Sadly we lost Micheal Robinson this week. Taken far to young from a bastard illness we are sadly all to familiar with and as we listen to the lovely kind words about a man who appeared to many of us on the field for the Republic as the a darling of Lansdowne (in the days it looked like the whole country congregated to a match there) I look back on this as a celebration of his life.
He first made his mark as a fresh 17 year old youngster at Preston North End, were Bobby Charlton had just vacated the seat to Harry Catterick, signing with Deepdale outfit in 1975 were he spent four years before a move to Malcolm Allison's Manchester City in 1979. The flamboyant boss lasted just one season at Maine Road and by the time John Bond took over the hot-seat, Robinson would be surplus to requirements. This didn't deter the Leicester born striker and he would rebuild his career with Brighton & Hove Albion (100 plus appearances- his longest spell at any club) with a squash-buckling Brighton side under Liverpudlian Jimmy Melia that took out Newcastle United, Manchester City (somewhat sweet) Liverpool, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday on the way to the 1983 FA Cup Final were, in truth, they should have beaten Manchester United.
That match would provide Robinson, who lined out with fellow Irishmen Gerry Ryan and Gary Howlett, with what should have been the end to a superb campaign when he lined up Gordon Smith in front of goal in the dying seconds only for the Scotsman to miss from 10 yards, a grateful Gary Bailey smothering his effort. United made no mistake in the replay.
By then Robinson had qualified for the Republic of Ireland and made his international debut on the 28th of October 1980 when former Limerick United boss Eoin Hand plucked him from Brighton & Hove Albion, well aware he had stood out at Preston first and then City and Brighton, to be part of Ireland's 1982 World Cup Qualifying campaign.
It would prove to be an exhilarating yet excruciating and ultimately heartbreaking, soul-shattering campaign. A huge win over the French. The Dutch put to the sword. Cyprus dispatched with ease........and then there was Belgium. Ah Belgium. Fucking Belgium. A rainy night in Heysel. A disallowed Stapleton goal. Eric Gerets and his theatrical dive. Poxy Jan Culemans ....and a cheating Portuguese bastard in black. It will be 40 years since possibly the greatest injustice in Irish international football next year but the pain of that night (crying my eyes out as a tortured 12 year old) still haunts me. It's taken a bottle of Jack Daniels and some Valium just to write about it again!
Though his debut would end in a 2-0 defeat in Paris, Robinson never looked out of place with the Republic, joining a side with the talents of Liam Brady, 43 goals in 235 games at Arsenal who had just moved to Juventus, fellow Gooner Frank Stapleton, who traded Highbury for Old Trafford in a move I'll never forgive him for, along with former Brighton pals, defender Mark Lawrenson and midfield dynamo Tony Grealish, Gerry Daly (then at Coventry) and a young Ronnie Whelan, fresh from Home Farm to Anfield.
Hand had taken over the Irish job after Johnny Giles had failed to progress past the 1978 World Cup qualifiers (the French besting us again, and Bulgaria) and a disappointing 1980 European championship that saw England top a group where Danny Blanchflower's Northern Ireland demoted us to third place. A single point at the rain-sodden Heysel Stadium would have been enough to qualify for our first ever World Cup at the ninth attempt. Alas, Joaquim Fernandes Naza , his dirty wad of undoubted money and just as guilty linesmen had other ideas that night.
Robinson would notch his first international goal in a 6-0 hammering of Cyprus on November 19th 1980 and follow it up with impressive strikes in the 2-2 away draw with Holland and the 3-2 win against France in the '82 campaign (my first international game where I was genuinely terrified at the heaving Lansdowne and 52,000 packed in like the proverbial sardines ) but ultimately Hand's generation will go down as the best Irish side never to have qualified for a major championship.
The heartbreak of losing a place at Espana '82 on goal difference was compounded by fact France went all the way to an epic semi-final slot where Germany (or rather Harold Schumacher) ended there hopes.
Poor Patrick Battiston.
I didn't shed one tear.
