Paul Robinson grew up idolising former Arsenal captain Tony Adams and Robbo certainly displayed similar leadership qualities during Wimbledon’s promotion charge in 2016.
As well as showing steel at the back alongside Darius Charles, Robbo chipped in with vital goals to make our Wembley dreams become reality. In the second part of an interview with Robbo, our former defender talked about key moments in his career and the people that made his time at Wimbledon so special.
There was a video interview of you holding up your medal in the changing rooms at Wembley. How special was that achievement for you?
“A success like that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Moments like that don’t come around too often and you have to savour the success – it was amazing. If you could guarantee going up in the play-offs you would take that every time as the best way to get promoted. You get a wonderful day out at Wembley, but you want to win and everything about it is special when you do that. Seeing one end of Wembley full of Wimbledon fans also showed how far the club could go with more success.”
Your first season with Wimbledon had the perfect ending, but did that surpass your expectations when you joined?
“I have to be honest, with the size of the club I left behind, it felt a bit like a step down, but as soon as I arrived there was a great feel about the club. There was a really great atmosphere to work in. For the three years that I was at Wimbledon, I enjoyed coming into work every single day. I loved the atmosphere that the manager and Coxy, Bass, and Reevesy, created. The staff were brilliant and we had a really good group of lads on and off the pitch. I had a really enjoyable three years at Wimbledon and as I came towards the end of my career it was a time I wanted to enjoy and make the most of.”
Who were the key influences in your playing career?
“Kenny Jacket was very good for me in my career. He was actually a youth coach at Watford when I was there, though not for my age group. John McDermott, who went onto become Academy Director at Spurs, was very good for me. Bobby Bowry has been there for me throughout my career. I met him at the age of 15 and he was always a mentor in my career. Richard Shaw was also a big help as I bounced a lot of ideas off him over the years. He helped me when I was playing alongside him at Millwall and I would talk to him a lot about the game. He would call me after games and talk me through stuff, so his help really made a difference in my development. Obviously, Neal Ardley was a key influence in the latter part of my career. I had played with him at Millwall and we kept in touch for a number of years before he ended up being my manager.”
Did it mean a lot to you when you helped Neal to achieve promotion at Wembley with Wimbledon?
“I meant a lot because it’s nice when you win for someone who has shown so much faith in you. He had shown that real confidence and belief in me by bringing me to Wimbledon and to achieve what we did under ‘Ards’ was special. He had built a squad at Wimbledon and for us to win at Wembley meant a lot to him. It was fitting that he went onto lead his team out at Wembley and to achieve success with Wimbledon.”
Who was your childhood hero?
“I used to go and watch Barnet one week and Arsenal the other, so my favourite player was Tony Adams. He was always my idol and the player who I wanted to follow. I didn’t quite get to make it to Arsenal, but I got to wear the number six shirt at Wimbledon!”
What was your favourite Wimbledon game?
“It has to be Wembley, but I also enjoyed the Accrington games as well. They were brilliant games, but also beating the enemy as well. It was a pretty special night and a great atmosphere as well when we beat them at home.”
Who was your funniest team-mate from your time at Wimbledon?
“We had some great characters. Dannie Bulman has a great sense of humour and Barchy was always great company, he was always up for a laugh. They were both great lads and I would split it between those two.”
Who was the best player you played with at Wimbledon?
“That’s a tough one as everyone was good in their various positions. George Long was great in goal during his time with us, but Lyle up front was excellent. For those three years he was brilliant and he scored the vital opening goal at Wembley. He proved how good he was during those three years and he has gone on to do well in his career since then.”
Who was your toughest team-mate at Wimbledon?
“I don’t think you can look past Barry Fuller on that front and I think everyone would agree with that. Week in and week out you knew what you were going to get from Baz. I remember 15 minutes into the play-off final he nailed their winger! I think that settled everyone down on the pitch and it was a key moment. He was not the most vocal, but you knew that he would be putting in a shift for the team every week.”
Was Accrington away one of your favourite matches you’ve played in?
“It was incredible. Even when they scored their second goal I still felt really calm and I didn’t feel like we were going to lose it. I knew that we still had the squad, we had Bayo and Ade to come on and change the game. I knew that we had ways of changing that game. I still felt really relaxed and calm because I felt that we would go on and win the game. Luckily, we were not behind for too long, only about five or six minutes, and I felt that we were the team that would get stronger, as the manager alluded to.”
What was your favourite Wimbledon goal?
“I really enjoyed the winning goal against Crawley and the goal I bundled over the line against Carlisle was quite a funny one! I scored a goal against Chesterfield too in the following season, which was quite important at the time. We won that game 2-1 and I think it was a victory that really got us up and running in League One. That triggered an upturn in form after a slow start in the higher division, so I think that was important. I also scored in the win at Cambridge on New Year’s Day during the promotion season. It was a confidence-boosting 4-1 victory that sparked a run of five successive wins, so that was important too. I will go for the Crawley goal though as I enjoyed that one and it was a vital win near the end of our promotion season.”
How did you get spotted as a young footballer?
“My Dad knew a scout at Watford, which was why I ended up going on trial at Watford. I left there at 15 after having a bit of trouble with my knee flaring up. So I left there and my local Sunday team called Barnet Youth was being coached by Bobby Bowry, who was a Millwall player at the time. He spent about six months working with me, before taking me down to Millwall for a trial, so that’s how I ended up there. Barnet FC tried to sign me for a second time, but I decided to join Millwall. Thankfully, it all worked out.”
When things didn’t work out at Watford did you wonder if you would make it as a footballer?
“Maybe at that stage, but it was good that I could just go back to playing for my Sunday League team and I could enjoy my football again. I went back to playing with my mates, had some fun and enjoyed it. Barnet Youth was massive back in those days with Ricky George (scorer of the winning goal for Hereford in the FA Cup against Newcastle) as the Chairman. It was a big club with a lot of youth teams back then, but I think it has folded now. Bobby played a big part in my career as he took me down to Millwall and that led to 16 great years there.”
What were the tough moments in your career that you had to come back from?
“Definitely when I had times out through injury. I had a cruciate ligament injury in my early days at Millwall and that cost me a chance to play in the FA Cup Final. Whether you win, lose, or draw, you just want to be out on that pitch playing and giving everything for the club, but I always found it really difficult when I was stuck watching.”
Having had such a long and successful career in the game, do you still feel lucky?
“I still look back on my playing days with pride and I still miss it every day as well, but I feel privileged to have lived the dream. I got to play for some great clubs and I feel really fortunate. It took a lot of hard work along the way, but I loved every minute of being a professional footballer. I feel fortunate to have lived the dream for so long.”
If you missed the first part of our interview with Robbo, take a look at our previous article.