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Michael Robinson - joining his boyhood club


By Carl Clemente - Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl)

I had the rare opportunity of spending an evening with Michael Robinson. A boyhood Red who lived his dreams with the team he supported from the Spion Kop from the age of six.

Although, Michael only played 52 games for Liverpool he has three medals to show for it, including a European Cup and a League title winner’s medal. In this incredible three-part story Michael talks exclusively to LFChistory.net about his entire football career, including untold stories about this time at Liverpool Football Club.

Furthermore, Michael talks to us about his admiration towards Liverpool greats such as; Joe Fagan, Graeme Souness, Bruce Grobbelaar, Ronnie Moran and Mark Lawrenson.

Michael gives us a great insight into his playing career in Spain and how he brought Sammy Lee with him and explains how he mentored a former Liverpool star at Real Madrid.

Since retiring from professional football Michael has enjoyed a highly successful career as a football commentator. Moreover, he is highly respected as a knowledgeable football analyst who writes his own TV shows within the Spanish television network.

It was an absolute honour meeting such an interesting, warm and kind individual. Not only for the fact that we share a passion for Liverpool Football Club, but also having the pleasure to speak to someone who possesses such an abundance of intelligence and enthusiasm towards sport and life in general. It was truly a great opportunity for me.

How did your love affair with Liverpool Football Club begin?


I was conceived in Leicester but when I was still an egg my parents bought a boarding house in Blackpool opposite the sea. The Northwest was and still is a great place to watch football as you have a wide choice of clubs to go and watch. Me and my dad, who was also a professional footballer, used to go and watch Southport on a Friday, then either Liverpool or Blackpool on a Saturday. I will never forget the time my dad took me to go and cheer on the Reds. It was on the 30th November 1963 against Burnley at Anfield. We won 2-0, I remember Ian St John scoring a header at the Kop end.

Yes, and Roger Hunt scored the second from the penalty spot. Believe it or not, that was Sir Rogers only penalty he ever scored for Liverpool....

Really?.... I used to love going to watch Liverpool in the 1960s. My dad and I would always stand in the same spot on the Kop about 20 rows up, to the left of Tommy Lawrence's goal. More often than not I use to end up on somebody's shoulders.

You played youth football with Mark Lawrenson.

Yeah, we were also at Preston, Brighton, and Liverpool at the same time and we both represented the Republic of Ireland during the same too. When we were both playing in the youth leagues in Blackpool, Mark played for our main rivals called Bispham Juniors. You would think that any player of Mark's stature would have excelled in these youth leagues and stood out by a mile. However, that wasn't the case for Mark, as he struggled to even get a game for Bispham, simply because he was not good enough.

 

His break into football also came about in a slightly a bizarre way too. His stepfather was one of the directors at Preston at the time I was playing for them. Mark would come and help out in the training sessions, get out the cones, collect the bibs and then would get to join in at the match at the end. To be honest he wasn't that good. I remember we travelled away to Aston Villa for a reserve team game. Nobby Stiles was the player manager at the time and he got injured just before the game. On the bus the only other player available was Mark, so he was put on the bench. And what happened? Ten minutes into the game our full-back comes off injured and is replaced by young Mark Lawrenson, who originally came for a day out. The manager tucked him in to start with in order to protect him, but he ends up having an absolute blinder of a game! He then played a few more games for the reserves and was rewarded with a contract at Preston and later was sold to Brighton and eventually Liverpool where he won the European Cup.

 

Your first connection with Liverpool as a player was on the 27th October 1979, you were 21, playing for Man City. Bob Paisley’s boys visited Maine Road and beat you 4-0. It must have been an amazing experience playing against the likes of Clemence, Neal, Hansen, Dalglish, Souness...

Absolutely they were the best team in the world. However, when you become a professional footballer your priorities change slightly as you are now representing other fans. It's not only that, football is now your means of making a living and sentiments and emotions can never come in the way of that. I remember saying to someone after the game that the only way we could have kept them out that day was to fill the goal with sandbags and start to shoot them off with rifles.