A big money move (£200,000) to Liverpool followed in 1983 where he would continuing learning his trade as understudy to Kenny Daglish and Ian Rush. This was Liverpool in their pomp. Hansen, Thompson, Whelan, Nicol, the combined duo of Daglish & Rush up top and a
soon to be departing to Sampdoria Graeme Souness. Their would be home comforts in the dressing room from Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and the soon to be capped Jim Beglin (debut June 1984 in 1-0 win over China.) Success, as expected, came quick. Under Joe Fagan, promoted after the retirement of Bob Paisley, Liverpool won a treble. In the league Southampton pushed them all the way, losing out by three points.
On the 15th of October 1983 the Irishman announced himself with a hat-trick away at Upton Park against West Ham in a 3-1 win, going on to notch six on the way to a League Championship medal.
It got better. A League Cup campaign in which Robinson netted against Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday on the way to Wembley, were after a replay, Liverpool finally overcame the Blues across the road at Goodison Park. Personally it was slightly tainted by the fact he made a two minute injury time appearance in the first game and an unused substitute in the replay.
The Holy Grail of European football arrived, yet again, on the 30th of May 1984 when Liverpool beat Roma on penalties. This time Robinson came into the heat of the battle in extra-time. It was an astonishing season by anyone's standards.
Soon after Loftus Road and the bright lights of London came calling as Micheal signed for Alan Mullery's QPR. He lined out 48 times but netted just a dozen.
He would notch the last of his four goals for the Republic on September 21st 1984 against Iceland in a 3-0 win in an other words fruitless European Championships campaign which saw Spain qualify, though Ireland did stage a rousing 3-3 draw at home against the Spaniards and was on hand for the final sad demise of Eoin Hand in a poor 1986 World Cup Qualification campaign that had started so brightly with a superb 1-0 win over Russia at Lansdowne Road. Many remember his run and cross to Micky Walsh to fire past Dasayev and send the partizan crowd into hysterics.
What followed was, to be honest, a truly awful performance in Oslo against a Norwegian side during their whipping boy status days which Ireland lost 1-0. Typically it would be the only game Norway won in the group. It ended with a 4-1 pasting at home to Denmark.
His time in England would end in 1986 as would his duty with the Republic though he was picked twice by incoming Irish manager Jack Charlton including our first ever trophy....yep that triangular effort in Iceland, however Spain came calling when he put pen to paper with Osasuna, finishing 15th in La Liga in his first season there. Ironically there would be one familiar face among a team almost full of Spaniards in ex-Liverpool pocket rocket Sammy Lee. A persistent knee injury would cut his playing career short before his 32nd birthday but by then Micheal was hooked having instantly fell in love with Spain. After his playing days, , he would go on to revolutionize television coverage in the nation, learning the language and becoming a highly respected commentator. His television show would draw an audience of millions having started humbly as a panel guest for coverage of the 1990 World Cup. We all knew this but his popularity in Spain was astounding and a testament to the man.
Sadly he had been in ill health over the last year and his passing to cancer at just 61 years of age has robbed us of a man nobody seemed to have a bad word against and listening to the words of people like Souness, Quinn, McCarthy, to name but a few, and journalists both here and abroad and the stories have made many smile.
Sad that its over but glad that it happened.
Many well remember, few forget. A bed of heaven to you Micheal.
lh. Finished his English league career with Queens Park Rangers in 1986.
International career: Made his Irish debut in October 1980, in a World Cup qualifier against France in Paris (lost 2-0) and scored the first of his four international goals against Cyprus the following month (won 6-0). Won 23 caps in all, his last against Czechoslovakia in May 1986.
Highlight: Played in the 1983 FA Cup Final (and replay) for Brighton against Manchester United and was a sub for Liverpool in the drawn League Cup final against Everton in 1984. His English-born mother (whose own mother was born in Ireland) took out Irish citizenship in 1980 to allow him apply for an Irish passport, thus making him eligible to play for the Republic. Where is he now? He's the Des Lynam of Spanish television. Well, almost. Fluent in Spanish, Robinson is a tv pundit and commentator and has his own football radio show in Spain.