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Interviews

25 years on: Mark Robins interview

15 August 2017

On this day, 25 years ago, Canaries debutant Mark Robins came off the bench to score twice and help Norwich to a remarkable 4-2 comeback win over Arsenal on the opening of the first-ever Premier League season.

It kickstarted a rollercoaster ride which ended in City finishing third and qualifying for Europe. We spoke to Robins about that amazing season and more.

FIRST…

Game for Norwich It was a whirlwind. I’d only completed the transfer on the Friday morning so I’d had one training session with my team-mates before travelling down to London. I spoke to Mike Walker before the game and he told me that, due to all the preparation they’d done and me being so new to the group, I would start the game on the bench. We were two goals down by half-time and it could have been four. Shots were raining down and Bryan Gunn was making some good saves – it was a typical Arsenal performance. I came on in the second-half and we won a free-kick. Dave Phillips was on the ball and I managed to get my head to it and score with one of my first touches. That got us back into the game and from there we went on to score three more with myself getting the final goal. It was an unbelievable turnaround which gave us so much confidence. After the game everyone was obviously very happy. You don’t tend to go to Arsenal and come away having scored four goals but we managed to do that. On a personal note I was pleased to get on the scoresheet early on because, when you move clubs, you want to try and hit the ground running. I’d managed to do just that.

Game you played on TV The first one I can remember being live on TV would be an FA Cup Third Round tie at Nottingham Forest when I scored the winner for United. That went quite well. Nobody understood the greater significance of the goal at the time, only its importance in getting us through to the next round. The pressure was on because we weren’t doing very well in the league. I hadn’t scored a first-team goal until the week before that match, so getting two in as many matches gave me a lot of confidence.

Room-mate At United I used to room with Viv Anderson or Brian McClair. Sir Alex tended to match younger players up with the more experienced members of the squad. They’d kick me around the room and order me to make them cups of tea – it was pipe and slippers stuff! I remember getting ready for the game at Wimbledon and I wasn’t expecting to start. Viv was reading the newspaper and he put it down and told me to get myself ready because I might be starting. It showed Sir Alex’s man-management skills; how willing he was to communicate with senior players in the squad.

Overseas pre-season tour with Norwich We went to Grand Cayman at the end of the 1992-93 season and played a couple of games. While we were over there we watched Arsenal win the FA Cup final which meant that we’d qualified for Europe. It was very hot and there were plenty of thunderstorms but it was a beautiful place.

BEST…

Game you played in for Norwich In terms of the occasion it would have to be winning in Munich. It wasn’t a great game from a personal point of view as a I got injured, but when you look back on that it was a magnificent achievement. The lads played so well and Jerry Goss was flying – the goal that he scored was out of this world.

Player you played alongside at Norwich I had some great times at Norwich and there were some really good players there. Bryan Gunn was really steady at the back, he was a good goalkeeper and a big character in the dressing room. We had young players like Chris Sutton, Lee Power and Ruel Fox, and in the middle of the park we had Gary Megson and Ian Crook. Ian not only offered great experience but he was a magnificent passer of the ball. And the two full-backs, Mark Bowen and Ian Culverhouse, were really steady and good quality defenders. It was sad for us as players when things begun to turn as we wanted to build on that momentum. Our achievements were so well received and that success could have continued had the squad been added to, but it wasn’t to be unfortunately.

Player you played against for Norwich The United centre-halves, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, were outstanding, they complemented each other brilliantly. Gary was the more elegant-looking player whereas Brucey was more of a battering ram. Steve was more cultured than that, though, he’d often try and bring the ball down on his chest on the halfway line which would do the manager’s head in. But there were so many tough opponents during those days. Des Walker, because he was so quick, was difficult to get beyond and Neil Ruddock was another tough one to play against. The game was different then. The ball would be rolled into you and the centre-half could come through you without punishment. Me being 5ft 8in and something like 10 stone at the time meant that it was always a challenge to try and work how I was going to get away from these people. Later on in my career I’d worked out how to run off defenders, that’s the kind of thing that comes with experience.

Prank you saw played on a Norwich team-mate I didn’t see it but I heard that while Tim Sherwood was at the Club he went round to Chris Sutton’s place with a tractor full of manure and dumped it on his driveway. There were three main characters in the dressing room responsible for that kind of thing. Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox and Lee Power were like the three amigos, they were always scheming and conniving. Lee had a couple of old English sheep dogs named Ronnie and Reggie and converted his garage into a special room for them – he was a typical London lad.

Friend at Norwich We all tended to get on very well together as it was a young and exuberant bunch. Gary Megson was brilliant, I used to room with him during my time at Norwich. He’d write everything down and you could tell back then that he wanted to go into coaching. Gary had a great sense of humour and offered great experience, he was the glue that held everything together.

WORST…

Thing about being a footballer The worst thing in football is when you get injured and you can’t play – you’re being deprived of doing the thing that you love. I was out for about six months following the Bayern Munich game and it curtailed my development. I went for a header in the middle of the pitch and came down straight onto my right knee. I felt it go immediately.

Match you played in for Norwich The one that sticks out is when we lost 7-1 at Blackburn Rovers in 92-93. It was embarrassing and those experiences stick with you. Mike Walker, quite justifiably, could have come in and gone absolutely berserk, but he came in and said: ‘That was embarrassing. Let’s put it behind us and move onto the next game’. We played cards and talked about the game on the coach journey home. The trip back to Norwich was so long that we’d all got it out of our systems by the time we got home. We had some heavy beatings that season, but it tended to be the case that after a result like that we’d bounce back with a good run.  

Tackle you’ve been on the end of Every team had hard men, but the player that stands out for me is Alan McDonald, the Northern Irish centre-half from QPR. He used to come through the back of me all the time. I’d get straight balls rolled into me by Viv Anderson and I’d be looking over my shoulder thinking ‘I need to move this quickly’. Before I knew it Alan was right through the back of me, I was up in the air and had my shoulders on my neck. That was early on in my career, and I remember thinking I needed to change something; to try and come off in a different way and adapt my game. Moments like that are what you learn from.

Grab a copy of the matchday programme against QPR for plenty more stuff about that remarkable season!


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