As you said, you then ended up following Mark to Brighton and the Liverpool connection there was; "the two Jimmys" the match winner in the semi-final at Anfield; Jimmy Case and the manager Jimmy Melia.

Jimmy Melia was the chief scout at Brighton and surprised many by getting the manager's job, but in a good way. He wasn't a very conventional manager and he used to be keen to join me and my best mate Steve Foster for a drink around Brighton. I did however, find it kind of strange at times when he used to ask me and Steve our input on team selection and other matters that probably should have been discussed more with his coaching staff rather than the player.

 
 
You played a few games throughout your time at Brighton against Liverpool. However, the one that stands out must be on the 20th February 1983 when you helped Brighton reach the FA Cup final by beating Liverpool at Anfield. The Reds had gone 63 home cup matches without defeat, since 12 November 1974!


Brighton needed to reduce their wage bill so they agreed to sell me. It was around the time both Kevin Keegan and Terry McDermott had just joined so it would have been a great move for me. However, the fact that Brighton were on this astonishing cup run it was agreed with Newcastle that I would join them when that ended. As we were playing Liverpool at Anfield my mindset was that I would be going from Liverpool to Newcastle straight after the game had finished. Fortunately, for Brighton this wasn't the case and former Liverpool legend Jimmy Case got the winner that day. Brighton ended up getting beat in the final 4-0 in a replay and they also sadly were relegated that season. Nevertheless, because of this exceptional cup run I went on with Brighton, I didn't end up signing for Newcastle but for somewhere else!

That's true you signed for Liverpool Football Club on 08/08/1983 for £200,000, how did the move come about? The great George Sephton told me you flew to Holland alone during preseason and basically said to Liverpool, "Here I am if you want to sign me"'....

It wasn't quite like that but I did go over to Holland alone. It all started with a phone call from Brighton's chairman Mike Bamber who invited me around to his house that evening. He told me that the club had agreed a deal to sell me to another club. Mr Bamber ask me to guess where I was going. I knew Seville, Manchester United and Everton were interested in me, but he knew I would never sign for Manchester so I said "the Toffees?" He smiled, stood up and went over to the cupboard and came back with a bottle of Cognac and said: "You are close, but we haven't sold you to Everton, across the park, we've sold you to Liverpool, all you have to do is agree personal terms with them.

When I got to Gatwick the following day to fly to Schiphol, because of all the nerves and excitement, I realised I left my passport at home. I couldn't miss this flight as it wouldn't look good for me with Liverpool Football Club waiting for me at the other end. So my girlfriend at the time and now wife, Chris, flew down the M6 to give me my passport and I finally made the flight. It was a good job as well, as at the other end I would be greeted at a hotel by Mr. Paisley, Mr. Fagan, Mr. Smith and Mr. Robinson.



Incredible story so far... Michael from a 6-year-old kid in 1963 on your dad's shoulders watching your heroes, dreaming that one day it would be you, was all about to come true.

The club was going through transition that summer and Mr. Paisley went on the preseason tour of Holland in order to help out. Actually, I think I was the last transfer that he was involved in. I am now in the presence of these four great gentlemen and Bob Paisley started by revealing to me that they have been tracking my progress for a while and wanted to buy me when I was at Man City. He told me City refused as they didn't want to sell me to a rival club and decided to sell me to Brighton a team where if I did really well at wouldn't cause them too much controversy.

This made me feel "wanted" as they were also talking about specific games I was involved in which also reassured me as I knew Liverpool had been tracking my progress. Mr. Smith, the chairman then asked me how much I was earning at Brighton. I replied: 'This is Liverpool Football Club, you don't have to pay me anything, it’s just my honour to come and help the team, money doesn't interest me at all, just pay me what you seem right'.

