JUN
16
2013
Exclusive Interview With Everton Legend Neil Robinson
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Blue Echo Interviews Neil Robinson.

Neil Robinson played a total of 23 games for Everton. He went on to play for Swansea City, Grimsby Town and Darlington.

Neil was very obliging with his interview for Bluekipper who spoke with fondness of the club he supported and played for. ENJOY!!

1/ HOW DID YOU BEGIN YOUR CAREER WITH EVERTON FC

Very simply, I just wrote off for a trial. I was born in Liverpool (Walton) and my dad had an accident at work, broke his neck and was left paralysed, I was only 2 years of age at the time. So, for the last 19 years of his life he was bed and wheelchair bound.

Because of his industrial accident he got compensation not a lot around £4,000 which I guess was a lot of money then. So, because of that he wanted to get away from Walton, there were 7 of us and we moved to Widnes.

The school I went to in Widnes was a secondary school and all they played was Rugby. I wanted to be a footballer so my brother John and II wrote to Liverpool FC and Everton FC and got a reply off both teams, we couldn't believe it.

Everton in those days had an A, B, and C team so any trialist like me they just used to bung in the C team, and we played in a men's Sunday league. The guy who ran team we were in was the great former Everton player T E Jones. Dave Jones who went on to play for Everton was also there at the time.

I was there quite a few weeks and trained with them as I did with Liverpool at the same time. My brother Ian, who took me to all the games and training sessions due to my dad's condition, one day asked Eric Harrison (Youth Team Coach) and Ray Minshull (Youth Development Officer) could I go down to Bellefield and train in the daytime as I had just left school.  So, training with the apprentices was good and on the next intake of apprentices I was then asked to join.

2/ HOW DID YOU END UP ALONG WITH TERRY DARRACOTT WEARING THE SAME NUMBERED SHIRT IN THE LEAGUE CUP FINAL REPLAY AT 1977 AT OLD TRAFFORD?

I was only aware of it during the game. I still haven't got an explanation for it, I don't know what happened. You see, in those days, it was the apprentices that looked after the kit so they used to pack it away but you would have thought Terry (Darracott) or myself should have twigged!

3/ HOW DID YOUR MOVE TO SWANSEA CITY COME ABOUT?

Gordon Lee was the Everton manager at the time and I wasn't playing as well as I could have been at the time. When I first got my opportunity in the first team with Billy Bingham, I felt I should have got a sustained run in the team but when you play in the reserves you dwindle a little bit.  I think I may have asked Gordon Lee for a transfer, I can't remember.

One day, it was October time; I went into training, did my session then got called to go to the manager's office. Gordon told me that Swansea had been on the phone. They had made enquiries prior to that I'm told because I'd played for the reserves one night against Sheffield United and was told that John Toshack (Swansea manager) would be coming along to watch me with Tommy Smith.

Anyway, I spoke to John Toshack, was invited down with my wife, met the manager who was a lovely bloke, stayed in a hotel and had a look around the area the next day then signed that day. I also found out that Bill Shankly had a lot to do with the move as Shanks was a regular visitor to Bellefield because his house backed on to the training ground.

He ( Shankly) used to come in and get a massage off the then physio, Jim McGregor and will have watched me playing and training so I think he recommended me to Tosh or Tosh had asked his advice of me.

4/ WHEN YOU LEFT EVERTON, HOWARD KENDALL TOOK OVER, DID YOU STILL FOLLOW EVERTON'S RESULTS WHILST AT SWANSEA CITY?

I always kept an eye on the results because I was a mad keen fan. It's a bit strange because you have to go out and play against them as well. I was totally committed to Swansea to play well but I still wanted Everton to win against all the other teams.

I became a mad Everton fan again after I stopped playing especially when Joe Royle took over.  It was like one of the boys coming back with Joe's return and we had a great team then. I loved the team he had when we won the cup in his first season, and I used to take my son Neil with me to watch them.

I used to love going back to Goodison playing but got really upset one game at the abuse I got from an Everton fan. I won't say what it was because it was a bit 'blue'! I went to take a throw in and got verbally abused and I'm thinking, "I'm one of you and you're having a go at me"!

5/ WHO WAS YOUR TOUGHEST OPPONENT IN YOUR CAREER?

The one player that gave me a right roasting was during my time at Everton whilst he was playing for Derby County and that was Leighton James. One game in the first half he gave me a torrid time - but I got to grips the second half.  I gave away a penalty in the first half bringing him down - I had a bit of a confidence 'downer' at that time of my career.

We became good mates as well as we ended up playing in the same team at Swansea which was strange.

6/ WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE GROUND?

Apart from Goodison, as I loved going back there and it was a great feeling. I enjoyed playing at Anfield but the one that sticks out was playing at Old Trafford.

