As Alan Robertson strides down the fairways in retirement, he’ll reflect just as much on the unheralded stars he produced at Kilmarnock.
"Robbo" oversaw Kris Boyd’s rise from shy teen to predator extraordinaire. He helped put Steven Naismith on the path to becoming a Rangers hero, English Premier League scorer and Scotland star. Killie legend Robertson is proud of the talent brought through at Rugby Park. Seeing the likes of Garry Hay, James Fowler and Paul Di Giacomo develop into clubs stalwarts filled him with equal pride. Maybe it’s because he saw a little bit of himself in them. The club’s all-time appearance holder — he played 607 matches at right-back — Robertson is a Rugby Park legend who combined playing part-time with his job as an accountant. After returning as youth coach in the early 1990s he went full-time in 1998 to kick-start a legacy of talent that still runs through the Killie first team to this day.
Robertson, 63, said: “I’d been thinking about retiring for a while.
“One or two things led to me feeling it was probably time to go. It was difficult because the club has been my life.
“I’d worked with a number of people for a long time — the physio Alex MacQueen, the groundstaff. A number of the boys in the youth team had another year as under-20s and I’d dealt with them from when they were under-12s.
“It took a couple of months to pluck up the courage and tell someone that’s what I was going to do.
“It would have been difficult whatever time it was done.”
Robertson has never been one for the limelight, but the calibre of player produced under his stewardship speaks for itself.
Robertson, who made his debut for Killie in 1972, said: “I’ve always been quite happy in the background.
“The length of time I’ve been at the club meant someone had to come through!
“It’s been rewarding seeing people go on to make really good careers for themselves, guys like Naisy and Boydy for example.
“But it’s also been great to see players have good long careers like Hay and Fowler at Kilmarnock.
“As a kid Boydy just wanted to score goals. It didn’t matter if it was a practise game, shooting, whatever. He came in as a shy 13-year-old, but that shyness lasted for two weeks! He gradually blossomed.
“He became a better trainer as he got older and started to see the wider aspects of the game. He was someone the other defenders would judge themselves against. They would look at how they could cope with him in training games.
“On a Friday morning back in the days when we played Under-18s games on a Saturday, we would have a Glasgow v Ayrshire game.
“Shaun Dillon was a few years younger than Boydy, but every game he played against him helped him develop.
“Boydy had two good feet, but that didn’t come by chance.
“There was a youth tournament in Ayr at the end of May and I would see him and a pal at the tournament, down to watch but with a ball and boots on.
“They weren’t just watching, they were kicking balls about.
“He worked hard to get the ability he has.
“He’s developed into a true leader in the dressing room and on the pitch, especially in this latest spell at Killie.
“With Naisy you always knew what you’d get — 100 per cent effort.
“It didn’t matter the size of the defender, he would still compete with them.
“He had good ability and worked his socks off to improve his game. He deserves all the success he’s had. He never caused you problems.
“As for Garry Hay, the scout who brought him in — the late Davie Love — never forgave Stuart McLean and myself for changing him from a winger to a full-back!
“Garry was a slow burner.
“There were a number of boys about the same time as him — Mark Roberts, Alex Burke — who got in the first team at a younger age.
“After Garry got his first game at Ibrox against Rangers they couldn’t get him out. Fowler started as a winger too. The thing that stood out was his pace. He was a threat and wasn’t short of an opinion.
“Out of eight boys in his year he was the only one retained. That reflected what he’d done.
“As a midfielder he played a big part in Kilmarnock’s successes.
“There are others like Craig Samson, Paul Di Giacomo. Other boys too.
“You see them develop as footballers, but as people as well.
“The biggest thrill is seeing players get through to the first team. Of course that’s dependent on managers being willing to give them a chance.
“When Bobby Williamson took over it boosted the youth system as David Bagan and Alex Burke became regular starters and played a big part in the team winning the Scottish Cup in 1997.
“Mentalities change and sometimes you had to work that bit harder to get them to apply themselves.
“But the majority I’ve had have had a really good work ethic.
“The secret was getting good players in the first place — and that was down to the scouts.
“You’ve got to encourage them to express that ability while also taking on all the disciplines of team play. When I was head of youth I also had a number of good coaches working at all age groups, so it wasn’t down to me.
“Which manager had the biggest impact? Mixu Paatelainen came in with a new philosophy for how the team should play.
“He established that in the first team and wanted to see it throughout the club.
“Training was a bit different to what it had been, but all the managers I worked with had different skills.
“Will I miss it? Undoubtedly, but there comes a time to move on.
“The group of boys currently at the club,, the 1997 and above, are a tremendous bunch to work with.
“It was one of the best groups, as a whole, that I had.
“The last three co-coaches I had with the development squad were ex-players who I’d worked with as young boys — Fowler, Boydy and Jamie Hamill.
“To see them prepare to take that next step is pleasing too.
“What does life hold now? Hopefully I’ll improve my golf handicap.
“I’ll be able to go on holiday outwith a three-week window in June.
“I’ll hopefully keep involved at some level doing some coaching and some voluntary work, so hopefully the days will be well filled.”
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