Then Mr. Smith sent Mr. Robinson to phone Brighton to find out how much I earned there. I was one of the best paid players in the country on about £1,200 a week. I think only Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton were paid more. Brighton players had a reputation for being highly paid, that's one of the reasons they had to sell me. Anyway, we tied up all the paperwork and I signed for my boyhood club, Liverpool.

I will never forget what Mr. Smith then said: "Michael, at Liverpool we don't sign great footballers, we sign people who are great at football'. Joe Fagan then handed me a beer and said: 'Get this down you lad, you've deserved it'. By this time things were a lot more relaxed, so I asked Joe what would be expected of me and what sort of style would we be playing? He said: 'Well, Michael, we thought that we would leave that up to you, as you’re the player. Regarding the style it’s really quite simple, Michael lad. We always put eleven out not to give them an advantage from the start. Pass it around a bit, usually to someone wearing a red shirt. Then just kick it in their net and if you can't then give it to someone who can, and the lads at the back, just bust their bones, not allowing them to score, should it be more difficult than that, Michael'?



Alan Kennedy got Michael accustomed to being a Liverpool player

Typical Joe! Dd you stay with the Reds in Holland?

No, I went back to Brighton to get my boots and then flew out to La Linea in Spain to meet up with squad on the second leg of their pre-season tour. Obviously, I was very nervous but also extremely excited joining up with the squad. I arrived when all the players were about to have lunch and I looked over and there was an empty seat next to Graeme Souness. He shouted me over and told me he had saved that the seat for me. He gave me such a warm welcome and made me feel comfortable straight away. He reminded me that Liverpool last season had only conceded 37 goals all season and I scored a couple of them, so now they have one less heartache to worry about. Graeme was a great leader and was the best player I ever played with. To this day, we still remain great friends.

You made your Liverpool debut on Saturday the 20th August 1983 at Wembley in the Charity Shield against Manchester United....

Yeah it was really disappointing as it was the third time I failed to be on the winning side at Wembley against Man Utd in the space of three months, of course the two FA Cup finals were against them that very May. I remember walking off the Wembley pitch after the final whistle was blown with Joe Fagan, saying to him in not so many words: 'Not them again!"'Joe put his arm around me and said: 'Lad, the most important thing about the Charity Shield is getting to play in it, not winning it, and you know what Michael, they won't be playing in it next season, but we certainly will'. Joe was right as the following season we "qualified" for the Charity Shield as league winners and faced Everton who won the FA Cup.

I'll never forget as well; after arriving home from the game I had to soften my feet in whisky due to the rock hard Wembley pitch. The pain was unbearable my both feet were swollen with cracks all over them.

 

Robinson in his debut for Liverpool

How did you settle into life at Melwood?


In them days we still got the bus from Anfield to Melwood and as soon as we got there we would send Kenneth to go and get us all the McVities chocolate digestive biscuits. After enjoying a few of them whilst we put our boots on we would then go out for the warm up. Bruce would never go in goal so I used to go in whilst the other lads, including Bruce, would take it in turns to take shots at me. That's how I inherited the nickname "The Cat" which is still what I'm known by today by Graeme and a few of the other lads.

Training in them days was a lot less tactical than it is now, we used to play mini games varying the team numbers and the amount of touches we were allowed. Again Brucie would always play as a striker, he wasn't bad either, very competitive. I remember saying to Joe once, as I was a forward player that I'd like to do some shooting practice. He replied: 'You don't want to do that lad, it's demoralising'. I didn't quite get what he meant at the time, until a few days later when we were shooting against Bruce and he stopped them all, I didn't score one! So Joe was right again.



Robinson with David Hodgson at Melwood (image: Skapti Hallgrímsson)

What about the coaching staff; Roy and Ronnie?

