January 30, 2014 by bluenosebible
“I’m just Dad the taxi at home”
What Birmingham City captain Paul Robinson told me after our interview about his family life was far from the fearless demeanour he has taken over 17 years to create on the field.
Incidents involving Stewart Talbot and Damien Johnson have left the defender with a bad reputation amongst opposition fans.
“I fully understand their reactions and frustration looking at me as a thug- type player, which I’m not. There was no way I intentionally went out to do it (the Damien Johnson incident), it was totally by accident and I was apologising to him after the game.
“When I have the reputation like I have in the game everyone likes to jump on the bandwagon. Steve Bruce didn’t help with his press releases; he made it pretty hellish for me and my family, so that was tough to take. This is football; certain players have to deal with this sort of stuff.”
“I’m not skilful, I admit that, I haven’t got the ability of other players, but some players haven’t got my heart and the way I encourage players around me to not throw the towel in when the going gets tough. That’s the way I was brought up and what I was born to do and what I will do until I hang my boots up.”
As a youngster, Robinson signed his first professional contract for local club, Watford in 1996.
“I came through at a time when Graham Taylor was giving a lot of the young lads a chance to come through the youth team and progress. I came through with nine other players so it was a great era to be a part of with the club.”
“It was a fantastic time for the town and for the club as we were always renowned as a small team so to put Watford on the footballing map was fantastic.”
The positivity the promotions created didn’t last very long as the Hornets were relegated at the first attempt, followed by two mediocre years in the second tier.
Despite a poor showing from the side, the passionate left back was still able to stand out and in October 2003 was snapped up by Premiership West Brom after making over 250 appearances for his local side.
Robinson continued to impress for his new club and his stature in the game continued to grow, with some England supporters touting him for an international call-up.
“I think I deserved a chance like everybody and at the time I was playing some of my best football. Ashley Cole was out injured with a broken foot and it was an opportunity for the England set up to look at me to see how far I’d come and whether I was international standard.”
Although the defender achieved two promotions at the Baggies, the “Great Escape” in 2004/05 is the season Robinson has the fondest memories of.
“That was an amazing season and turn around. Obviously ten points adrift at Christmas, not having a hope in hell and everyone just writing us off then we managed to turn it around.
“We got together as a group of players and realised what we needed to do and a lot of credit has to go to Bryan Robson for doing that as well as Nigel Pearson, who was assistant manager at the time. They made us work hard and determined and it was an unbelievable achievement.
“It was up and down all day really because we kept getting the vibes from the crowd. We were getting told what was happening between Charlton and Crystal Palace and you could hear the sighs of the crowd when Palace scored even though we were doing our job by winning.
“When I was taking throw ins the fans were shouting ‘Palace are winning 2-1 Robbo’ and we couldn’t do much else. When the final whistle we didn’t know Charlton equalised and then it just went into madness.”
The following season the Baggies were typical of the club’s yo-yo stereotype with two relegations and a promotion as champions before the whole hearted defender joined Bolton on loan before making the move permanent.
“The move was difficult to start with as I’d moved up on my own and my family stayed in the Midlands, which made things very testing.”
The test became greater when there was a lack of first team opportunities for Robinson; this made the homesickness worse as there was no real way to get away from the frustrations the on field problems created.
While out looking for first team football on a month loan with Leeds, team mate and good friend Fabrice Muamba collapsed during Bolton’s FA Cup Quarter Final with Tottenham Hotspur in a story that took the sporting world by storm.
“We’d literally just finished playing against West Ham and then we had a presentation evening with the fans afterwards. We were all in this room and there were no TVs with the game on. One of the lads said ‘Robbo, one of the Bolton players has collapsed on the pitch’ so I got them to find out who it was, then I heard it was Fabrice.
“Neil Warnock pulled me to the side and told me to go home and just be with my family. I was desperate to get down to London, but there were so many people wanting to see him. I’m amazed at how much of an inspirational bloke he is with what’s happened and the things he does now to promote everything. He’s like a shining light, an amazing person to be around and an intelligent lad, but sadly he never got the credit he deserved on the pitch.”
It was a difficult time for the Trotters and the club went downhill from there. Less than 18 months later they were relegated to the Championship and had been beaten 5-0 by Stoke at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi Final.
“The lack of team spirit around the dressing room and a lot of individual players evolved around the relegation. It was a sad time for the club because it’s been up there (Premiership) for ten years and it had got that stability, but now they seem to be struggling.
