lived and worked in Boston, you know!”

Over the Pond is a blog series that explores the experiences of football professionals working abroad. Sign up for our free newsletter to be notified of new blog posts, career advice, and client news from Football Careers.

Previously on Over the Pond: Coaching in Canada — and Staying Put

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