The moment when it seems that David Robertson may be about to undergo a conversion comes on the highest road in the world as he steps inside a 15th century Himalayan monastery. When he re-emerges, might he no longer be Scotland’s sweariest man?
Last year the former Aberdeen and Rangers defender who now manages Real Kashmir became a cult star of the new BBC Scotland channel in an hour-long documentary where he couldn’t stop himself using the f-word 80 times.
In the follow-up film Robertson is with his son Jordan in Leh Ladakh 18,000 feet above sea level and struggling with the thin air but the monks’ chanting offers some respite. He spins a prayer wheel – “It’s supposed to get rid of the bad things in your body” – and is visibly moved by the whole experience. Dabbing the tears he tells Jordan: “I could actually become a Buddhist, to be fair.”
But back on the touchline he’s soon ranting at his big rival in the I-League, the boss of Chennai City. “Here he comes – f****n’ Mourinho,” sneers Robertson before kickoff. “He’s got the f****n’ folder. He’s got the f****n’ suit.”
During the game he’s enraged by the over-physical approach of the opponents, not least when his other son Mason takes a blow to the face. Robertson turns towards the visitors’ dugout and blasts: “Wish it was your nose, ya big-nosed c***!”
You can sympathise with our man; his trials and tribulations go far beyond those of his peers and it’s little wonder he gets called Britain’s bravest football manager. Every boss is in lockdown right now but this is how 2019-20 began for Robertson after India suddenly abolished Kashmir’s devolved parliament, resulting in an internet blackout and closing shops.
India and Pakistan have been squabbling over Kashmir for ever and Robertson, who’s had to swot up on the political history of the world’s most militarised zone, likens the latest display of breast-beating to Westminster shutting Holyrood “and calling Scotland England”.
But, as he says at the outset of the sequel, to be screened on Tuesday, he’s working in football, the game he loves. When he started out as an apprentice, some of his contemporaries failed to make the grade. “Their dreams were shattered and they ended up committing suicide,” he says. “If I didn’t have a job I wouldn’t be a happy person.”
The programme at least begins with some action, the Durand Cup in Calcutta dating back to 1888 and won many times by Scottish regimental sides. Robertson has a highly emotional squad around him as players cannot make contact with their families back in Kashmir’s trouble-torn capital, Srinagar. While loved ones cower from the echo of gunfire on their streets, Robertson is exploding at the squad camp. Asked what colour of training gear the players should use, he roars: “We wear f****n’ blue. F***’s sake, I’ve told these f****rs: one f****n’ set for the whole f****n’ duration.”
Out on the park, during the last session before Real Kashmir’s first tie, a face familiar to Scottish fans pops into view – ex-Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock and Dunfermline Athletic winger Kallum Higginbotham. He says the view in Scotland might be that he’s joined a “diddy league” but he’s going to be earning “far more money”.
Robertson winces as his new recruit goes in hard on a team-mate. “We don’t want any c*** getting hurt, Kallum – use your f****n’ head.” Higginbotham bites back: “We’re f****n’ playing football, not f****n’ netball.” So the manager hooks him: “Get yourself to f***!”
Through it all, Robertson is able to retain his sense of humour. One wheezing player is told: “You look like you’re pulling a caravan.” To another he reckons is exaggerating the effects of a tackle: “Have you laddered your tights?” And when that road trip all the way to the top of the Himalayas ends with him thinking it must be next stop, Mars he groans: “This has been the worst day of my life – and I’ve played at Albion Rovers.”
Robertson has to laugh because for a long time there’s no football being played. Unable to spy on opposition teams and with the internet still out of action, he ventures out at night in Srinagar bound for a “dodgy place where I could get arrested” in the hope of securing a connection. A pack of slavering dogs bar the way and some will definitely have rabies. The shutdown lasts four months but finally, on Boxing Day, the season resumes.
Higginbotham phones home to find out what his kids got from Santa and Robertson promises his wife Kym back in Aberdeen that next Christmas they’ll definitely be together. His managerial career didn’t really get going in Scotland. “But now I’ve proved to myself I can do the job I’m going to be looking beyond Real Kashmir,” he says.
Kym just laughs: “If something came up in Eastern Mongolia I’m sure Davie would take it!”
l Return to Real Kashmir FC is on the BBC Scotland channel on Tuesday at 10pm.