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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Gone but not forgotten:
Paul Robinson
 
Position: Left back
From: Youth team
Record: Played: 230(21) Scored: 9
To: West Bromwich Albion - 400,000 (inc. increments) - October 2003
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: One of us

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

If you've been married, or living with a partner for a while (and I'm particularly addressing the male members of our congregation here), you'll know how it is. Of course, you love your partner. But somehow, it occurs to you from time to time that you don't really make as much of an effort as you once did. You do the washing up increasingly infrequently. You shave two or three times a week, rather than daily. You forget the importance of complimenting her hair, her make-up, her figure as a matter of routine. Somehow, you just figure that she'll always be there. You need her to be there, because you've forgotten what life was like when she wasn't. You've forgotten how to cope without her. It's not that she's perfect; without her, you'd spend more time at the pub with your mates, you'd get to watch the whole of the live Monday night match, rather than settling for just the second half once Coronation Street and Eastenders have finished. Your hub caps would be considerably less scratched. But somehow, these faults are just part of her charm. Without them, it wouldn't be her.

And so it is with our footballers. Well, sort of. Apart from the occasional bad apple (more on them later), we love them. We need them. And, in some special cases, we just assume they will always be there.

Can you remember life pre-Paul Robinson? Who did we have at left back? In the eighties, of course, it was the magnificent Wilf Rostron. In the early nineties, we had Jason Drysdale. Other than that, however, I am struggling to think of a settled left-back; many tried, of course - Willie Falconer gave it a go, as did Jason Soloman. Sorry if I'm bringing back bad memories. There was the unforgettable Keith Dublin, signed from Brighton having played as a left-back there, but more often employed in the middle for the Hornets. David Barnes, Dominic Ludden. Even Tommy Mooney. Left-back has been, at times, a problem area.

And now it is again. What now? Jack Smith? Marcus Gayle? A loan signing? Who knows? Probably not even Ray Lewington at this precise moment. But that is a debate for another forum. This is about Paul Robinson.

Paul Robinson is no longer a Golden Boy. What? How can this be? But we love you, Robbo. You can't leave. What will we do without you? We can change. Please don't go!

Too late.

We really did take him for granted, you know. Since his debut at home to Luton Town on October 29th 1996, the left back slot has been nothing to worry about. We knew we had that sorted. Yet, almost seven all-action, fist-pumping years later, we still don't have a song for him. Sure, he borrowed "There's only one..." from Richard Johnson for a while, but that was it. If ever a player deserved our adulation, it was Robbo. Perhaps he had it, but it wouldn't have hurt us to say it once in a while!

In truth, a hundred songs wouldn't have kept him here. As soon as an offer came in, he had to go. Ever since the news of our financial state broke, we have not been offered money like this for anyone. Unless your name is Nottingham Forest, seemingly, you cannot command huge fees for players unproven in the top flight. It's just so very sad that it has to end.

Not that he was perfect, of course. Oh no, far from it. In terms of his playing abilities, he was limited. His positional sense was not always all you might want from a left back, and his punts forward were usually more in hope than expectation that someone in yellow might get on the end of it. Then, of course, we have the discipline problems.

Paul Robinson accrued a hefty sixty-two yellow cards in his first-team career at Watford and three red cards, out of 252 appearances. Actually, as someone that has seen him seemingly pick up card after card after card, that doesn't seem all that much, and maybe his reputation is a bit harsh. His reputation, however, is largely founded upon an incident that occurred at Vale Park in our most glorious run of form. It was a horrible incident. A crunching, studs-up tackle that, for some unknown reason, did not result in Paul's exit from the game. Even spectacles with the yellowest of lenses cannot provide adequate defence for that tackle.

Other than that, however, his bookings were largely for late, but not injury-threatening, tackles. Indeed, his low rate of conversions from yellow to red shows that he could keep a lid on things when necessary. One notable exception to this was his tackle-from-behind on Peter Ndlovu in the Playoff Semi-Final first leg, when already on a yellow card. It could have cost us our chance of promotion, as could his horrible miscue at Wembley that presented Eidur Gudjohnsen with one of a number of chances the Icelander spurned that afternoon. Oh yes, he was flawed all right!

At various stages he seemed to have learned his lesson, but a flurry of yellow cards would usually arrive on cue to correct that misconception. One wonders if this season might have been - and might still be - a turning point. Only three yellows thus far, and a very mature performance against Burnley against the backdrop of a referee with a penchant for card-wielding. But it's of little consequence to us now.

