Keith Robertson’s impact on Alyth was as colossal as he was physically diminutive.
At 5 foot 2 inches tall, ‘Keithy’ was a giant of the town, remembered fondly by almost all who had the good fortune to meet him.
Keith was very sociable and remarkably visible in Alyth. His love of football, bowling and meeting people took him far and wide across Scotland.
Some are considered legends of a town. In the space of 73 years, Keith became its icon. The streets of Alyth were packed with hundreds of people on the day of his funeral in March.
“In decades to come the vast majority of people, like myself, will be forgotten,” says former Alyth AFC secretary Kevin Smith (rather modestly).
“But the name of Keith Robertson will still be spoken about. For generations to come his name will be revered in this community, which is a testament to him.”
It is also a testament to the community in Alyth that Keith was able to flourish and live a life of expression and fulfilment.
He was born in 1948 with learning difficulties. At no point in his life was he able to read or write.
“Back then, anyone born with learning difficulties wasn’t expected to live beyond 20,” says his niece Shona Robertson.
“Here, though, he was just treated the same as anyone else. He would not have had the life he had were it not for the town, and how he was accepted.”
Keith’s story is one of acceptance, kindness and a community togetherness that many fear is being lost in the modern age.
This is why his is such an important one to tell.
‘People in the town really looked out for him’
Born in Viewpark Home on January 31 1948, Keith grew up at Morrison Terrace as the youngest of four children to Arthur and Mary Robertson.
Despite his learning challenges he attended Alyth School like any normal child and did errands from as young as he could.
During his school years he was a milk boy, which involved hanging on to the float as it travelled through the town and dropping off bottles outside homes.
After leaving at 15 Keith never had a job in the formal sense but spent his days helping residents and businesses in the town.
He had a routine that usually began with helping out at the Walker’s of Alyth bake house before heading over Airlie Street to the hairdresser (now called Rendezvous). Later in the morning he would knock on the door of the Airlie Street Bar to undertake more chores, such as taking bottles to the bank.
Shona, 53, says: “He was never in his own home. He was up and down the road doing wee chores for everyone.
“He loved his routine and what was great was that if he didn’t turn up at his normal time someone from the shop would ring up the family to let them know.
“People in the town really looked out for him.”
Alyth’s social butterfly
Keith also did seasonal work in the fertile Strathmore valley, picking berries and collecting potatoes. No job was too big or small for a man who was physically very able.
“He had no qualifications but still got on with things. He never moaned,” says Shona.
When he wasn’t running errands in the town, Keith would be attending Alyth AFC training sessions or matches, or travelling to watch his beloved Rangers FC, or bowling for the town club, or betting on horses, or attending the Alyth Monday Club for people with learning disabilities.
If it was a Wednesday, he might have been at the Alyth Over 50s Club.
Or he might even have been visiting his cousin Janette in Cockermouth, Cumbria.
Whatever he did, it would have been accompanied with Keithy’s trademark Diet Coke.
The second of Keith’s parents passed away in 1982 when he was 34 years old. For two years he lived with his aunt Jean in Alexander Street before moving in with his sister Margaret and her second husband Andy in Bamff Road.
Keith’s niece Linda, 49, recalls: “She thought it was her duty because she didn’t have any other children so she was always there for him.”
In 2001 he moved to his own home in Victoria Street, where he stayed for the final 20 years of his life.
“He was very safety conscious and made sure everything switched off when he was out of the house,” says Shona.
“He was very tidy and there would not be a single ornament out of place.
“He had home help for a while but that didn’t last long because he was never in the home!
“He would be waiting for them to turn up and if they were a bit late he would say ‘where’ve you been, I wanted to be out’.
“If he phoned you up he would expect you to be there and then he would expect you to be there straight away. He was something else!”
Keith also had an amazing memory that would ensure he never forgot a face once he had seen it. He was also renowned for being smartly turned out.
Simply The Best
Six years ago Keith survived a brush with death when he began descending into a diabetic coma.
The life-saving solution then was to change his medication but it was much harder to combat the Covid lockdown that stripped Keith of many of his simple pleasures.