“It was a very embarrassing performance (in the semi-final) and you just wanted the ground to swallow you up. The whole place was devastated, but the worst thing about it was that we had to get ourselves up for the upcoming league games. The FA Cup is a competition the world watches so it can be a horrible place to play football sometimes.”
With Bolton’s relegation the club decided not to renew Robinson’s contract. It took a while for him to find a team after training with a number of clubs, including Toronto FC in Canada, but with a defender crisis at Birmingham City the defender was taken on in October 2012.
“I always believe in my own ability believe in the type of character I am as club’s always need players like myself who are out there. I kept working hard in training by myself and you’ve just got to keep at it. You’ve got a wife and kids at home to supply for and I’ve just got to keep pushing myself.
“Sometimes I push myself to limits I didn’t even know I had and that’s just the nature of who I am. My agent phoned me and said ‘Birmingham have had a lot of injuries at the back and they’d like to have a look at you’ so straight away I came down.”
It was a chance for the Watford-born man to work with a manager who had similar traits as himself in Lee Clark. Both men are renowned for their passion and determined attitudes towards every game.
“He achieved so much as a player and played for some amazing clubs and has taken that over to management. It’s a big step and people have got to respect what goes on behind the scenes. There has been a lot to deal with since he has been at the club and he is doing a fantastic job.
“The manager can only pick eleven players and it’s up to us to perform well. He’s pretty similar to the other managers really. He has Bryan Robson’s passion, Graham Taylor’s tactical awareness and ways of dealing with pressure, Gianuluca Vialli’s love of technique and possession based training.
“So he blends into all of them really and he’s still young and improving. In the future he could manage one of the top sides in the country.”
It was a successful first season at Birmingham for Robinson. So much so that despite the club’s financial difficulties he was still offered several extensions to his contract which now ends in the summer.
“I’d love to renew my contract in the summer. That ball is not in my court and I can only do what I’m doing this year, trying to keep the club around the top half which we are looking to do and then progress from there. I’m going to take each year as it comes.
“I’m feeling great, enjoying my football and feel like I can just keep going. I’ll know when the time is right for me and I’ve got to wait until then, but I currently have no intentions of retiring.”
Once he’d extended his contract until the end of this season and with the departures of Stephen Carr, Steven Caldwell and Curtis Davies, Robinson was made captain of the club, a moment he enjoyed.
But his role hasn’t changed much on the field since he received the armband as he’s always been a player who wore his heart on his sleeve and at the same time was there to advise the younger players coming through.
“If anything, Stephen was the biggest departure from the dressing room because of the character he was and the aura he had around the dressing room. I wish I could have been in the same team as him, but for him to pass that armband onto me was a great feeling.
“It’s a challenge with all the changes we’ve had since the summer due to all the new faces in the team so for me to lead the team and keep the atmosphere bubbling is great.”
Our conversion then moved towards the young generation of young players coming through at the moment after talking about the current times at Blues (which was in the previous Robinson article).
Nine players have come through the academy to make their debuts since Lee Clark became manager in 2012 and it’s been well documented that there could be plenty more to come.
In recent weeks Reece Brown has made the transition to first team football look easy, while the likes of Mitch Hancox and Callum Reilly have become important members of the side in the last year.
“These lads can go a long way. If they keep their feet on the ground, keep listening to the right player and not getting influenced by people that know nothing about football.
“They are just young kids that need to be enjoying their football, that is the most important thing at their age and make the most of their career.
“You’ve got Callum (Reilly), Dimi (Gray) and James Fry, who is a young centre half, so we’ve got some good young players who will have great futures at the club.
“These players are now in a great position at this club to come through and show what they can do. The manager has given these young lads a chance to prove themselves and you don’t get that at other clubs.
“It’s like when I was at Watford because they’ll all come through together and hopefully not get influenced by others and the money in the game.”
As the interview came to a close, we discussed what lies in the future for Paul Robinson and the chances of his four sons following in his footsteps.
It’s clear that the 35 year old has great knowledge of the game from his 17 years as a professional by his in-depth and level headed answers about advice for youngsters and difficult situations over his career.
“I’d love to be a manager or a coach and just stay in the game. I would like to help achieve what I have in the game and try to make them better players that can go on to do better things.”
“I don’t think as a father you should push your boys into doing what you want them to do. It should be down to them and all I will give them is 100% like my wife will as well in whatever they decide to do.
“They love football, rugby and golf so as long as they’re enjoying all their sports I’m not worried. Even if they don’t end up in sport then it’s not a problem as long as I’m supporting them all the time.”
By Oliver Osborn (The Bluenose Bible)