Roy is a great man and when you see him give him a big hug from me. I remember Joe coming up to me one day in training, about a month after signing and asking me if everything was OK and if I was enjoying life at Liverpool, because they were all happy with me. I said: 'Yes, of course, but there is just one thing, Ronnie! His voice haunts me at night'. I remember the exact distinctive phrase he used to bellow at the players: 'Give it, Get it, Go'. I remember he used to get on Craig Johnson's back a lot as he wasn't that mobile in training sometimes.

Joe then asked: 'Do you know why we play like that, Michael?, "Give it, Get it, Go"? Well, imagine you're a hunter and the ball is a hare, if the hair was two yards in front of you and it was still, do you think you would hit it with your rifle'? I said: 'Probably yes'. He then said: 'Right, but what if the hair was moving all over the place, would you still be able to hit it with your rifle'? I answered: 'Probably not, no'. 'Well Michael, so there is your answer, that's why we play like that, the opposition is the hunter and the hare is the ball. We give it we get it and we go. The Liverpool way: "Pass and move"'.



Let’s move on to the 28th September Liverpool 5 - 0 Odense Boldklub, you nearly got a hatrick that game!

I remember it well as it was such a relief to get my first Liverpool goals. Although, I never felt pressure from Joe, the coaching staff or any of my teammates for failing to score in my first nine Liverpool games. However, personally it was eating away at me inside. I was a forward player who should score goals. Joe told me that my job wasn't always to score but to help out Kenneth and Ian. He told me I was working hard and the team was playing well with me in it.

I remember Ronnie Moran approaching me on the morning of this game and says: 'The boss wants to see you'. I remember walking down the corridor to Joe Fagan's office thinking, 'Well, that's it, I'm not playing'. When I got there, Joe said, 'Michael lad, I was making a cup of tea this morning and my wife was reading the Echo and saying I was going to leave you out. And I was worried about that because you're worth your weight in gold.''Before I go and talk to the press I want you to see the team I'm going to give them'. He handed me a piece of paper with the numbers 1 to 11 blank apart from no 10, where it said Michael Robinson. 'That's the team, laddie. You and 10 more'.

Moreover, it was the first time in six years I played without metal arch supports in my boots. When I was at Preston I had a problem with fallen arches and these supports felt like a miracle cure and I was frightened to play without them. Joe told me before the game to have a go without them. I was a bit reluctant, but I had a lot of faith in him so I did it. I felt a lot sharper and it worked as I scored two. Joe Fagan was right again.


 
Scoring against Odense

A month later, on the 15/10/83, you scored your first league goals in the form of a hat trick at Upton Park against West Ham…


Before the West Ham game, I must tell you about when we played Brentford a few days before. I mentioned before how Graeme was such a great leader, well, he managed to get that dressing room absolutely banging and booming before we played Brentford in the Cup, it was as if we were playing Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the semi-final of a the European Cup or something. That was Graeme he had the knack of getting us motivated for a game better than anyone I've known, we ended up beating them 4-1 and I scored as well.

On the morning of the West Ham game Graeme collared me and said: 'Come on, Cat, we're going shopping'. He took me to a small London Boutique that sold strange garments. Graeme was into his fashion and accessories. Anyway, I ended up buying a dicky bow and wore it to the game. As I scored a hat trick that day it became a superstition of mine to buy a dicky bow before every game, I ended up with loads.

What are your memories of the European Cup final in Rome 1984...

After the draw for the semi-finals I was saying how I preferred to give Dundee United a game in the final rather than playing Roma in their own ground. Graeme stepped in and said: 'Cat you're wrong, you should want Roma to win, imagine winning the European Cup for the first time in Roma's backyard'? Graeme didn't fear anyone and why should he? He was the captain of the best team in the world.

