John Robertson: “The opportunities we missed at Hearts were huge” | Scottish Premiership

Dens Park, May 3, 1986. Attendance was 19,567; Tens of thousands of others have long recognized the significance of what happened. Albert Kidd’s goals – 83 minutes, 87 minutes – deprived Hearts of the point needed to propel Celtic to the title. The resulting images of men in brown crying on the terraces never really went away.

Naturally, the thoughts of Hearts players on the most painful of sporting episodes are few. That will change with the imminent publication of John Robertson’s long-awaited, self-written autobiography. Robertson, the club’s league top scorer with 214 over two periods, was the Hearts’ support darling at the time and remains revered. The poster boy carried the burden of what happened in Dundee. A week later, Hearts lost the Scottish Cup final to Aberdeen.

“It was the only section of the book that took a long time,” says Robertson. “It happened to Dens and I wondered how the hell to approach it. The hardest part was this emotional aspect, trying to explain how we all felt after this game. If we had seen the league come out, I have absolutely no doubt we would have beaten Aberdeen. In Dundee’s outside locker room, Robertson portrays tears and silence except for one teammate who is vomiting.

Despair for Hearts fans after a 2-0 defeat at Dundee deprived the club of the Scottish Premier League title in 1986. Photograph: Bob Thomas Sports Photography / Getty Images

“Despite the revitalization of the club, we left a lot of chances there. I lost in 10 or 11 semi-finals as well as three cup finals. The opportunities that we missed as a team and missed as an individual were huge. “

It wasn’t until the 1998 Scottish Cup for Hearts, including Robertson, that a trophy wait that dated back to 1962. No club outside of Old Firm has won the top flight since 1985. “He always will be. there, ”says Robertson about a year. later. “Just like, to a lesser extent, 1998. From April we drew Motherwell at home, drew with St Johnstone at home, lost to Hibs, lost to Rangers, drew at Aberdeen … We only finished seven points behind Celtic. We just needed a good break-in and we could have clinched the league. It was an opportunity; nowhere near as big as Dens but still a chance.

Hearts will strut towards Ibrox on Saturday, behind Rangers by one point and holding the only unbeaten Scottish Premiership record. Robertson praises Robbie Neilson and his class of 2021.

John Robertson won the Scottish Cup in 1998 after Hearts beat Rangers in the final.
John Robertson won the Scottish Cup in 1998 after Hearts beat Rangers in the final. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell / Reuters

“They have unity, you can see that. There is a lot of improvement in this team because they have a lot of young guys. They can get better. They play with arrogance but it is controlled, not in the face. They know they’re a decent team who, if they play well together, are as good as anyone in the league. Hearts have nothing to fear from going to Ibrox.

Robertson, 57, and sporting director of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, remains one of the most capable and contagious characters in the Scottish game. It gratifies him that his stint at Tynecastle ended in 2005, with less than a full season. The takeover of Vladimir Romanov meant a clean slate; Robertson was a high-profile victim. “I will always be linked to Hearts. I came in as a manager and still think I did a reasonable job under the circumstances. Good man, bad time. It impacted my career because people looked at him and said, “If Hearts gets rid of him, given his playing career there, he must have a major flaw. If Hearts didn’t consider him. not like a manager, why should we do it? ‘ “

Robertson’s incredible remembrance of people and games is evident in his book. Famously, a teenage Robertson was in the office of Hibs chairman Tom Hart and ready to sign before asking for his brother, Chris, to be allowed to review the terms. Hart – Robertson believed out of indifference to the Rangers, for whom Chris played – refused to let the unsigned contract leave the room. The business collapsed; Robertson has scored 27 times in brown in the Edinburgh derbies.

There was an earlier meeting with Brian Clough in Nottingham Forest. Clough already had a Scotsman John Robertson, used on the left as a No.11 and refused to let the Robertson schoolboy play as a No.9 center-forward on a try. He too had to wear the 11 on the left.

In 1988, at the end of an unfortunate eight-month stay at Newcastle, Ajax tried to lure Robertson. “If that call had come four hours earlier …” said Robertson. “I had accepted and signed the deal to return to Hearts. If I had gone to Ajax my career would have taken a completely different direction, with or without success.

John Robertson celebrates after scoring for Hearts against Rangers in December 1997.
John Robertson celebrates after scoring for Hearts against Rangers in December 1997. Photograph: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

“I would have loved to have done well for the Newcastle fans, who treated me well. I always get letters from them. It just wasn’t the case; I didn’t do myself justice. am injured, I needed hernia surgery, then when I came back to the squad I was left in a four-man midfielder.

“Jim Smith came in and was told he had to sell players. Myself, John Hendrie, Dave Beasant and Andy Thorn were put up for sale. John immediately went to Leeds and a fight started between the clubs Scottish about me. Rangers came in at £ 500,000, Hibs, Aberdeen and Dundee United came in at £ 600,000. Rangers were very interesting, Graeme Souness was there, but they weren’t ready to increase their offer. President told me about the offers, it was Rangers of the three I wanted to talk to but the offer was too low. [Mercer, the Hearts chairman] I finally did a little extra to bring myself back and the stars aligned.

Robertson featured at a time when Scottish strikers were feared. Ally McCoist, Mo Johnston, Steve Archibald, Frank McAvennie and Eric Black were among them. The recent and widespread failure to produce prolific goal scorers is blatant. “It’s math,” says Robertson. “If you’re playing with two center forwards, you need two as back-up – think about the U-12 numbers. “

Robertson was manager of Inverness when he got compassionate care leave in February. His return to work brought a new role, in which he immersed himself. Robertson remains upset with Scottish football’s handling of the pandemic, with his Highland club facing geographic challenges.

John Robertson last October when he was Director of Inverness.
John Robertson last October when he was Director of Inverness. “I sank into the ground, wasn’t sleeping and was taking too much,” he says. Photograph: Malcolm Mackenzie / ProSports / Shutterstock

“I sank into the ground, I wasn’t sleeping and I was trying too hard. Three of the players’ wives were pregnant, I was worried about my own family in Edinburgh. We have lost my sister. Everything was built and built. As a manager, I felt responsible for ensuring the safety of the players, staff and their families. It all caught up and it was just too much – I had to take a step back.

“They banned players from showering after games. This is good for administrators based in Glasgow. The attitude I had was, ‘Well, it’s not our fault you’re based up there.’ They weren’t interested. We were at Queen of the South on a Friday night, players had to get home at 3 a.m. before they could take a shower.

Now in great shape, Robertson is closing his book at the end of his playing days. “There’s more to come,” he says with a broad smile. “Robbon II.” You have the impression that he has unfinished business.

Robbo: My autobiography is published by Noir & Blanc and released on October 28

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