Legends - Jimmy Robertson

Unstereotypically tall for a winger and with a left foot of mesmerising ball control, Jimmy Robertson was a match winning Queen of the South player in two successful promotion campaigns. Robertson made 400 first team appearances for QoS at a time that is now something of a bygone age; the new wave of professionalism that swept through Scottish football reached Palmerston just after the end of Robertson’s career. Outgoing, extrovert, uncontrollably talkative and raucously fun loving, thanks to an interview in May 2009, this is the gospel according to JR.

(Celtic number 4 Roy Aitken looks on as Robertson takes on Murdo MacLeod)

“Born in 1955, I grew up in Glasgow. Amateur football, Newton Mearns Rovers then I went to Muirend Amateurs then I signed for East Kilbride Thistle juniors and I was there just a month when I went to Ibrox. Jock Wallace signed me straight from amateur football. I never made the first team. I was a year at Ibrox in the reserves then I went to Motherwell.”
“That was my big one, I went right into the first team there at the very start of the Premier League. It was Willie McLean, Jim McLean’s brother [and manager at QoS before he went to Fir Park] was there, Willie Pettigrew and these guys, Bobby Graham, Peter Marinello was there, Peter Millar, Joe Wark, Gregor Stevens who played with Rangers.”
Gregor Stevens that was kick first and ask questions later.
“Colin McAdam, he was something similar, they were all at Motherwell at the time. Willie McLean chucked it or he got the sack, Roger Hynd got the job, and from playing with the first team I never kicked another ball as soon as he got the job. He dropped me and I left at the end of the season and I went to Stranraer. It was the committee that ran it there, I was there a year and a half and Queen's bought me, old Willie Harkness. Billy Little was the manager of Queen's at the time [Little as well being Queen's manager was originally from Dumfries before making over 300 Aberdeen appearances scoring 98 goals]. I’d actually put a transfer request into Stranraer. Willie phoned me and that was that, I just said, ‘Aye, no problem’. So I went to Queen's mid season for an undisclosed fee, I’ve no idea what it was. That was me ‘til I left there to go to Morton. I remember me and old Wullie, he was SFA President at the time and he loved it. He had all the SFA stuff up at the hotel,;he loved doing all that old Willie you know. I ended up in the Central with him at the time for talks, that was it, I ended up at Queen's for nearly 10 years ‘til I left to go Morton. I just went right into the first team.”
The details of Robertson’s debut, while not in the same league as when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his friends visited Dumfries, took a footwear related twist:
“Stenhousemuir, it was away [QoS only visit to Stenny that season was a 2-1 defeat]. I signed mid season, it was a Tuesday night game, you wouldn’t have got them at the start of the season, wet and wild and a horrible night, no idea what the date was [it was November 1979]. I didn’t have a pair of boots or nothing. ‘Cause I hadn’t brought them to the club, and I ended up, Stenhousemuir loaned me a pair two sizes too big to play the game with, they didn’t have any boots to fit me.”
First QoS goal:
"Now you’re asking; haven’t a clue. How many did I get, 76 or 77 or something, I’m not quite sure? Then I won the second division player of the year award. The year I won it, the big guy with Aberdeen, centre forward that went to Celtic, he’s a manager now, McGhee, Mark McGhee, he won it for the Premier League, and Charlie Nicholas won the young player, and I won the second division one. I got nominated about four times for that. The SFA were kind of involved with that and Old Willie told me that I’d won it one of the times and I was expecting my name to get shouted out, and I hadn’t won it. Pat Nevin of Clyde got an award one year; it might’ve been him that won it instead.”
The 80/81 promotion season:
“The first one was unbelievable because we’d actually…” Robertson paused briefly for a moment. “Cowdenbeath had to get beat on the last day of the season and we had to win. I scored, we beat Albion Rovers 3-1 [JR is being overly generous to Rovers as the score was 3-0 to QoS], I scored two goals in the second half [Rowan Alexander scored the other QoS goal]. We had no idea, Cowdenbeath missed a penalty and they were drawing up until the very last five minutes or so. We had no idea ‘til the final whistle, how the other game had went, and then we realised we had won promotion. My favourite QoS goal has got be, I remember it well, it was the Albion Rovers game when we won promotion, the third one, it was a 30 yarder into the roof of the net. That’s my favourite.”
