Stud marks and acts of kind­ness all in the mix!

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

PAUL ROBIN­SON has made a ca­reer out of ruf­fling feath­ers – and not just those of bat­tered and bruised op­po­nents. Whether it’s the stud marks left on a winger’s shins or the cas­ti­gat­ing home truths doled out in the dress­ing room, the 38-yearold Birm­ing­ham man has never been much of a diplo­mat.

“You have to un­der­stand Paul,” said Tony Mow­bray, Robin­son’s man­ager at West Brom when the full-back pub­licly ac­cused his team-mates of lack­ing pas­sion in 2009.

“He is a foot­baller who plays with great pas­sion and in­ten­sity that man­i­fests it­self in his tack­ling and com­mit­ment. When he doesn’t see that de­sire in oth­ers, he gets frus­trated.”

Jonathan Green­ing, god­fa­ther to Robin­son’s three chil­dren and the man who chris­tened him ‘Mad Dog’, put it more sim­ply.

“Robbo puts him­self through ev­ery­thing for the cause and he ex­pects the same from ev­ery­one else,” said the 37-year-old, now a coach at York City.

Un­wa­ver­ing

“He has high stan­dards in train­ing and in matches, and if some­one slips down from that he is one of those guys who likes to have a go. That is to­tally right.”

Ask a Wat­ford or Bag­gies fan and they’d prob­a­bly ex­press sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments. Both clubs val­ued Robin­son’s whole-hearted ap­proach, his un­wa­ver­ing brav­ery and de­mand­ing na­ture.

Op­po­nents might ar­gue that com­mit­ment and ag­gres­sion too of­ten strayed into thug­gery and brutish­ness.

Since mak­ing his de­but for the Hor­nets in a derby against Lu­ton in 1996, Robin­son has ac­crued 142 book­ings, seven red cards and a cat­a­logue of un­savoury head­lines.

The left-back was just 20 when he broke the shin bone of Port Vale’s Stu­art Tal­bot. The in­jury put Tal­bot out of ac­tion for ten months and, fol­low­ing his pre­ma­ture re­tire­ment four years later, re­sulted in an out-of­court set­tle­ment worth £600,000.

Next came an el­bow on Damien John­son that left the Birm­ing­ham man nurs­ing a bro­ken jaw and Blues man­ager Steve Bruce a sense of in­jus­tice.

“It was hor­rific, it was aw­ful, it was in­tended,” said Bruce. “He knew what he was do­ing. It is too late for apolo­gies. I don’t think in my ten years of man­age­ment I’ve ever crit­i­cised any in­di­vid­ual, but the more I see that chal­lenge, the more I’m ap­palled by it.”

Arsene Wenger was an­other man­ager to have a go, ac­cus­ing Robin­son of “clos­ing his eyes and jump­ing in” af­ter a clat­ter­ing chal­lenge in­jured Abou Di­aby.

Yet Robin­son, who hasn’t col­lected a book­ing since the 2013-14 cam­paign, has al­ways main­tained that even his worst ex­cesses were de­void of mal­ice.

“I know I've got a bad rep­u­ta­tion,” he ad­mit­ted in 2014. “But I’m not look­ing to hurt a player when I tackle.You see tack­les now and again where play­ers don’t even go for the ball.

“I am to­tally the op­po­site of that, but ex-play­ers in the me­dia try to stereo­type me. In their day, they were go­ing round kick­ing lumps out of peo­ple. Now, they’d be sent off ev­ery game.

“It’s a fast and fu­ri­ous game and there are times you do go for the ball and you can’t stop your­self when you go slid­ing in. I am just the sort of player who is never go­ing to pull out of a tackle if the ball is there to be won.”

Gary McSh­ef­frey, who played both with and against Robin­son, sup­ports that ar­gu­ment. “I know

Paul quite well and he is an hon­est lad who will give his all,” he said.

“He can go over the top, but I don’t think he would hurt any­one in­ten­tion­ally. He’s just a 100 per cen­ter and, if the ball is there to be won, he will try and win it.”

If Robin­son will for­ever be dogged by his rep­u­ta­tion, there is no doubt­ing his abil­ity. From those early days at Wat­ford un­der Gra­ham Tay­lor to the 175 Premier League ap­pear­ances with West Brom and Bolton, the de­fender has held his own against the best.

Three pro­mo­tions to the top flight, a player of the year award at Birm­ing­ham, a £1m trans­fer to Bolton and the fa­mous ‘Great Es­cape’ with Bryan Rob­son’s West Brom, the lat­ter cited by Robin­son as the high­light of his ca­reer.

Ges­ture

Then there were the rous­ing dress­ing room speeches, the mo­ments of gen­eros­ity. Nigel Gibbs, a team-mate at Vicarage Road, had taken the sus­pended Robin­son’s place in the 1999 play­off semis, only to be dropped from the squad for the fi­nal when the young­ster re­turned.

“Paul recog­nised how dis­ap­pointed I was and gave me his shirt af­ter the game,” he said. “It was a lovely ges­ture.”

Even Steve Bruce called him “the best de­fender in the Cham­pi­onship”.

The only thing miss­ing – and it came mighty close fol­low­ing an in­jury to Ash­ley Cole in 2005 – was an Eng­land cap.

“He de­served an op­por­tu­nity,” said Rob­son. “He came up against all the best wide play­ers in the Premier­ship and no-one re­ally gave him a prob­lem be­cause he was very quick.

“Yes, he was ag­gres­sive. But he also showed more qual­ity on the ball than most gave him credit for. And, with his char­ac­ter, he had a strong case.”

Th­ese days, of course, such as­pi­ra­tions are gone. But the legs have not. And, with the trust of gaffer Gary Rowett, a last pro­mo­tion isn’t out of the ques­tion. “His at­ti­tude is fan­tas­tic,” said the Blues boss. “The de­sire that made him has never gone.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

LION­HEART: Paul Robin­son roars with joy af­ter scor­ing for Birm­ing­ham against Bolton

EARLY DAYS: Robin­son and Clint Eas­ton at Wat­ford

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