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Robinson's was a life less ordinary

English-born Irish international had his heart in Spain

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JOY: Robinson celebrates with Frank Stapleton after scoring against France in 1981. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

JOY: Robinson celebrates with Frank Stapleton after scoring against France in 1981. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

JOY: Robinson celebrates with Frank Stapleton after scoring against France in 1981. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Michael Robinson walked a Camino less travelled, his life's journey the route map of an eternally curious pilgrim.

The Persian poet Runi wrote: "Beyond right and wrong there is a field. I'll meet you there."

That meadow - what he termed a "place of communal feeling" - was the natural habitat of a jazzy figure whose post-football biography flowered into a tale of the unexpected.

His tour of duty with Ireland was largely in that pre-Charlton era of semi-darkness - 24 caps between 1980 and '86 - when the green jersey was no more fashionable an accessory than a pitman's helmet and Davy lamp.

Leicester-born, Blackpool-reared, Frank Stapleton's foil, a granny-rule Paddy, Robinson scored three goals in qualifying for an Eoin Hand team thieved of 1982 World Cup battle-ribbons only by the idiosyncratic decision-making of Portuguese referee Raul Nazare.

His club career permitted noteworthy incursions into the sunlight - a season as Anfield understudy to Kop aristocrats Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush yielded just 30 appearances, but, in a reflection of Liverpool's unrivalled power at that time, European Cup, Division One and League Cup medals.

His goal fired Brighton to an FA Cup final. He also wore the uniforms of Preston, Manchester City and QPR.

But Robinson's backstory is splashed with vivid colour by his second life in an adopted land that touched and conquered his soul.

For the man stolen by cancer yesterday at just 61 years of age, was an English-reared Irish international who, long before the end, regarded the blood coursing through his veins as authentically Spanish as the shimmering waters of the Costa Del Sol.

Robinson became a gigantic presence at the epicentre of La Liga broadcasting. It is an exaggeration, but only a mild one, to declare him the Lionel Messi of his adopted land's television studios.

Outspoken, beloved, fearless, at once edgy maverick and national institution, he was - if this seems possible - in ubiquity and profile an amalgam of Bill O'Herlihy, Eamon Dunphy, Des Lynam, Gary Lineker, Gerry Ryan, Joe Brolly and Second Captains.

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ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: The Rep of Ireland’s Michael Robinson runs at the Soviet Union during a World Cup qualifier at Landsdowne Road in 1984. Photo: Allsport/Getty Images

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: The Rep of Ireland’s Michael Robinson runs at the Soviet Union during a World Cup qualifier at Landsdowne Road in 1984. Photo: Allsport/Getty Images

Getty Images

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: The Rep of Ireland’s Michael Robinson runs at the Soviet Union during a World Cup qualifier at Landsdowne Road in 1984. Photo: Allsport/Getty Images

Though those minded to make the Lineker comparison in his company were advised to have a shot of tetanus ready as an antidote to the inevitable, pit-bull savaging it would invite.

Robinson's verdict on English football punditry retains, 15 years on, the merciless edge of a Supreme Court judge incarcerating a particularly vile serial offender.

"It's been hijacked by ex-footballers. There is a screaming necessity for a journalist to challenge them. They speak in a certain argot, a slang whereby they all sit down comfy, comfy - Lineker, Hansen and the rest.

Agree

"Hansen thinks every goal is a defensive error because when you don't understand football, you can stop a tape anywhere, anywhere, and find a trick. There's no appreciation.

"And Lineker and Mark Lawrenson just agree. It's all happy families. The BBC is the mother and father of television and it's become totally prostituted. Put me on English telly? First of all, they couldn't pay me. Second, it would be a revolution. Third, who gives a monkey's?"

Two years in La Liga with Osasuna followed. Having arrived without a word of Spanish he quickly mastered the language to the point where his provocative post-match offerings presented him with a visa to a new life less ordinary.

Robinson wrote, directed and presented some of the most popular programmes on Iberian TV: El Dia Despues (The Day After); Informe Robinson (The Robinson Report).

Jamie Redknapp he was not.

His caustic criticism of Real Madrid saw their president Florentino Perez use his immense influence in a failed attempt to have Robinson sacked.

Savour this description of the celebrated Real Madrid centre-forward, Raúl.

"Raúl is perhaps a bit over-rated compared to the other galacticos. He's more personality than ability. He is a predator, an animal, a dark mysterious man who'll score two when Madrid are losing against Kiev, two degrees before freezing.

"He's got character and used to carry Madrid on his own before those other great players turned up. He doesn't have one particularly outstanding skill - his left foot's only a seven out of ten, his right's a four, he's not great in the air or quick. I admire him, but I wouldn't cross the road on a rainy night and buy tickets to see him."

As his reputation for uncompromising analysis grew, he was recruited to commentate on cycling, tennis and rugby union.

Perhaps the nugget that shines the brightest light on the status his work attained is this - he voiced the Ugly Sister in the Spanish version of Shrek 2.

As a critic of cliché, he never indulged in the familiar, saccharine nonsense that playing for Ireland was some all-consuming boyhood ambition. Rather, he made the pragmatic choice after an expected call-up to Ron Greenwood's English squad failed to materialise.

His mother, second generation Irish, and his former coach at Preston, Alan Kelly (father of Ireland's current goalkeeping coach and a major influence on the young Robinson's career), encouraged him to take the Dublin route.

His blue-collar industry insulated him from criticism even as goals arrived only in a slow drip.

"Each and every time I was part of the squad was a brilliant experience. Can you imagine travelling all over the world and - wherever you go - you've got Irish supporters giving you the benefit of the doubt?

"I knew that they'd always accept me as a long as I gave everything for the cause. And I always did that. I found it harder to be good at football but I enjoyed it all."

In December 2018, on his radio show, he revealed a diagnosis of aggressive, metastatic cancer. He vowed to fight until the final punch. The knockout blow arrived yesterday for a man who featured for Ireland alongside Liam Brady, Paul McGrath, Dave O'Leary and Ronnie Whelan.

He will be remembered in this country, but properly mourned in the place he came to love.

His immigrant fervour was worn on his sleeve: "In Spain, people have time for each other. Spaniards gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me invade their living rooms and speak to them, and I love them so much for that."

Michael Robinson's life less ordinary lends him a vivid identity.