Ryan Giggs’ Welsh international roommate started his career with Brighton and in 2003-04 was Cardiff City’s player of the season.
A promising teenage winger at the Albion, John Robinson enjoyed a career spanning more than 500 games.
It also took him onto the international stage where, despite his relatively humble club background, he rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest stars in the game.
One imagines if his career had coincided with an upward period in Albion’s history rather than a decline, we might have seen rather more of him in the stripes than in the red of Charlton Athletic and Wales.
Sadly, his rise coincided with a financial crisis and the club cashed in on his potential.
Albion’s loss was definitely Charlton’s gain and he went on to enjoy two promotions with the Addicks and to play in the Premiership.
Robinson was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to a Glaswegian father and Rhodesian mother and it was after the family settled in Sussex that the young Robinson’s footballing ability came to the fore.
At the age of 12 he won a trip to Real Madrid for skills displayed at the Bobby Charlton Soccer School and at 16 he signed his first professional contract with the Albion.
He made his debut in the final third of the 1989-90 season, starting the last four games after coming on as a substitute in a 3-0 defeat away to Portsmouth.
With former Chelsea wideman Clive Walker on the left wing and the experienced ex-England international Mark Barham on the right, Robinson struggled to get many games for a large part of the 1990-91 season.
Nevertheless, his first goal for the club was certainly memorable, scoring the winner in a 2-1 play-off second leg away win at Millwall (to make the aggregate score 6-2) after coming on as a substitute. Unfortunately for him, the not-fully-fit John Byrne was chosen as one of the substitutes in the final against Notts County so he missed out on a Wembley outing that day – something he would rectify a few years later.
As something of a fire sale of talent began in the following season, so there were more openings for the youngsters at Barry Lloyd’s disposal.
Robinson got on as a sub in the opening two games and over the course of the season racked up a further 39 appearances as the team went into freefall and were relegated.
After eight starts the following season, and with the club’s finances in dire straits, Robinson was sold to Charlton for a reported £85,000, which seemed like a bargain.
In his new surroundings, there were some familiar faces. The co-manager, Alan Curbishley, was a former teammate at the Goldstone and the side contained former defensive stalwart Steve Gatting and striker Garry Nelson.
The south London club were on the rise at the time. The move was ideal for Robinson and he went on to spend the majority of his career with the Addicks, clocking up 332 appearances spanning eleven years.
Although born in Rhodesia, he qualified for Wales only because he was a British passport holder. After 16 appearances for Wales under 21s, Robinson earned his first full cap in 1995 and played 30 times for his adopted country, scoring three goals. In 2000, he’d made such an impact with his adopted country that he was named Wales player of the year.
Robinson reckoned Giggs was the best player he played with throughout his career, and he was his roommate on international trips.
“I had the pleasure to be around Giggs for over nine years: his dedication to the game is unbelievable,” Robinson told soccerbanter.org in 2011.
Robinson called time on his international football career following the death of his father, and, on 13 August 2002, told the BBC: “It was a difficult decision to take, but I had to do what was best for myself.
“I’ve been considering it all summer and I didn’t think it was fair to Wales to step down midway through the European Championship qualifying campaign.
“I’ve had seven great years playing for Wales and it’s been a real honour, but I wouldn’t have been giving them 100 per cent and that’s not the kind of person I am.”
The same article reported how then Wales manager Mark Hughes had tried to talk him out of it. “I fully understand John’s decision, but I did try to persuade him to change his mind.
The report said Robinson had “considerable personal problems” following the death of his father, and wanted to spend more time with his family.
“He has been a fine team-mate, a great servant to Wales and for me now, and a joy to have had him as a player in my squad now I’m manager,” Hughes added.
Robinson was the Addicks’ most capped player and that summer Curbishley had awarded him his 10-year testimonial with a game against Porto.
Eventually released by Charlton at the end of the 2002-03 season, Robinson joined Cardiff City in September 2003.
At the time there was some talk of him returning to the Albion. That got no further than his agent’s inquiry because, according to the Argus, Robinson’s wage demands were too high, and he signed a two-year deal with Cardiff instead.
Robinson was quoted at the time as saying: “We gave them what would be our minimum, which was considerably lower than others around, and it never went further.
“We didn’t actually sit down with Steve (Coppell). I don’t think the timing was quite right for them. I had a really good feeling about Cardiff as well, even though theirs was not the biggest offer on the table.
“They are looking for a new stadium and they are not in the First Division to make the numbers up.
“Everyone knows what I think of Brighton. I’ve signed for two years at Cardiff, so we’ll see what happens. I will only be 33 then and hopefully not past my sell-by date.”
As it turned out, he didn’t stay the full two years at Ninian Park but in October 2004, having played 42 games for Cardiff, moved back to Sussex for family reasons.
He had a short, four-game spell with Gillingham and later played a handful of games for both Crawley and Lewes.
He now coaches youngsters as the soccer operations director for Florida-based Elite Soccer Center, a West Ham United partner academy club.He had run youth football camps in England for 10 years and wanted to start them in the States.
In an interview with soccerbanter.org in 2011, Robinson said: “In 2009 I moved the family as I wanted a change of lifestyle for them and the opportunity to experience living somewhere else in the world.”
Signing for Brighton was his favourite memory from such a long career, even though he won two promotions with Charlton and played in one of the most memorable play-off finals ever, the penalty shoot-out win over Sunderland in 1999.
“People will probably be surprised but for me it is when I signed my first professional contract because all the hard work and sacrifices my parents and I had to make were rewarded; my dream since the age of four had been achieved.”
- John Robinson pictured in the 1991 play-off finals programme, with an unfortunate crease where sponsor Nobo’s name is displayed.
- Also pictured in the ‘pyjama’ strip on the front of an Albion matchday programme.