“We’d played Forfar up there, we were getting beat at half time [3-1] and we beat them [4-3], I got one, Graeme Robertson got one, and somebody else [David Learmont] got one, after we were getting beat there. That was the game that kind of turned it about for us; we hit good form after that. That was the season that the guy, the manager who lived near Sunderland, George Herd, he left to go back to the North East of England, to a coaching job [at Darlington] just after mid season.”
“And we ended up, Willie took us to Portugal to play Vitoria Setubal [one of only three ever official QoS footballing trips to continental Europe to date along with the 1936 tour and the 2008 UEFA Cup game], that was a bit of an experience. They beat us by 3 goals and Ernie Walker, Willie brought Ernie Walker from the SFA along as part of the package. We were over there and I think they thought we were a top division team that’d won the league or something. They were doing well in the Portuguese league at the time [Vitoria finished the season seventh in Portugal’s top tier]. They beat us by 3 goals but it was a right good game. It was one of these stadiums where it was underneath and you walked up the stairs from the dressing rooms on to the park, it was beautiful. I got man of the match after it, it was a right good game, thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“We had some great, oh ho; they turfed us in, see where we were staying, there was nothing there, just a casino, a casino complex, but they had different things on in there, and we had a few nut cases at the time. Peter Dickson…”
“Peter was just crazy because he was just steaming. Remember Crawford Boyd? The two of them couldn’t get along. Crawford’s a bit of a hardie guy, you know. Before going over old Willie asked who we wanted to share with. I sat down with him and said, “Well, Peter and Crawford get on well, you know”. So he put them in the same room; lasted two hours before they had a row, they had to get transferred into separate rooms. Later on, Old Willie, Ernie Walker, the directors, old Billy Houliston and Bill Jardine, they were breakfast, dinner and evening meal. And the players were only booked for breakfast and the evening meal. So at dinner time, they’re in getting their dinner, and the players weren’t getting any dinner, so Peter was steaming, and he sits in the lounge and the chairman walked up to him at the dinner table and told him to leave, so he turned round and Peter kicked him up the backside, with Ernie Walker watching. Well Peter never got served, he got told to pack his bags and leave, but we all said, ‘if he goes, we all go’ and it caused a bit of a rammy.”
There’s the team spirit that turned it around at Forfar.
“Peter was mad, he was crazy, Dickson. That was the trip to Portugal, that was unbelievable.”
The step up a division after the promotion:
“That was a disaster. That was the season I walked out. I missed the first 3 or 4 months of that. That was when freedom of contract was starting to come out. There was a lot of clubs, you know, and I think it was Nobby Clark was telling me…. Old Willie, I had a good relationship with him, but… He wouldn’t sell me and he wouldn’t let me go. Freedom of contract came so I was asking for bigger money from them, and I kind of hung out for about 2 months, so I missed three months of the season when we’d went up a division. So when I came back, he phoned me up old Willie and took me, Scotland were playing, he invited me to the game to sit with him and talk, and he gave me the back dated money that I’d missed, so I actually never made any money out of it. He gave me the money that I’d missed for the four months plus a signing on fee that wasn’t very much but I’d put myself out the game. It wasn’t like freedom of contract now where you could just go away and sign for another club and that was you. Even though I had freedom of contract there was still a fee involved. So he was just holding out so any club that came in, he was just bumping the price up. I could only leave the club when I did through freedom of contract. So I went back there and we were sitting bottom of the league. We only won four games. Straight down, we went down in style, aye.”
Then the Drew Busby era.
“Drew came in, Drew was brilliant. They were crazy, carrying on times as well. Cause he brought a lot of older pros like Pat McCluskey and wee Jimmy Miller and a few guys from Morton, and they were just party time. He was good Drew, he was a hardie, hardie man, you wouldn’t kind of cross him, and he was a good guy, a nice guy, I liked Drew. But, that was another; we were doing well for part of the season with him or whatever, then he fell out with the board and then he left. With Busby we were playing really well, half way we were second top of the league. That was when big Ted McMinn was playing. I done my cruciate, out the game for a year. After sitting second top of the league we never won one of the last seven games. We never won a game from that time to the end of the season, not once. I was injured, Drew left at the end of the season then Big Ted left for Rangers. Big Ted criticised me in his book. I don’t know if you read Big Ted McMinn’s book? What happened was he gave me some stick in front of the main stand. And I pulled him up after the game. Big Ted was a bit naïve then, he was just a big daft boy at the time. Nothing else was said, nothing else was done. Don’t get me wrong, we did banter and kid on. But he’s criticised me in his book. Then he also did put in his book that he thought I was a player and he loved watching me, you know. He said that although I gave him stick I was the player he liked watching when I was there; I’ll accept that. I never had a cross word with Big Ted apart from that.”
