Josh Robson got a taste of the big time when he took on the likes of Ousmane Dembélé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and although he’s determined to reach that level once again, he knows he still has a lot more to learn on his Norwegian adventure.
“It was a surreal experience and getting the opportunity to play against top pros and players who have won the World Cup was unbelievable,” he says about the friendly against Borussia Dortmund. “I’d love to be able to play at this standard on a weekly basis but as for now, I have a lot of learning to do and must stay focused on my short term objectives.”
The high profile exhibition was during pre-season with his boyhood club Sunderland. Having spent twelve years with the Black Cats, Robson has learnt from the best in his formative years as a footballer but he is only now getting the chance to prove that in senior football after joining Norwegian side Notodden earlier this year, initially on loan. However, there is no doubting that the years he spent at Sunderland are what makes him the player he is today.
“I had been with Sunderland since I was eight-years-old so pretty much my whole life I have dedicated to be in the position I am in now,” he says.
“I had some unbelievable opportunities and experiences during my time with them. I was lucky enough to visit many places, at home and abroad, which broadened my knowledge of football in a playing sense and mentally.
“I met some amazing people during this time which I’ll always stay in contact with. They helped me develop as a person and player which I’ll always be extremely grateful for. Without the help of everyone at Sunderland I would have never had the privilege of being able to play football at any level.”
Robson rose through the ranks at the north-east club, becoming a regular for the club’s under-23 side in the 2016/17 season after featuring in the friendly against Dortmund. He was once nominated for the Premier League 2 Player of the Month award and it was also during this season which he made the bench for first team in the Premier League for the first and only time, although he remained unused as his side lost 2-1 to local rivals Middlesbrough.
Last season he made a further 14 appearances for the under-23s but after nearly two years since he first started to become involved with the first team, he had yet to make his senior debut and the only appearances he had made in competitive matches were for the U23s in Checkatrade Trophy, something he believes benefits some players more than others.
“I think the Checkatrade Trophy is an excellent way for young players to show what they’re capable of, however each individual is very different.
“For example, in my situation I always believed getting first team experience elsewhere would have always been more beneficial for me, to learn and be able to deal with the physicality as this allows me to be playing week in week out with seasoned pros.”
So in March this year when the 20-year-old defender found out his contract at Sunderland would not be renewed, he set about finding a new club for himself. The opportunity arose quicker than he expected.
“My move to Notodden happened within a short space of time,” he says. “While at Sunderland I had been told I would be getting released and I was looking for a club from that point onwards.
“Towards the end of the Norwegian transfer window I had late interest from Notodden. I was lucky enough to get the loan deal sorted before the window closed.”
Robson arrived at the second-tier club just a few weeks after his former teammate and fellow defender Michael Ledger had completed a permanent deal to the club. Notodden were newly promoted to the second-tier and the young full back was impressed with what he saw on his arrival.
“The standard of football in Norway is very high,” he says. “Every game I’ve played has been a tough test. There is a lot of potential with the football in Norway as every team plays a good style of football and always provides good entertainment for the fans.
“Of course it is very different to the English way of football but I feel my skills are broadening with each game I play. I feel I have grew in confidence since being here, so my style of football has changed for the better. I am much more positive thinking and a lot more ambitious on the pitch.
After six appearances with his new club, Robson’s contract at Sunderland was up but he wasn’t finished in Norway as he agreed a permanent deal with Notodden.
“During my time on loan, I was certain that I wanted to stay here permanently as I knew this was the place I could develop my skills and continue to enjoy playing the game.
“Of course I was disappointed I never got the chance to make my league debut for Sunderland, however being in and around the squad for a large period of time taught me many things. I played and trained with many top pros during my time at Sunderland so I have learnt just as much from that as I would have making my debut.”
Making the deal permanent meant the 20-year-old would have to spend more time away from his loved ones at home but after just a few months he had become settled in his new surroundings and was eager to carry on from his impressive start, attempting to benefit from the time spent away from home.
“I’ve always been excited by new challenges so moving away wasn’t a difficult decision for me. I’m living with Michael Ledger who I’ve known for years during my time at Sunderland so I already had some familiarity when I moved across. All the lads here have made me feel extremely welcome and incorporated me into the team.
“I try to see my friends, family and girlfriend as often as I can. Of course it’s tough being away for long periods of time but it has helped me grow as a person and become more self sufficient in the process.”
With ten games remaining in the season, Notodden still have a feint chance of earning promotion, currently lying eight points off the play-off spots but having only been promoted last year, survival would be a positive step for the club. Robson has made ten appearances so far and with his teammate and housemate Ledger unfortunately out injured, he will be much needed going into this season’s finale.
“My ambitions are to continue to play football to the best of my ability and to always enjoy playing the game,” says Robson as he attention turns to the future. “I want to help Notodden to a good position in the league this year after promotion from the previous year. I also want to learn as much as I can every day so I can always play at a good level.”
Robson may not currently be playing against the likes of Aubameyang every week but he has shown what a move away from youth can do for a young footballer’s ability of confidence. Himself and Ledger could go on to form a rock solid right side of defence for years to come. An English rearguard made in Sunderland, developed in Norway.