Book Review of The Quiet Man Roars : the David Robertson Story
“The Quiet Man Roars”, by David Robertson with Alistair Aird. Reviewed by Eddie Adair. Available to buy from ourselves with free tracked shipping here
The story of David Robertson does not immediately stand out as being the most exciting tale which could be extracted from Scottish football in the 90’s.
A full back, whose period of most success includes playing with Laudrup, Gacoigne, Hateley and Albertz is going to have more glamorous players to compete with in the story telling stakes.
Yet his tale turns out, in more ways than one, to be quite remarkable. Not just in the retelling of the glory years from 1991 to 1997 when he played his part in the Souness/Smith’ nine in a row’ adventure, but in what led him to Ibrox, and to where his continued love and participation in the game has led him since his playing career ended.
Showing little enthusiasm for the game as a young child, he watched his home town club, Aberdeen, winning the Scottish League Cup as an eight year old and something clicked. Even then he didn’t show enough talent to make it into his primary school team. This reflects a recurring theme in his developing years; a gnawing lack of confidence in his own ability which follows him at each stage of his career progression. Reflecting perhaps the lack of sentimentality in the Presbyterian mindset, he remembers his mother and aunt telling him they were ‘embarrassed’ by his performance, when he came on as substitute, and was himself ‘subbed’ as he was so poor.
Yet he persisted. Various scouts began to notice him and, after interest from Man Utd, he signed for his boyhood heroes at Pittodrie.
From 1986 to 1991 he played left back for Aberdeen, and the book details some epic League Cup and Scottish Cup finals. It was a strong team with a back five of Leighton, McKimmie, Miller, McLeish and Robertson. But he felt unappreciated. Cold hard business do not always take the subtleties of man management into account. After several years Rangers expressed an interest, and he was off.
Robertson does not shy away from the negative aspect of leaving his home town club to play for Rangers. A trip with family to watch Aberdeen play Celtic in the 1994 League Cup semi final leads to police intervention to protect him from Aberdeen fans. His brother is bullied at school.
He recollects the famous Rangers ‘nine in a row’ team, much of which is well catalogued, but losing none of its freshness in coming from a rather star struck boy who could hardly believe his luck in playing alongside Gascoigne, Laudrup ‘et al’.
Robertson is candid about the fact that he only received 3 full international caps for Scotland, and has his own ideas as to why this honour was so restricted, but characteristically, without bitterness or rancour.
He moved to (then high flying) Leeds Utd. His four years at Leeds were dogged with injury. A short stint at Montrose completed his playing career and confirmed the frailty of his ligaments. At 35, as a retired professional footballer, he was at a crossroads in his life.
Football management beckoned and his efforts in handling responsibility for his first position in Elgin City shines a light on the less glamorous side of the game. Players training in different geographical locations, failed drug tests, and a less than happy cameo from Andy Goram in his twilight years makes entertaining reading. Of course, it ends in tears.
Taking up a role coaching kids in the USA seemed to be leading to a period of stability. He catalogues the typical backroom politics of working with ambitious youths, and even more ambitious parents. A franchise bid for senior football in the US ends in flames, and the youth coaching role falls victim to the inevitable back stabbing.
At this stage the story takes a bizarre turn, as Robertson finds himself being invited to go to the state of Kashmir in India. Incredibly he had no idea of the violent history of the state since partition and the three wars between India and Pakistan since. The book gives a vivid account of the culture shock felt by Robertson as cows and donkeys block traffic on the road (even coming from Aberdeen this appeared abnormal it seems). The chaotic set up of the club (including training in a palatial front room) is entertainingly described.
The Kashmir story is the best part of the book. Something so unusual, and so unnerving for an outsider, is dealt with by Robertson with a dry sense of humour. A ball kicked against an iron wall leads to the players diving to the floor in anticipation of a bomb blast. Adventures in the Indian hospitality sector, not enhanced by the standard of electrical or mechanical workmanship, are well told with a palpable sense of disbelief. All of this led to a BAFTA award winning BBC documentary which brought Robertson’s adventures into the living rooms of UK viewers. The sequel to this enthralling documentary, called ‘Return to Real Kashmir FC’ is on BBC iPlayer.
A nice touch in the epilogue is a series of testimonials from the greats in his time as a professional footballer as well as his closest family members, and people at all levels he has worked with or coached. A quiet, loyal, proud and modest man, with a life lived in football in ways he could not have imagined.
A thoroughly enjoyable read and available from the staunchest bookshop in the UK with FREE UK tracked shipping.