JR then continued, “Nobby got the job. 84/85 was a kind of nothing season.”
But not the season after.
“We got promoted, I’ll tell you where we got promoted, we got promoted up at Arbroath. I remember the Arbroath game well. We played them at the end of the season to go up. We beat them one nothing, ’cause I’d missed a sitter. At half time we went in 0-0. I’ll tell you who scored, Stewart Cochrane, big Stewarty, big Cocky scored the winner with about 30 minutes to go. At that time we had the guy from Man Utd, the full back, Alex Forsyth, he was on the bench, he wasn’t even getting a game, he was up I remember that day. We had a night out. I’ll tell you where we ended up, believe it or not, we ended up back in; Dunfermline won the league that year, and we ended up back in Dunfermline. Old Willie had a thing going with them, so on the way back from Arbroath we went via Dunfermline, and we ended up in their social club, because they were having a night for promotion, so Willie instructed the bus back to their place and we ended up in there ‘til about 11 o’clock, with big Jim Leishman, it turned out a great night. Don’t ask me how we ended up back there. They’d got promoted, and we ended up going back there. We’d beat them 3-1 just before. They eventually won the league. Then Nobby Clark left I think to go to Stranraer, didn’t he.”
The promotion season was the Celtic league cup game at Palmerston Park where JR was MoM.
“I’ve got pictures on the wall in my house the now, yeah. I got the MoM. That was just…” Then came a second rare Robertson pause. “We had them actually, Tommy Bryce scored a wonder goal to make it 1 each, and we actually had them, the first half, we were… it was a good Celtic team, we were giving as good as we were getting. You give as good as you get and that was it, and I’ll never forget, we came out in the second half, and Mo Johnston scored two quick goals. But we still, I got brought down and we should have got a penalty, and we gave them a right good game. I’ll never forget wee Billy Reid, he came up to me at 3-1, and he was only a young boy, and he said, ‘Jimmy what do we do now?’ And I said to him, ‘Billy, It’s kind of every man for themselves now’, that was my words. And he kind of fell out with me, because wee Billy kind of looked up to me a wee bit, you know, I said to him, ‘Get the ball and run at them’. At 4-1 down there isn’t much more you can do. Wee Billy Reid was kind of my boot boy at Queen's”
He’s done well now as a manager.
JR enthused, “Unbelievable, what he’s been doing.”
The season after produced Robertson’s personal favourite QoS game.
“My favourite game was when we played Airdrie, at Broomfield when Mike Jackson was Queen's manager. We’re sitting third top of the league, this was before Christmas and that was to get into the Premier League, and we beat them 3-1, and I was just, it was unbelievable, it was one of these, I loved playing at Broomfield, it was one of these games, I scored 2, and Alan Davidson was in goal, he was actually brilliant for us that day. Wee Henry Templeton was playing for Airdrie at the time, and they were sitting above us in the league, I think they were second. We’d played them earlier in the season and beat them. Alan Davidson and I put a wee bit of money on us, and we ended up beating them 3-1 so we both won a bit of money. It was just one of these fantastic games where everything went right. I was playing against Dave McKinnon [McKinnon was in his first season after Rangers], and just absolutely, he came up to me after the game, one of these ones where you’re just unbelievable, you know. One of these where everything clicked, you get them. Now and again you got them, that was the one. It was the Airdrie game.”
After becoming one of the few players in Scotland to be the subject of a transfer tribunal, Robertson then played for Morton before taking a circuitous route back to Palmerston.
“I went to Clydebank; I was just there for 3 months or something, 6 months. Then, that was me, I’d decided, as I was then going 36 nearly and I said, ‘Ach, that’ll do’. Billy McLaren phoned me up, cause the winger from Ayrshire [Jim McGuire?] had got injured and he didn’t have somebody to replace him, so I come back and played against East Fife as a trialist, and we beat them 5-1 and I’d a right good game and so Billy signed me after that and I come back. Later that season Billy left to go to Hamilton as manager.”
This was followed by a season that started with some promise only to end in major disappointment.
