x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A softer side to Bolton's tough guy Paul Robinson

He may have a reputation for robust tackles, but burglary and tragedy show the durable full-back in a different light.

The commitment and passion of Paul Robinson is something that has endeared him to the fans of every club he has played at. Martin Rickett / PA
The commitment and passion of Paul Robinson is something that has endeared him to the fans of every club he has played at. Martin Rickett / PA

Choosing a career highlight can often be a difficult task. Take Paul Robinson, Bolton Wanderers' durable full-back, for example.

Robinson could easily cite any of the three promotions to the Premier League with two different teams, including one as a 21-year-old with his hometown club.

Or he could select staying up in the most dramatic of fashions with West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the 2004/05 Premier League season. The three England Under 21 caps he won will also feature predominately in his pantheon of achievements.

The nadir? Well, there is no ambiguity there.

It came in December 2004, three days before his 26th birthday. Robinson found himself in the wilderness for a 10-game spell after Bryan Robson, the Manchester United legend, had replaced Gary Megson as the manager of West Brom.

He was not even in the squad, yet attended the game with Charlton Athletic on December 11, 2004 with his son, Luke, and wife, Caroline, to give his teammates some moral support.

Hopes of being recalled after the 1-0 defeat were no doubt discussed with his wife as he pulled on to the drive of his newly built home in Stratford Upon Avon, the picturesque town in middle England where William Shakespeare was born. What happened next would not have looked out of place in one of the playwright's tragedies. Robinson takes up the story.

"We all went to the game and when we came back the whole house had been ransacked - everything had been taken," he said. "They took all the jewellery, ripped the safe out the floor, stole the TVs, DVD players and drove my wife's car off the drive. It was devastating for us and the low point in our lives."

Of some consolation was that the burglars did not take the Christmas presents.

"They knew where everything was," he said. "And they turned the alarm off. We kept the same number for the alarm the company had given us. If we had known how to change it, it might have been different."

Robinson, 32, also looks back with regret at how he handled a situation that saw him and Watford, his hometown club, pay a substantial six-figure sum in an out-of-court settlement after a tackle by the defender fractured Stuart Talbot's shin bone in 1999.

"I just caught the top of the ball and when you go in for a tackle at speed you physically can't stop yourself," Robinson said.

"It was a horrible time. It was tough for me to handle that I had done that to a fellow professional.

"I had no intention of going out to hurt him and did not know how bad it was at the time. When I went down the tunnel and the players and the manger were shouting abuse at me, I realised it was bad."

Jamie Carragher probably had that same sinking feeling after his poor challenge on Nani in the recent derby between Liverpool and Manchester United.

The Liverpool defender has been there, done that, got several T-shirts to prove it and is therefore unlikely to need much advice from his fellow professionals.

Yet he could do a lot worse than heed the lessons Robinson learnt about showing succour.

"I wish I had kept in touch and seen how he was doing but I had left it too long," Robinson said. "I regret that. I should have apologised and got my side across sooner. I was still young at the time and had no support. No one said to phone him or send him flowers and wish him a speedy recovery."

Instead Robinson received hate mail and endured a tough period of self appraisal.

"It did affect me for a while," Robinson said. "It was in the back of my mind every time I went in for a tackle and I'd wonder whether I'd injure someone badly again or even myself."

The incident with Talbot was not the only time he courted controversy. In 2006, a challenge with Damien Johnson left the Birmingham City winger with a broken jaw and Robinson with a three-match suspension after being sent off.

Steve Bruce, the then Birmingham manager who is now in charge of Sunderland, called the challenge "horrific" but Robinson mounts a strong defence.

"I went up for a header, turned my body and somehow his jaw has caught my elbow," Robinson said. "I never thought of going in with my elbow; that was never my intention.

"It was just one of those things. I learnt my lessons from before and went in to see if he was all right at half time, and found out that he had broken his jaw and would be out for a period of time, which was devastating."

More recently, Robinson left Abou Diaby, the leggy Arsenal midfielder, nursing an ankle injury following a robust challenge at the Emirates Stadium in October.

"We were both going for the ball," Robinson said. "I spoke to Jack Wilshere [the Arsenal midfielder who had been on loan at Bolton the previous season] after the game and asked if Diaby was all right.

"He said he was fine and that he has just got bruising on his ankle. Then, four days later, [Arsene] Wenger came out in the press making a big fuss about it, saying I had done it deliberately. Why did he leave it four days to come out and say that? He was just jumping on the bandwagon as the media were making a big deal of it."

The incidents have earned Robinson a reputation as a hard man. Even Jonathan Greening, a former teammate at West Brom and godfather to his three sons, nicknamed him "Mad Dog".

"I've got a bad reputation," Robinson said. "But I am 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 just try to stereotype me. In their day, they were going round kicking lumps out of people. If they played this game now they'd be sent off in every game.

"It's a fast and furious game now 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."

Robinson would consider himself robust rather than reckless, more committed than careless but his abrasive manner on the field is in stark contrast to his affable nature off it. He is a devoted father to his sons - he is set to become a father for the fourth time in May - and has a compassionate side.

In 2003 while playing for Watford, Robinson was rocked by the death of Jimmy Davies, the on loan Manchester United winger who was killed in a car accident.

"We called all the players into the dressing room and broke the news," Ray Lewington, the then Watford manager, said. "Paul took it the worst. He broke down straight away."

Nigel Gibbs, a former teammate at Watford, recalls an incident that provides a snapshot of Robinson's character.

"I had taken his place in the [1999] play-off semi-final at Birmingham [as Robinson was suspended] but I was left out at Wembley for the final against Bolton and was not even on the bench," Gibbs, who is now assistant coach at Reading, said. "He recognised that and gave me his spare shirt after the game which was a lovely gesture."

Robinson is also something of a character in the dressing room.

"We had a running machine fitted and you had to careful of those," Lewington, now a coach at Fulham, said.

"Well, Paul was always game for a laugh and he put the machine on full speed and said that he could jump on it and stay on it. He jumped on but the thing catapulted him backwards and he ended up in as heap, cutting his chin in the process."

 

kaffleck@thenational.ae