Margaret visited him several times a day and he regularly called family and friends but the isolation coincided with his confidence diminishing.
Linda says: “One day he said he was unable to walk, which was so unlike him. He was going to bed at 7pm and it was like he had had enough.”
Keith’s heart was failing and he was taken to PRI on Monday, February 15. He was alert, awake and regularly calling family and friends, right up until the following Saturday morning. However, later that day he fell unconscious and his family were told the end was near.
That night Margaret, Shona and Linda staged a bedside vigil, with Rangers songs such as ‘King Billy’s On The Wall’ being played to boost Keith’s spirits.
They were still with him when he finally passed away at 1.30am on Sunday, February 21 2021. He had heart and kidney failure.
“At least he didn’t suffer too much and the nurses were great,” says Linda.
Alyth turns out for one of its own. A final farewell to our very own Keithy. Today our town said goodbye to a legend. Sleep in peace Keith.
Posted by Kevin John Smith on Monday, March 8, 2021
The funeral took place at Dundee Crematorium on Monday, March 8. Due to Covid restrictions only 20 people were allowed to attend the service but that morning hundreds gathered outside at Alyth town centre as the hearse began its journey.
Many more also paid their respects along the route at Newtyle and Meigle.
“In normal circumstances it would have been one of the biggest funerals Alyth would ever have seen,” says Shona.
“People came from as far away as Perth to stand on the streets for Keithy. There were also two family members living in Cockermouth who travelled to Dundee for the funeral.”
The song list at the funeral was ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and then, finally, Tina Turner’s ‘(Simply) The Best’.
“He was so well known and touched so many lives from all different generations,” says Shona. “Hearing people’s comments about what Keithy meant to them and realising how famous he was has been comforting. I am honoured that he was our uncle.”
Linda adds: “I felt very emotional at the funeral and I am also grateful for everybody who looked after him.”
Passionate football fan
The friendship between Peter Hosie and Keith Robertson began more than 40 years ago.
Peter, now 49, was only a young lad growing up in Alyth when he first became aware of the special person with whom he would go on to share many memorable experiences.
Back in the 1980s Keith did odd jobs for Peter’s father, also called Peter, who was the head baker at Walker’s of Alyth, which was owned by local businessman Alec Naughton. The site is now occupied by the currently closed Fortune Palace Chinese takeaway on Airlie Street.
“He helped load up vans and did lots of little jobs – he loved to be involved,” says Peter, who currently lives in Blairgowrie.
Peter has been at Alyth AFC since the age of 17. He played for 20 years then player-managed for two years before taking on his existing role as club manager. He is also a keen Rangers supporter.
The pair therefore shared common ground as Keith was a dedicated fan of both clubs.
“Keithy would turn up to training on Tuesday nights at Jubilee Park to see if the boys were okay and if he could get a lift to wherever the game was on the Saturday. He watched all the Alyth games,” recalls Peter.
“He was always on the pitch helping out, putting corner flags out, filling up water bottles, or just mingling. He was always involved.”
Alyth AFCAlyth legend Keith Robertson drew the winning tickets tonight for Alyth AFC’s Christmas Raffle.Winners are :-1st Prize – Bryan Robertson2nd Prize – Gus Fotheringham3rd Prize Brodie Chard4th Prize – Steven Allan 5th Prize – Wendy Aitchison Well Done to all the winners 🎉A grand total of £665.00 has been raised for our local football club 🟣Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to get in touch to buy raffle tickets.Thankyou to all the players for donating money to buy the prizes.Thank you to Alyth Golf Club for donating the voucher.Thankyou to Claire Richmond for selling tickets in Lunans’ and donating the raffle tickets and bottle of wine.Thankyou to Joan Barclay for her donation of 2 bottles of wine and a big thankyou to Keithy for picking the winners.
Posted by Jenni Milne on Saturday, December 19, 2020
In the 1980s a supporters’ bus was launched for fans to travel to and from Rangers games.
Keith was famed – in the loveliest possible way – for being a passionate football fan who let those around him, including referees, know his true feelings.
Peter jokes: “He is probably the only lad to have got sent off three or four times for Alyth without playing!
