Stud marks and acts of kindness all in the mix!
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.
“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.
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.”
LIONHEART: Paul Robinson roars with joy after scoring for Birmingham against Bolton
EARLY DAYS: Robinson and Clint Easton at Watford