John Tait Robertson

1905 - 1906

Seasoned Rangers and Scotland midfielder Jacky Robertson took a brave leap into the unknown at the helm of brand new club Chelsea on 18 April 1905 and scored the new team’s first ever goal.

At 28 he was in his prime and took the position of player-manager – a surprisingly regular role down the years at Stamford Bridge, and by definition one for the touchline novice. Accompanied by Fred Parker, the man whose brainchild Chelsea FC was, and substantially bankrolled by the board, Robertson swiftly toured the country, recruiting players and selling the concept of the club ahead of its successful election to Football League Division Two.

‘Among the applications I received,’ he wrote at Christmas 1905, ‘was one from a man who said he was a splendid centre-forward but if that position was not vacant he could manipulate a turnstile. Another wrote: “You will be astonished to see me skip down the line like a deer”.’

Thankfully, Robertson used his international connections and renowned tactical awareness to produce a squad balancing glamour and functionality and came close to earning promotion in his debut season. His Dumbarton twang was not the only accent among personnel drawn from across the British Isles but perhaps his finest talent-spot was a Cockney, George Hilsdon, in spring 1906.

‘Gatling Gun George’ would become Chelsea’s first goals centurion, but Robertson’s reign was cut short in late November the same year, amid no little mystery and rumours of over-fondness for alcohol. The Scot switched to Glossop, then Manchester United, before playing a leading role in the early development of Hungarian football from 1912 at MTK Budapest.

He died in Wiltshire after a long illness on 24 January 1935 aged 57 and was seen off by many old international teammates at Rutherglen Cemetery, Glasgow. 

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