7/ WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE GAME AND WHY? 

A couple, obviously my debut for Everton which was living a dream. Although I had played at Goodison loads of times for the reserves but to be coming out of the tunnel to play for the first team was unbelievable. It's a pity we lost 2-3 (Burnley 31st January 1976 ) and I never played in my own boots either because we couldn't find them at the ground! It's like a snooker player playing with someone else's cue, it just doesn't feel right.

The next memorable game was the game when I scored against Chelsea when we won 6-0!

That was a thrill just to score a goal for Everton and another memorable game was for Swansea when we got promoted to the First Division which was at Preston and that was a fantastic game.

It was a shame, because that day Preston North End had to win to stay up and we had to win to go up.  Their manager was Nobby Stiles and he was great after the game as he came into our dressing room and shook everyone's hand which was nice considering he'd just been relegated. Shanks was there as well as he and Tosh were close friends.

8/ YOUR FUNNIEST MOMENT IN FOOTBALL?

It was probably funny to other people at the time, but certainly wasn't funny to me when I made my debut for Grimsby Town. I could have also gone to Charlton Athletic actually as they were interested in me.

I went to Grimsby on the Thursday, met Dave Booth (the manager) and signed for them. The local Grimsby evening paper said "Town sign Robinson to plug gap in the defence".

On my debut, inside the first 2 minutes at the home supporters end, I scored an own goal! My brother had taken my sister to the game and my brother said that my sister shouted out "He's scored, he's scored!!" My brother said, "I know - but it's in the wrong goal"!

A shout came from the terrace "You should have gone to Charlton"!

It was terrible for me, my very first touch for my new club!  It came from a cross and the ball glanced off my studs and fizzed into the goal. The assistant manager at the time was ex-Aston Villa player, Chris Nichol who acknowledged me by gesturing to me "Are you all right?" I just had to be to carry on for the rest of the game - but I could have dug a hole and jumped right in it!

The next season I got supporters player of the year in1985/86.

9/ WERE YOU SURPRISED WITH BEING AWARDED THE PLAYER OF THE YEAR?

Not really because I'd started to play quite well for them really. It was a bit of a justification that I had actually won the fans over.

In my first season at Grimsby, and not something that I am proud of, but I got voted Most Improved Player! And I had played in a Cup final with Everton - but I really took it as a compliment.  

10/  DO YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE STAYED AT EVERTON LONGER THAN YOU DID, BEING A LOCAL LAD?

It was difficult to leave but it becomes a job when you're a professional footballer. Once you've been there for a few years and you get responsibilities and get married and buy a house, you don't want to be out there dwindling in the reserves, you want to be playing in the first team, but it was a bit of a wrench to leave because I loved the place. If I had been playing in the first team on a regular basis I would have stayed there forever.

11/ BEING A VEGAN, DID THAT MAKE THINGS DIFFICULT WHEN YOU WERE DUE YOUR PRE-MATCH MEAL?

Not really no. I just had to make sure that when we got to the hotel I would make a bee-line for the chef and have beans or bananas on toast. I just wanted to keep it simple with no messing about.

12/ DID IT MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU TO BECOME HARRY CATTERICK'S LAST SIGNING?

I didn't realise, it never registered at the time, but it does now. I never had anything do to with him really, I think I had one conversation with him but heard a lot of stories about him being very strict.

13/ WAS LEFT BACK YOUR POSITION, IF SO WHO DID YOU MODEL YOURSELF ON?

I started off at Everton as a right back as I am right footed. I haven't really got a left foot.  It wasn't my natural position so I may have just been put there to be quite honest but it felt good because I had quite a unique tackle. With the winger running towards our goal down the right wing, I used to slide in from the inside and scoop the ball away from the player with my right foot and, all in one movement, stand up, turn and run away with the ball facing the way we were playing, and it was Ray Minshull (Youth Development Officer) that used to call me the 'Cobra'.

I never modelled myself on anyone as a right back but Tommy Wright was a full-back hero of mine.

14/ HOW DIFFERENT WERE GORDON LEE AND JOHN TOSHACK AS MANAGERS?

They were totally different people. They were both very friendly but Gordon was a little bit aloof.  I remember my first phone call with Tosh and we had agreed for me to travel to Swansea to discuss my transfer. I said "Okay Mr Toshack", he then said "Woah, let's get one thing straight, it's Tosh" So, he was friendlier in that respect.

Tactically, they were probably poles apart, Tosh based his ideas on Liverpool's principles but as people Gordon came across as a bit of an odd ball but I liked him and he was quite funny.

He always reminded me of John Cleese (laughing) watching him run. The 'screaming skull' he was called wasn't he?