“I have seen him at half-time run across the pitch to confront the referee. But the thing with Keithy is that if you said he had gone too far he would accept it and be absolutely fine.
“Everyone just loved having him around. He only ever drank diet cola but was always the life and soul.”
Keith caught the eye in particularly memorable fashion in October 1986 when Rangers were playing Celtic at Hampden Park in the League Cup Final.
“These were the days of terraces so you could move around. At one point he ran down in the direction of the pitch and was shouting at Mo Johnston, who played for Celtic at that time.
“Unfortunately for Keithy the cameras spotted it and his sister saw it on TV. She certainly told him off about it!
“But he was the kind of person that if it got out of hand he would always listen when put back into line.
“He was a gem.”
After one game in Glasgow Keith got lost looking for the supporters’ bus home. Peter recounts what happened next with plenty of laughter.
“When a policeman asked him where he was from, he said ‘Alyth’.
“The policeman then asked Keithy where Alyth was, and Keith’s reply was ‘just past the Halfway House’.”
Keith’s journeying for football and bowls games meant he was recognisable across Scotland.
“Wherever you went in the country people would know him, and if he wasn’t present people would ask where he was.
“I have never known someone so popular.”
‘You see him once, you know him forever’
The Covid lockdown from March 2020 had a terrible effect on Keith.
A social creature, he was suddenly deprived of his beloved football, bowls, pub, town groups and, of course, physical company.
Peter arranged an Alyth AFC video message to give Keith a boost on his 73rd birthday.
Happy Birthday to Alyth’s greatest fan Keith Robertson; lockdown is a nightmare for most of us but it’s been really…
The restrictions coincided with a deterioration in Keith’s health and he rang Peter for two minutes every night over many weeks just to tell him he was okay.
“He couldn’t go to coffee mornings, bowling, over 50s’ club etc. It really hit him and was such a shame.
“One day he called me and said, ‘that’s me in hospital. I don’t think I will get back to watch football.’ Hearing that really hurt. A week later he died.”
Peter will never forget all that Keith contributed to his life, and the lives of everyone he met.
“If you mention Keith to anyone who knows him they will smile.
“Everyone accepted the way he was and was treated the same as anyone else. Everyone loved him to bits.
“He was just Alyth, that’s what he was. You see him once, you know him forever.”
Keith’s ‘picture perfect’ memory
The common ground Keith found with so many he met in his life was amplified in the case of Kevin Smith.
With Kevin recently finishing a 25-year stint as club secretary and Keith their biggest fan, there was not much the pair didn’t know about Alyth AFC.
Kevin, who works for John Dow Fast Food Distribution in Forfar, knows a fair bit about Keith as well.
He remembers Keith unselfishly bringing in the corner flags at training sessions and matches, and recalls him having fun singing karaoke favourites Yellow Submarine and Save Your Kisses at the Burnside Inn on Thursday nights.
“He was always part of the community,” says Kevin, 55. “As youngsters growing up he was very much part of our life.
“He was so well respected within the football club and also throughout Perthshire. He hardly ever missed a game, home or away.
“Regardless of what time of day or where we were playing you would always see him. He will be a great loss.
“You could say to him on a Saturday, ‘go to Airlie Street Bar and tell me who’s in there’, and he could almost paint a picture of who was there by what he said.
“He used to collect money for the football pools and was always very good with the change. If he met you once he would never ever forget you. He had a great memory.”
‘He knew everyone and everyone knew him’
Keith’s impact was felt far beyond the confines of Alyth and Perthshire, as Morrison Terrace resident Kevin recalls.
“We went to Glasgow for a Scottish Cup tie and the game was called off so that afternoon we went to a pub in the middle of the city.
“We opened the pub door and straight away someone sees Keithy and says ‘it’s the wee fella for Alyth, how are you doing?’
“It was amazing. Wherever he went he knew someone and someone knew him. What a character.”
One year Keith was named Clubman of the Year thanks to his loyalty to Alyth AFC.
“It was a very emotional night,” says Kevin. “When he was told he had won the award he burst into tears and said it was something he would always remember.”
