Though I was hoping that he’d be given more time to turn the current run of results around, it wasn’t to be, and as of this afternoon, Robbo has left the club. There’ll be lots of opportunities to look forward, and talk about what happens next, but for now I just want to take a few minutes to look back on the past six years or so.
When Robbo took over as boss, he was not the fans favourite for the job. There were strong expectations that Winkie would be looking for another high profile appointment to follow Allen, Ince, DiMatteo and Ince. On the day that the negotiations were taking place, I was asked for my opinion by someone within the club who was trying to sound out what the fans reaction was likely to be if he was appointed. My response at the time was “if you’re looking for a safe pair of hands, then he’d be great, but if you’re looking for the dynamic guy who is going to get us promoted, then he’s not your man”. Six and a half years on, I’m comfortable that he turned out to be both.
It’s been an amazing journey – it really has. There’s so many fans at so many clubs that would have given their right arm to have had half of the experiences that we’ve had over the past six years, and it’s worth picking out a few highlights. We’ve had playoffs followed by playoffs followed by nearly playoffs then 10th then automatic promotion then relegation. The season we finished 10th was the closest we’ve ever come to the mid-table obscurity that is the bread and butter of the majority of football clubs.
We’ve had cup exploits that will live for many years in the hearts of everyone who was lucky enough to witness them. I’ve watched live football for more than 40 years, and I’ve never experienced excitement to match the Heel of God. Everything to do with that game, from the way Robbo approached the press activity in the run up to the match, to the respectful way that he dealt with the victory afterwards, it all showed the class of the man.
Walking in to the Man Utd match and seeing the stadium full will live with me forever, but what will last longer was the way that Robbo approached the game. No respect was shown to one of football’s greats – instead we went out and played OUR football, and god we were magnificent. That 4-0 is still talked about wherever I go in the world and the conversation turns to football, because the whole of the footballing world say what we could do that night.
And that wasn’t a one-off. The football that we’ve played at times has been sublime, and I feel genuinely privileged to have watched it. That’s been made particularly special where it’s played by players who have come through our academy, playing the style of football that Robbo insisted on. Dele Alli gets most of the headlines, but there are many more who’ve come through the ranks, and will continue to make their mark on the game in the years to come.
It’s the off-pitch stuff that matters most to me though, because that provides the foundation that as a club, we’re still building, and the work that Robinson has done there cannot be overestimated. When we have fans forums, he’s there, fielding questions from disgruntled fans, and providing honest responses. He does not have to do that, and most managers, at most clubs, would not do it. There are stories everywhere around the club about times when he’s gone over and above to help people, to work with charities and when he’s generally been a damn good guy. He’s immersed himself into the life of our community and he’s going to be sorely missed.
There are still other moments that will live for me for years – I’ve talked at length before about the MKDSA 10th anniversary do – see here if you need reminding, but there’s another moment that I look back on with great fondness. It was at a fans forum, in the run up to the Kingston match. I couldn’t be there in person, and I was listening at home on the radio, and there was a point where Robbo said “the players and I understand that, however important this game is to us, it’s not about us, it’s about the fans. We know how important this game is for you”. I was jumping round my kitchen shouting “he gets it – he actually fucking gets it!” and he genuinely did. He got it and he got us.
If it sounds like I’m trying to deify him, then rest assured that he’s driven me crazy at times. We started the ‘Different Class’ fanzine (copies still available if we can remember whose garage they’re slowly rotting in) precisely because we were pissed off with his repeated use of that phrase to describe things that we felt were somewhat less so. And he read it and laughed along anyway. We took the piss out of him regularly on the radio show, and we came so close to getting him into the studio so we could do it live on more than one occasion. He got it. And he got us.
And that’s where it leaves a sour taste in my mouth in terms of how it’s all come to an abrupt and unpleasant end. I don’t think there is a person alive who understands what it’s been like to be a supporter of this club over the past 12 years or so better than Karl Robinson. And I don’t believe there’s a person alive who’s put more into bringing us together as fans, and bringing the club and fanbase together as one.
For the record, I’d say that those of you who so publicly turned on Robbo have a lot to answer for. Whether he was still the right guy to lead us on is neither here nor there, and you are of course entitled to your opinion on that, as with anything else. What you’re not entitled to is to have those opinions respected, and you’re certainly not entitled to have them accepted without challenge.
If you think that the man who’s given everything he could give to this club for so long deserved to leave with boos ringing in his ears, then I’d suggest that you’re just plain wrong. I’m ashamed of us as a club and a fanbase for that, and I hope you feel some shame yourselves. Sadly, I expect that your deluded sense of entitlement will allow you to justify your actions, but please be aware that there’s a lot of people judging you for it right now. He deserved better. You tossers.
We’re so spoilt as a fanbase, and I hope we don’t find out too soon just how spoilt we’ve been. Things certainly weren’t going right on the pitch, but that is no excuse for the way that we’ve allowed it to come to an end. I’d like to think that Karl could have turned it round, but we’ll never know. For those of you who are so desperate for us to be accepted as a ‘proper’ club, congratulations – we’ve just taken another massive step towards being just like everyone else.
Come On You Dons!