THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
FRIDAY night took a different direction for many folk as Caley Thistle manager John Robertson featured in a special Facebook interview session to help raise funds for Mikeysline.
The Inverness charity, which serves the whole of the Highlands, was established in 2015 and provides support for those in emotional distress, lonely or isolated. With the country in lockdown the volunteers are on hand to advise and guide. The ultimate goal of Mikeysline is suicide prevention. Its starting point was when two close Inverness friends, each aged 23, took their own lives.
At the time of writing, the organisers of this online event, the Longest Forty, had helped raise close to £400 for Mikeysline on the back of Robertson’s revealing chat.
The tag name on Robbo’s part of the screen was John ‘Hammer of the Hibs’ Robertson, the moniker the Hearts fans loved to call their legendary striker in his 1980s heyday. In fact, his 27 goals scored for the Jambos in the Edinburgh derbies prompted one viewer to donate £27 for the worthy cause.
It was a fascinating chat, hosted by Mark Benstead, with questions growing more probing as the clock ticked on. Understandably, his time at Hearts dominated a big chunk of the interview.
He spoke honestly about how heartbreaking it was to miss out on winning the 1986 title due to the unforgettable day when they lost at Dundee, allowing Celtic to nick the crown on goal difference courtesy of their 5-0 rout of St Mirren in Paisley. A week after that hammer blow, they also lost the Scottish Cup final 3-0 against Aberdeen, my first-ever game incidentally…
When he spoke about his original move into the Caley Jags’ hot-seat, he paid credit to his predecessor Steve ‘Pele’ Paterson for having built a really strong squad that only needed a few new faces to become serious contenders for the Division One title.
Working alongside Donald Park, Robbo made Inverness winners as they clinched the second-tier crown and promotion to the SPL in 2003/04, along with the Challenge Cup. This was the same term as Clach last won the Highland League. That latter part happened 16 years ago this past weekend.
He reflected on his pride of how his players coped in the club’s first season in the top-flight as they finished a comfortable eighth, despite playing in Aberdeen as their home ground at the Caledonian Stadium was not compliant. It didn’t have enough seats until building giants Tulloch made that happen soon after.
Talking of the current crisis and the conclusion to the Championship season earlier this month which blocked any chance of promotion to the Premiership via the play-offs, he insisted that the priority is everyone keeping safe, including family members he has working within the NHS.
Caley Thistle’s only hope of a step-up to join champions Dundee United in the Premiership would be through league reconstruction if the Premiership clubs vote to expand from a 12 to 14-side league, although 11 out of 12 Premiership clubs are needed to see that passed. It’s unlikely, let’s leave it at that.
Robertson acknowledged whatever division they are in whenever football is allowed to be played again, it will be a challenge. Their top scorer Jordan White is joining Motherwell, while marauding full-back Shaun Rooney will be a St Johnstone player next term.
As ever, he’ll need to find gems, as he calls them, and he’ll rely on his own reputation as well as the lure of picturesque Inverness itself. Of course, should league reconstruction happen the calibre of player ICT could lure north would change with the chance to feature on TV playing against Celtic, Rangers or Ross County.
Whether Robertson is the man to take the Highlanders forward is always a matter for debate. Some dodgy defeats and draws did annoy some supporters, as did their desire for some more football on the front foot.
To balance that, they signed off before the shutdown with a 3-1 win over Queen of the South to open up a four-point gap over Dundee in the second spot they were determined to secure behind champions Dundee United. Let’s not forget, ICT are in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup final against Raith Rovers, a tie which was postponed, but hopefully not changed to cancelled. Surely a date for this showdown in Perth can be inked in for the end of the year.
Having managed Hearts once, from 2004 until 2005, he was asked by one viewer would he ever return there to complete ‘unfinished business’. He admitted you must never say never’, having conceded he was not quite ready for that job at Hearts under the leadership of Vladimir Romanov, which most would agree was less than stable. He added that Daniel Stendel is the Hearts manager right now and his sole focus is on improving Inverness.
The final part of the interview I thought was the best when the subject of his international career was raised.
Robbo scored 214 league goals for Hearts, yet earned only 16 caps. It really should have been many more. He admitted the lack of international recognition dismayed him, especially when he was the Scottish Premier League’s top scorer in the year of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, yet he was overlooked by boss Andy Roxburgh, who favoured Rangers’ Robert Fleck.
It baffled me back then and hearing Robertson still being irked by being largely overlooked was no surprise. Anyone would feel the same.
The Inverness gaffer also revealed that he’s midway through writing a book, which if this interview mirrors its pages then will be well worth buying. ou should still be able to view the interview online via the Caley Thistle Facebook page. To add a few most welcome pounds (or more) to the Mikeysline pot, please do search for ‘John Robertson Facebook Live’ on justgiving.com
• Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking show has returned to North Highland Radio every Friday in a slightly different form amid the coronavirus pandemic. With the studio in lockdown, he is currently teaming up with Lorraine Chisholm for a one-hour sports round-up from 7pm. This Monday, the station will also have a special show called Life in Lockdown, which aims to provide support and valuable information for listeners during the ongoing crisis. If you have any requests for help, or you can help people in your community and you’d like to get your message out there, email email@example.com. Listen to North Highland Radio via the station’s website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers.