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Here’s to you, Mr Robinson

Perhaps we can get Joe DiMaggio to change sports and help us out? And yes, I know he’s been dead since 1999…

It seems a yearly occurence now to write these sort of tributes, for a departing manager.

While it was always a shock to do one of these in the days of NA, and TB, they almost seem formulaic to write.

Needless to say, these tributes start off with how they used to be at Wimbledon, then they came back.

Highs, lows, the ultimate high that defines their time with us, before eventual collapse and the P45 soon afterwards.

Add in a hope-they’ll-be-welcomed-back ending, and you have the typical SW19 eulogy of an AFCW managerial career.

To nobody’s surprise, the tribute to Mark “Robbo” Robinson goes along exactly those same lines.

We all know the stats, the desolation that were the final weeks, and yes – there’s a genuine sadness than many recently departed managers had.

MR himself is the first AFCW manager who actually was with the club in the AFCW era.

His tenure with us started in 2004, practically unheralded as an academy coach – at least, what passed off for it back then.

So many players went in and out, that he was just another name in the programme.

His work with the youth, turning it from an afterthought into something worthy of the name (along with others, of course) will be his lasting legacy with us.

Even so, it went under the radar until 2015/16.

If you were to ask people their first memory of Mark Robinson, it would be that FA Youth Cup run in 2015/16, where we beat Watford and most memorably Newcastle at SJP.

Many sat up and took notice after we won on penalties at Vicarage Road, in December 2015.

It took one fateful evening in Tyneside to push him – and the youngsters – into the collective AFCW consciousness.

Your editor was there that evening, though I’ve never thought I would ever fly to watch a game. Let alone an FAYC one.

Victory at SJP almost felt like the first team winning, which given how we were doing under NA seemed apt.

True, we ended up losing to Chelski at KM, in front of a 3,455 figure that some L2 sides would kill for.

But not only did it make people sit up and pay attention to our youngsters, it also made us realise we had a decent Academy manager on our hands.

We didn’t really mind that Robbo was ex-Chelsea, to the point that he even was a tour guide at Stamford Bridge.

He did things differently, it had to be said. Getting the youngsters at St James’ Park to write thank-you letters to those on the supporters coach was one thing.

Getting kudos for making them clean the dressing room afterwards was another.

And when you had Peter Beardsley of all people coming down to praise your work, you knew he had something.

It was inevitable that the gap between our youth system and first team would eventually close, and he started doing more with Ardley.

I can’t quite remember his time under NA, but from memory it seemed to sour.

My one abiding memory of MR under the Ardley era was seeing him among the supporters in that horrible bar at KM, watching a live feed of us shitting the bed at Plymouth.

He was doing a fair bit of texting towards the end, and afterwards. To whom we’ll never know, nor what his conclusions were.

But I bet he was as miffed as anyone else.

Robbo was always there though, as that background figure who everyone knew was about.

People always wanted him to do well, and he moved upwards when Walter came along.

He played more of a part with the loans, and when Glyn Hodges took over he became ever more part of the team.

And when he left the scene, cometh the hour…

A new guy in charge has to start off on the right foot, and as interim manager MR managed to do exactly that.

It was Oxford away, in the Mario Pizza Cup, and he summed up how things had become under GH:

“Before Glyn brought me closer to the first-team we used to go out in tracksuits and players used to throw them on the floor.

We had ‘Rocket’, who lives and breathes this club, going around picking up tracksuits. These are the sort of things that have to change at this football club.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen at the best: you are a family, you are together, and you fight for each other.

You sit in the dressing room, it doesn’t have to be noisy because you look left and right and you know that you have characters who will perform.

These are things that people think, ‘what’s it got to do with football?’ It has everything to do with football because we conceded tonight because of a lack of personality and character.”

He practically got the job there and then.

As he’s cruelly found this week, it’s a results based business. But when he took over, things changed for the better.

A previously moribund squad, heads dropping and all, looked much different.