When we arrived in the Stadio Olympico, we had a ghetto blaster with us and we were playing this one song by Chris Rea: "I don't know what it is but I love it". We weren't nervous and we wanted to show them, we went directly outside the home team's dressing room playing this ghetto blaster at full blast. Roberto Falcao opened the door with a rather bewildered expression on his face realising it was us making all the noise. Then Graeme took the ghetto blaster and took it out into the stadium, I asked him: 'Graeme what you doing? You're just going to antagonize them'. 'No Cat', he said, 'I'm just tiring them out'!



You finally got on the pitch in the 97th minute when you replaced Kenny Dalglish. Were you asked to take a penalty, as an attacking player?

I must say in extra-time everyone was playing for the winner, neither teams wanted the shootout, apart from Bruce that is, who was time wasting! When the final whistle went after extra time Joe Fagan called us all in and said: 'Lads you've been fantastic tonight, you've fought like gladiators been fed to the lions in the Roman Amphitheatre'. He then just walked off and one of us shouted: 'Joe, who is taking the penalties?' He turned round lighting up a cigarette and just said: 'Well I wouldn't fancy one'. It was as if whatever happened from here didn't matter to Joe, he was more than proud and satisfied with our performance that everything else would just a bonus. So it was down to Graeme.

Alan Kennedy was first to put himself forward to take one but Graeme wasn't so keen. Steve Nicol also offered, as long as he was the first up. I supposed he felt that if he missed, it wouldn't be as disastrous as if it was a decisive one. Souness the captain put himself down for one and Phil Neal and Ian Rush were the two other obvious choices, leaving number 5. Graeme turns to me and says: 'Cat, do you want it'? Although, I was a forward player and should have fancied it, I really didn't. I was honest with Graeme: 'I really didn't want to take it, but if you want me to I would'. Graeme knew me and he would have known I was feeling extremely uncomfortable. Therefore, he chose Alan Kennedy, as he preferred someone who was willing to take one have it. Graeme then said: 'Don't worry Cat, we will need an attacking player for sudden death'. I didn't know if that made me feel better or worse.

With the five players and order decided, Steve Nicol stepped up and blasted it over the bar. Although, obviously I was disappointed he missed I felt a sense of relief because now if I ended up taken a penalty and missing I wouldn't be the only one crying on the plane on the way home. Phil, Graeme and Ian all scored, then it came to Alan Kennedy for our number 5. If he scored Liverpool would be crowned European champions for the fourth time in eight years and if he missed then more than likely it would have come down to me. I was a bag of nerves.

We all know the outcome and when Alan scored I was a European Champion, but the relief I was feeling, however, was difficult to describe.


 
What were the celebrations like after the game?


Obviously, we had the celebrations and the parties. However, what was nagging at me was Roma's Francesco Graziani who missed their decisive fourth penalty. I couldn't get it out of my head how he was feeling, he was native of Rome and Roma were his team. When I thought that could have happened to me, the feeling of sadness towards this man was unbearable.

So much so I had to speak to him, I got his number from someone at the club and got my wife Chris who could speak a bit of Italian to phone him to ask him if he was alright. I felt as if I couldn't continue with my career until I knew. Francesco seemed to be feeling better and sounded extremely grateful for the call.

In 2009, I was commentating for Canal+ on the Barcelona V Man Utd European Cup final in the Estadio Olympio. On my way back from the toilet, as I was walking back up to my seat a tall, completely bald figure shouted: 'Robinson!' at the top of his voice. It was him, Francesco Graziani twenty-five years later. I couldn’t believe it, I haven't seen him since the final in 1984. I approached him and we immediately engaged in a hug which lasted for over thirty seconds. It felt as if we were communicating our feelings we have held onto for all this time since that penalty shootout.

 

Italian international, Francesco Graziani, World Cup winner in 1982
 
To be continued.......

In Part Two we will learn about Michael's tearful Anfield exit, a rather unaccomplished time at QPR and his move abroad to Osasuna which was the start of something special in Spain.

By Carl Clemente (carl@lfchistory.net)- Twitter: @clemente_carl - Copyright - LFChistory.net
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