Callum Roberts aka Geordie Messi: 'Leaving Newcastle United might be the best thing for me' ahead of Wembley final

“It’s ironic, isn’t it? I’ll be walking out at Wembley for a team who plays in black and white, nicknamed the Magpies. It’ll be a bit strange but I’m buzzing for it.”

Callum Roberts of Notts County shoots. (Photo by Nathan Stirk).
Callum Roberts of Notts County shoots. (Photo by Nathan Stirk).

The term ironic probably doesn’t tell half the story of Callum Roberts’ career over the past 12 months.

This time last year, Roberts was still coming to terms with the heartbreak of his shock release from boyhood club Newcastle United.

Fourteen years he spent on the books at St James’s Park. Only six months prior had he achieved the dream of scoring his first United goal in a 4-2 FA Cup win at Blackburn Rovers.

Yet all that was quickly turned upside down and once trials at Burnley, Middlesbrough and Southend United arrived in the summer, Roberts, understandably, wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

All in all, it left the talented winger wondering: “Is this really the game for me?”

Fast forward to this Sunday, however, and Roberts will end his year at Wembley as Notts County face Harrogate Town for the chance of immediate promotion back to League Two.

"If somebody said to me this time last year I’d be playing in a play-off final at Wembley, I would have told them ‘no chance!’” Roberts tells the Gazette.

Newcastle United's English midfielder Callum Roberts (L) celebrates with Newcastle United's English defender Jamie Sterry after scoring their second goal during the English FA Cup third round replay football match between Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United at Ewood Park in Blackburn, north west England on January 15, 2019. (Photo by Lindsey PARNABY / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’m pretty speechless with how things have planned out this year. I’m buzzing for it, I honestly can’t wait.”

Roberts insists “it wasn’t a case of trying to get over” his Newcastle departure, “it was just a case of trying to move on and that wasn’t going too well.”

He had spent the summer trialling at Football League clubs but they proved fruitless. A move to Greek side Panathinaikos was also being touted.

So, it is fair to say when Roberts rocked up at part-time Blyth Spartans in late August, eyebrows were raised.

Roberts scored in United's 4-2 FA Cup third round replay win at Blackburn Rovers in January 2019. (LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)

Within a short period of time, he had gone from scoring in the third round of the FA Cup to the third round qualifying – one of many stark differences.

“It was hard,” adds Roberts. “I wasn’t sure about my future. I could have gone abroad but I didn’t think I was ready at the time.

“I stayed in England, trialled at a few clubs but that didn’t go well as I kept picking up little injuries. At one point I was left thinking: ‘Is this really the game for me?’

“I don’t hold grudges, it was just a case of trying to get over it by going to a new club and starting afresh but that didn’t happen how I wanted it to - until I eventually joined Blyth.

Kristian Dennis and Callum Roberts of Notts County (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images).

“At the time, I thought it was a massive step down from where I want to be but obviously I joined in the end and everything has turned out perfect so far."

If anyone had ever doubted Roberts’ ability, then they were soon proved wrong.

Twenty five Blyth appearances and 17 goals later – including THREE hat-tricks – he was hot property come the January transfer window.

Notts County, one division above the Spartans, won the race for the signature for an undisclosed fee, highlighting just how much manager Neal Ardley wanted him at Meadow Lane.

“I wouldn’t be at a club like Notts County if it wasn’t for Blyth. I’m so grateful to the club for what they did for me. It massively helped me to where I am now and it made me fall back in love with football.

“Notts is a huge club and shouldn’t be in the league it’s in. The gaffer and the group of players we have are brilliant. It is a club that is only heading in one direction and that is up.

“On Sunday, we’ve got a good chance to do that. It all worked out well in the end.”

Roberts has certainly repaid Notts’ faith in him so far. Three goals in three games before the lockdown was added to by a stunning solo goal in the Magpies’ 2-0 semi-final win over Barnet.

He now even has the tag ‘Geordie Messi’. “I have no idea where that has come from! I think it was a few of the Notts fans.”

But at a point where Roberts questioned if football really was for him, he now holds a very different perspective.

“I don’t hold any grudges. If I did stay at Newcastle, I might have just sat in the under-23s for a year and potentially lost another year of my career.

“Leaving might be the best thing for me - I certainly wouldn’t be playing Wembley this season if I stayed at Newcastle."

He remains ambitious and has not given up on his dreams of one day playing in the Premier League.

Indeed, Roberts still hasn’t given up hope of once again wearing the colours of his boyhood club. Would that be ironic?

“Stepping up from Blyth’s level to the National League was just another small stepping stone and if we can get promoted to League Two then there’s another one in the space of one season.

“I want to play at the top level. I want to play in the Premier League - that’s the main goal but I just need to keep working towards that.”

He adds: “To be fair, if any club offered me the chance to play in the Premier League then, of course, I’d take it but playing for Newcastle would be special. I grew up as a Newcastle fan, it’s my boyhood club.”