Liverpool's Andy Robertson is on cusp of a serious award and I really hope he lands it
I’m joking about the modest staging – gong-giving ceremonies are glitzy affairs these days – but can remember blurry footage of a well-refreshed Andy Gray in a low-ceilinged room, dressed in wide lapels and a fat tie, collecting his prize from the Professional Footballers’ Association for season 1976-77. There was little razzmatazz but really there should have been. Gray was Player of the Year having a few minutes earlier made the same walk for Young Player of the Year and was the first to claim both.
Who says Robertson should win? Apart from you and me and others among his countrymen, none other than Alan Shearer, English icon, the first to the EPL prize and now yon chromedomed oracle on Match of the Day. Shearer made his nomination after another rampaging Robbo performance in last week’s Merseyside derby, culminating in the Scotland captain’s first goal in front of Anfield’s Kop.
Of course, it’s prizes all round these days. In England there are three different versions of the solo accolade, all presumably hoping they won’t suffer the fate of Betamax. Unlikely, since “the Prem”, as we’re often told, is the best league in the entire history of absolutely everything.
The EPL one is the newest and the 27 previous winners have included precisely no Scots. We shouldn’t feel too bad about that as only six of the recipients have been English. If the Scotland skipper was to triumph it would be some result, not least because it would surely retire for good the ancient playground joke: “Son, you’re playing left-back. That is, left back in the changing-room.”
The oldest is the prize decided by the Football Writers’ Association. Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews was first to win it for season 1947-48. It took until 1964-65 for a Scot to make off with the trophy – Leeds United’s Bobby Collins. That was a good period for Bobbys as Moore was garlanded the year before and Charlton 12 months later. But what is surprising is that ’64 was Denis Law’s golden year when he became the first and still only Scot to claim the Ballon d’Or and yet locally an honour eluded him.
Collins’s successor at Elland Road, the equally flyweight boxer-like Billy Bremner, was acknowledged as the best in the old First Division in 1969-70 and when Frank McLintock, just as uncompromising at centre-half for Arsenal, claimed the award the following season you might have wondered if Scots were scaring the judges into handing over the prizes.
The PFA doorstops became a thing in 1973-74 and Gray with his double kicked off an era when Scots threatened to dominate. The following season Kenny Burns of Nottingham Forest was the writers’ choice and in 1978-79 that award went to Kenny Dalglish of Liverpool. Then he was acclaimed by scribes and fellow pros in 1982-83 - the only Scot so far to achieve recognition from both camps.
We’ve impressed the FWA more. John Wark’s box-to-box charges for Ipswich Town were sufficiently admired by opponents who strived to catch up with him in 1980-81 but our last two awards of any sort both came from the press boxes, proving what fine and astute judges journos were. Stevie Nicol collected in 1988-89 and two seasons later Gordon Strachan struck a blow for the over-30s with his banana-powered midfield dynamism for Leeds United.
That’s been that – so far. If Robertson triumphs it will be stunning. The EPL is packed with great glamour but a former Queen’s Park striver finishing top of the heap would revive the tradition of the little, industrious, unshowy Scots bustling their way to the front of the queue. Sure, King Kenny could more than hold his own with the superstars of the game from any era, but Robbo is a throwback – to Strachan, to Bremner and to Collins. We might even start to wonder if big ships would suddenly be about to thunder down the Clyde slipways again.
Robertson differs from the other wee guys, and all the other Scottish winners, in one respect. Collins was before my time and I’ve met most of the others and none seem to have Robbo’s anxieties. They’re in his face as he plays and they’re in his words. His recent autobiography can read like he’s won a football mag’s competition to run onto the park with the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane and his dream prize will end soon. “That’s just who I am,” he told me when we spoke at the time of publication. “I think my insecurities will always be there. People probably look at footballers and top sportsmen and think they’re untouchable and untroubled but I do believe that a big theme of my journey and the reason I’m at Liverpool now is that along the way I’ve doubted myself, never mind others doing it, and I’ve always kept pushing.”
This approach obviously works for him – and brilliantly. I hope Robbo lifts the EPL award, or one of the others, because the decorated Scottish XI need him. Bremner and Collins are no longer with us, Dalglish as a double winner will have to do the work of two men and we don’t have a goalie. Who’s going to tell Kenny Burns he’ll have to take a turn between the posts?
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