“Early season we played Celtic at Parkhead in the League Cup quarter finals. We were drawing 1-1 with 10 minutes to go and they scored. It was wee Joe Miller, the [ex] Aberdeen guy, they beat us 2-1. Frank McGarvey played himself, he was ex-Celtic, he was still a hero there. He took himself off near the end to wave to the crowd as he left. As manager you’ve got to distance yourself from the players somewhere along the line, he didn’t know when. I wasn’t being selected. Then he departed, and he’s put in his book there was player power at Palmerston Park when he was there. Old Willie rings me up and said, ‘Right you’re playing on Saturday, just come back down.’”
Then came a manager of unquenchable optimism and a tale that has gone down not only in Palmerston but in Scottish football folklore as a whole.
Ally MacLeod was absolutely unbelievable. The stories I’ve got about Ally are great. Listen to this one. He got the job and we didn’t have enough players. We’d enough for the Saturday but we were running a reserve team, so we didn’t have enough. So we’d have reserve games up around the Glasgow area. We were playing flipping Rangers and Morton and playing everybody. We played St Mirren and we’d only 10 players, Ally played himself, at 61. They were beating us 7-0; We got a penalty and he took the penalty and scored, 7-1. It was unbelievable, but Ally was. He would blether away about Scotland. He let you go out and play, there was no tactics involved. He’d say, ‘you’re Willie Miller: You’re Alex McLeish: You’re Doog Rougvie: You’re John Robertson:’ that kind of thing.”

“When Ally left I’m sure Billy McLaren came back didn’t he. It was Billy that freed me, I ended going to wee Mark Shanks at Cumnock, playing for a year and half with Cumnock, then I finished with Maybole then Neilston. I was a good pro, I played until I was 40 type of thing. Then it’s just the Old Crocks I’m afraid.”

“The best Queen's players I played beside, Dick Malone was a magnificent football player. You remember big Malone? He’d won the cup with Sunderland. He come up to us when he was 33, he was big, classy, you could see he could play, he was a lovely player. I’ll tell you who else, Rowan was a plank of wood but he was a great plank of wood to play with, cause he would run through a wall for you. If you hit him, if you played good enough balls into him and they hit him the right way he would always get on the end of them Rowan Alexander. When I say he was a plank of wood, he had no ability in terms of a touch, but he would run through a brick wall for you. If you were good enough to put balls into areas, Rowan would get there. He was a winger’s joy Rowan. If you threw balls in he would fight. There was other great wee touch players, wee Jimmy Coughlan, had a fantastic touch, and Kevin McCann, these kind of guys. Andy Thomson. In the later stages when I was there with Andy, Andy was a fantastic goal scorer when he was a boy. Pat McCluskey was a great player as well, big Nobby Clark was a great centre half, big George Cloy was a legend, Geordie could throw the ball further than he could kick it. Good players, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“I was playing this morning with Ally McCoist; I play with the Old Crocks here in Giffnock and Shawlands. I stay here and we’ve got a Sunday game. It’s a good game, McCoist plays and Owen Coyle, the Burnley manager, before he was down there he was playing, his brother wee Joe played here, Alex O’Hara that played with Rangers, so we’ve got a lot of seniors and old crocks, we’ve got a right good team. Say to any of the ex Queen's players that if they want to get a team together to get in touch and they can come up or we can come down and we’ll have a game.”
(After the initial publication of this interview Jimmy Robertson returned to Palmerston as a guest of the club, pictured here with then Chairman, Davie Rae)
Still game after all these years. In his time at QoS Jimmy Robertson made 400 first team appearances - 7th highest in the club’s history. He won two promotions with QoS and was voted divisional player of the year. With 77 league goals and 89 in total he is joint tenth in the scoring chart with Ian Reid (as at August 2020). To many QoS fans though, JR will simply be remembered for the number of times he glided past a befuddled right back before swinging in another pin point left foot cross.
Jimmy Robertson league appearances:
Born: Glasgow d.o.b: 1955
Position: Left Wing  
Teams Seasons Apps. Gls.
Source : East Kilbride Thistle      
Rangers 76-77 0 0
Motherwell 77-78 5 0
Stranraer 78-80 51 4
Queen of the South 80-87 250 62
Greenock Morton 87-89 43 5
Clydebank 89-90 8 0
Queen of the South 89-93 92 15
to Cumnock      
  Totals 449 86