Robbo had a very difficult time during the 2000/01 season, his confidence perhaps a little shaken by the Premiership season, when he came across a better class of right-winger than he was accustomed to. I have my own theory, however, as to what went wrong with Robbo, and indeed the entire defence that year. The clue can be found here, in a report that sums up all that was good and bad about Robinson's game. Not to say that some of the stuff the defence did that year wasn't pants - clearly, it was - but a notable absentee for 2000/01 was Richard Johnson. A defender's dream. I wonder how many mistakes by defenders down the years have gone unnoticed thanks to Johnno. Anyway, Johnson wasn't replaced adequately (no, not even by Carlton Palmer), and the defence was, I believe, exposed.

Following that, we had the Vialli debacle. Among Vialli's first acts at the club were the transfer listings and releasing of a number of players, mostly defenders. That our defence needed sorting out is not in doubt, but quite how Vialli came to the conclusion that everyone was to blame for our shortcomings except Robbo is something of a mystery; the only suggestion I can offer is that perhaps he drew lots. Anyway, Robinson stayed, and for a time looked pretty good. One game that particularly sticks out (and believe me, I've tried to forget it) is the match at Gresty Road. A dismal performance from everyone but Robinson, who, amid the gathering gloom, managed a positive, if not terribly effective, display. I don't know about you, but all my applause was directed towards him at the end of that game. It is the folly of this episode in particular, however, that has directly resulted in you reading this piece now.

Paul Robinson has been sold in order to safeguard the future of our club. We try to stay positive, we try to stay focused on our future, rather than our past, yet as such a popular figure exits Vicarage Road, I for one can't help it. Vialli, Ramon Vega, Stephen Hughes, Pierre Issa, Patrick Blondeau - you are all in my thoughts at the moment. None of you worthy to tie up Robinson's boots for him, yet you are the reasons he has gone. Each of you earning many more times than Robbo, but he must leave in order to keep us afloat.

It is ironic that West Brom should be his new club. They approached their Premiership season the "Watford Way", but then they deviated from our precedent by not employing a half-witted, clueless....

But we mustn't live in the past. We have to look forward. And I must not turn this piece into a tirade of blame. Paul Robinson deserves better than that.

I remember a programme interview with Tommy Mooney, in which he said: "I hope the fans can see from the way I play that if I wasn't on the pitch playing, I'd be in the stands, cheering and shouting."

Ditto for Paul Robinson. He played like a Watford supporter. Our victories from now on will be just slightly more empty without his clenched fist salutes that have become customary.

So I will leave you with three of my favourite "Robbo" moments:

1. Luton '98. Robbo's goal, played in cleverly by Jason Lee.
2. Fulham '98. Robbo was held aloft by supporters and he was leading the singing. You could see how much the title meant to him.
3. Wimbledon '01. Robbo scored with a tackle! Only Robbo....

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Paul Robinson has left Watford. With his last act as a Watford player - signing for West Brom - he has given us a big helping hand in securing our future.

Good luck, Robbo, and thanks for everything.

Mike Smart


"I can tell by your eyes that you've probably been crying for ever..."

On 23 May 2003, I picked my all-time Watford squad. It consisted of players of the calibre of John Barnes, Luther Blissett and Tommy Mooney. It also included Paul Robinson. He belonged in this elite group.

On 9 October 2003, it hit me like a bombshell. The night before I'd watched Jimmy White throw away a golden chance to beat Ken Doherty in the LG Cup and was gutted for him. But it didn't really matter. It didn't really matter.

In today's footballing climate it is rare to see such a player. A sport whose world goes round by pieces of paper with the Queen's head on. I imagine in years gone by, clubs have been littered with such players, players who would have shed blood for the club, players whose clenched fists created a bond with the supporters. But, as I said, there's not many about today.

On 11 August 1971, Thomas Mooney was born. The easiest question I have ever been asked is "Who's your favourite all-time Watford player?" I mean, it's an insult to be asked. Along with his guts, his will to win at all costs, his sheer bloody-mindedness, it's that goal at Anfield, it's that memorable double at Port Vale in the promotion season, it's that ridiculous finish against Bristol Rovers.

Robbo would be in the top five of this list. With no disrespect, Robbo is not one of the most gifted footballers to play for Watford, in the annals of time, history will probably record him as an "average left back". But those who saw him at first hand, those who witnessed the cupped ears against Burnley, the clenched fists at Sunderland, the sheer joy at scoring against Coventry realise that this was a young man, born and bred in Watford, who was living the dream of thousands.

I suppose I, we, all of us love him because we can relate to him. We share his joy, we share his sorrow. Paul Robinson was born on 14 December 1978, a twenty-four year old who made 252 appearances for the Hornets. I'm glad in hindsight that he reached the 250 mark, but I would have loved him to double it. You never know.

Supporting a football club is about accepting the joys as easily as the sorrows, it's about supporting a group of men you don't know, it's about hoping your team scores more goals than the other. It's not complicated, it's not scientific, in fact one could look at it as hopelessly irrelevant. But from time to time, it throws up these heroes, our heroes.

Robbo will always be one of them. Thanks for the memories.

Martin Scourfield