At the request of those who were not able to see it, Kevin did a live video of Keith’s hearse leaving Alyth en route to Dundee on the day of the funeral.
The emotion in Kevin’s narration is obvious.
“Having been involved in football for such a long time the word ‘legend’ gets used very overused nowadays.
“But as far as the town of Alyth goes Keithy was a legend. He knew everyone and everyone knew him.
“In decades to come the vast majority of people, like myself, will be forgotten. But the name of Keith Robertson will still be spoken about. For generations to come his name will be revered in this community, which is a testament to him.
“He must be the only man to have never been refused a dance. No woman ever turned him down!
“Alyth has a great community spirit and very much looks after its own. When someone in the local area is struggling it takes people, in this case Keithy, under its wing. Everyone looked after him.
“In some cases someone like Keith would have been an outcast but Alyth never had that attitude at all.”
Well our wee town has certainly lost a legend today and aint it fitting that the sun is shining. Lots of memories of…
‘He was such a character’
If football enhanced Keith’s popularity and acted as a valuable social outlet, bowling gave him the chance to actually participate in sport.
Keith played regularly for Alyth Bowling and Tennis Club from the early 1980s.
Former president Charlie Milne, 68, was there from the beginning having joined the club in 1976.
“He was such a character,” says Charlie, who has lived in Alyth’s Hazel Court since it was built in the early 1970s.
“He played every Saturday in friendlies and in the senior league on Tuesday afternoons.
“He was treated like anyone else at the club. If he wanted a game he got a game.
“I had great fun playing with him and will miss him, and all the other members will as well.
“Whenever anyone visited the club the first thing they said was ‘where’s the wee man?’ Everyone knew him and he was a tremendous member.”
He was also a cheeky one, on occasions.
Charlie recalls: “He loved coming to the bar and having a wee shot at the bandit [slot machines].
“One night he won a few bob out of it and said he would buy everyone a drink.
“He got everyone a drink but I was the one standing behind the bar so I asked ‘what about me?’ He replied, ‘no, you’re working tonight!’
“We had so many laughs.”
Keith also made sure Charlie looked the part for his presidential speeches by ensuring his tie, collar and blazer were nicely in place.
“He used to make sure I was dressed properly and would always give us a hand.
“He was a really good lad who will be sadly missed.”
‘He was the first one through the door of the pub’
Keith is the perfect case study for anyone wanting to argue that the local pub has a value far greater than simply a venue for people to drink alcohol.
This is because he never touched the stuff yet was the first one knocking on the door of the Airlie Street Bar at opening time.
The pub was where Keith could meet and help others and share laughs. It was where he could enjoy a Diet Coke and make new friendships while maintaining old ones. For him it was a magical place far greater than the sum of its ABVs.
“Every single day he was the first one through the door of the pub, as soon as it turned 11.30am,” says Airlie Street Bar owner Dave Barclay, 59. “He would switch on the lights then turn on the bandit. It was part of his routine.
“He would go to the hairdresser then clean for them. He might also put out the bins for some other people. And then would come back, maybe putting lottery money on for some of the boys at the pub.
“I would see him for four hours a day every day.”
Dave, a retired police officer who served for 30 years, grew up in Alyth and played for the town’s football team so knew Keith for many years.
“He was the life and soul of Alyth,” he says. “All the boys from other teams who played us knew him.
“The first thing one of the players from the 1970s would ask when I saw him was how Keithy was getting on. Once seen he was never forgotten.
“On karaoke nights he always did a rendition of ‘500 miles’ by The Proclaimers. He always brought the house down with the biggest cheer, even though it was awful!
“He was always 100% bright, cheery and positive. He would never moan about a thing.
“I was fortunate enough to be at the funeral. There would have been hundreds of people there but sadly because of the restrictions he didn’t get the send-off he deserved.”
A consolation is that Keith’s name is set to adorn one of two new memorial benches at Alyth’s Diamond Jubilee Park. The other would be in memory of Bob Lindsay, a founding member of Alyth AFC.
The football club’s committee has given the go-ahead for the benches as part of Alyth Development Trust’s plan to establish a footpath around the park.