I met him (Lee) when he was in Iceland, I was with Mick Lyons and Gordon was managing out there and he loved it. He said "It was that safe over there you could leave your wallet on the floor and nobody would touch it"

You never knew though if he was joking or not. We away somewhere on an end of season tour and I was sat in the bar with Gordon and because I was a vegetarian he was quizzing me, asking me what I ate at home.

I said " I eat what you eat but without the meat, you know, pasta and pizza"

"Pizza, what's a pizza - a pancake?" said Gordon. I said "You must know what a pizza is?" He didn't have a clue.

He later fell out with me as I was going to get married in the Summer of'78. I wasn't playing regular at the time so I said to my girlfriend Pauline (and now my wife), "Shall we get married in the January?"

I told Gordon I was getting married on the Wednesday and asked if I could have the Thursday day off (our honeymoon!) and he went mad with me for wanting to get married during the season. He said "That's it now; I won't ever consider you for the first team for the rest of the season! All you will be thinking about is sex and this and that"

I did get in the team at the end of that season though, my annual four games a season!

15/ YOU PLAYED WITH MICK LYONS AT GRIMSBY. WERE YOU SURPRISED HE NEVER MADE A CAREER IN MANAGEMENT?

He was great Mick both as a player and a bloke. Terry Darracott was his number 2 of course. Mick would have been 34 or 35 then but he was the fittest there. I was injured one pre-season and remember talking to Terry Darracott and Lyonsy was running around the playing track with the lads and he was romping it.  And Terry said "If you want an inspiration just look at him there", and Mick was blowing them all out of the water. I enjoyed being there with Mick but it didn't work out for him.

I felt he was a little bit harsh with me at times though because I think he didn't want to show any favouritism having played with me at Everton.

16/ WHAT WERE YOUR PLANS ON RETIREMENT WHILST PLAYING?

I didn't have any at all. I did want to be a physio but I didn't have any formal qualifications because I left school at 15 and I never had any GCSE's and stuff so the route into physio was to go to college.  I couldn't really be bothered going to college, I really couldn't.

Mick Lyons actually asked me to help the physio at Grimsby and I did a Sports Injuries Course at Lilleshall but nothing ever came of the physio stuff. I was never interested in coaching, I had no business interests and ended up being wanting to pursue a career as a nurse and actually passed the entrance exam to train at Whiston Hospital but gave it up because my brother Ian had a fireplace business at that time and he wanted me to open a franchise with him, but it never worked out.

17/ HOW DID YOU GET INTO TODAYS BUSINESS MAKING HEALTH BARS?

It was purely and simply that I used go out walking in the countryside with the family and because of me being a vegan and on a low-fat vegan diet, I couldn't find snack bars that were not nut based as I don't eat nuts and seeds now.

So I thought, you know what, I'm going to go home and make my own, so I did. I did some research online but I knew what ingredients I wanted in them so I made the bars in my kitchen for the family and they tasted great.

My brothers Keith and Ian said that I might be able to do something with this so I 'Googled' on the internet looking for a better home food processer and finally got in touch with a guy called Ken Parsons who had been in the snack production business for over 30 years and he replied and told me that he might be able to help me.

He told me that he could probably get the bars made up for me at a small factory in Cambridge to see how they would work out. We didn't actually get the bars made at that first factory because Ken thought the bars were going to be pretty good and we eventually got some private investors involved and it's all very corporate now with our own factory in Peterborough but going well and the bars are now called Frank Bars (www.thefrankfoodcompany.com).

Email Bluekipper at enquiries@bluekipper.com

Comments about Exclusive Interview With Everton Legend Neil Robinson
 
7
Decent player was Robbo and it was a shame Lyons wasn't a success at Town. Some good connections over the years between the clubs what with Don Donovan, Robbo,Lyons, Darracott, Andy King, Wilko, Johnny Oster and not forgetting Tom Casey, who managed Town in the 70's : )
Rob, Grimsby, 1:59 PM 17/06/2013
 
6
These interveiws with the less well known players are great. Remember Neil well.
Mike B, Surrey, 12:12 AM 17/06/2013
 
5
What a lovely piece, loved the bit about the Grimsby debut and the own goal - so funny.
Alan, Hinckley, 6:57 PM 16/06/2013
 
4
Great player - loved his energy and attitude - legend at the Vetch:)
Marco, Swansea, 6:45 PM 16/06/2013
 
3
Great article, very well respected at Swansea. Always gave a hundred percent....and yes, I remember the socks rolled down too! Will be looking up the Health Bars too...have a good season you guys.
Steve, Swansea, 6:30 PM 16/06/2013
 
2
Loved reading these articles about the old players. Well done and keep them coming.
Blue Peter, Ormskirk, 3:14 PM 16/06/2013
 
1
He was a decent player was Robo. Always remember him playing with his socks rolled down. Great interveiw
Paul, Fazak, 3:12 PM 16/06/2013
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