Part of his approach was man-mangement, a “people person” if you will. Especially handy as he had a life outside football.

But we also developed quickly a spine, which ultimately saved our League One status.

It definitely showed with the pressure games against Northampton, where we won with an 89th Piggy winner and a 95th minute Tzanev penalty save.

I was on the A40 heading into London when that went on. I still haven’t recovered.

We stayed up in 2020/21 because of those kind of victories, under MR. His lack of first-team experience didn’t seem to matter at that stage.

Granted, Easter was a set-back, and coming home on Easter Monday to see the Bulgarian Kiwi fuck up to let Fleetwood win was heart-sinking.

Robbo changed to Palmer and Piggy up top, and we were rewarded with 5-1 at t’Stanley, 4-1 vs Swindon, defeating Oxford and – perhaps the coup de gras – 3-3 against Rochdale.

Saying a draw against fellow relegation candiates at home is a high point may sound weird.

But that took bottle, especially with the latest of late equalisers, and we had it in spades.

MR actually managed to do the impossible, by making the final fixture against Lincoln meaningless. Never has forgetting a game is on been so good.

He deserved his shot at the 2021/22 season. We were back home, and he had a plan…

Many things will be written about this season, how we got so much so wrong.

In hindsight, the biggest mistake we made with MR was thinking he wasn’t a youth coach in his mid-50s taking over a men’s team properly for the first time.

The euphoria of staying up, coupled with going home, made us – and MR himself – lose focus of what was what.

It’s apparently true that Robbo wanted an experienced guy next to him in the dugout, but the club decided otherwise.

If they had obliged, he may well be with us as Head Coach today.

MR’s plan about the “process” really sounded good on paper, especially as it was inspired by no less than Eddie Jones of England rugby.

You can go back and look at some of the stuff that was typed on the OS around the close season of 2021. It’s cringeworthy.

We marvelled that he was going to Premier League clubs and making proper pitches for their players.

With los tres Wardrobeles still in the back of our minds, we nodded with approval when he pushed for the youngest squad in the Football League.

The key under him was innovation. Set pieces coaches, using Football Manager as a scouting tool, and the “Finishers Coach” as well.

Robbo had a plan, and we were going to benefit from it.

Which made the actual football, and the pre-seasons a little, er, underwhelming.

We played seven of them, won just one (at Met Police), scored three goals, and managed to lose against Scunthorpe, Woking and Dartford.

You didn’t like to say anything, but it wasn’t quite what was on the ticket.

As a former manager once said, pre-season is solely about fitness, and when we beat Doncaster first game of the season it didn’t matter.

That glorious 3-3 at home to Bolton, followed by a number of ties where we might have actually been on the verge of something good set the scene.

We looked the part at Charlton in the Carabao Cup, where I had my one and only professional dealing with MR.

I was more impressed with him than I was with GH, put it that way.

We will mention Oxford at home. We can also mention the Ipswich equaliser, or the very late winner at Morecambe.

There were blips, of course. We were ultra-jammy at Northampton in the Carabao Cup.

While we won at Lincoln there was the FAC game against Guiseley. Stop shuddering.

And there was Cheltenham, again in the FAC, where we were 4-1 up and nearly ended up being taken to extra time.

Our decline in form coincided with Ollie Palmer getting injured, and his return clearly lifted us.

For MR, he did seem to take criticism of the “Process” a bit personally, which may explain the OS interview in November 2021.

Draw your own conclusions.

We appeared to find our mojo again, but the final high of the Mark Robinson tenure came in four days in early December.

Accrington was one of those nights, and in a good way. We were pretty good, those there were having a great time, and you headed home thinking we were on the right path again.

Being pegged back at Wycombe in the ninety-something minute hurt, but it seemed like Robbo had found the winning formula and we were back on track.

Those who left Adams Park that day will now wonder why the hell his time ended four months later.

Covid didn’t help, it put a major dent in our momentum. But what happened to MR also happened to Glyn Hodges too.

The beginning of the end happened soon after Xmas, ironically at the venue where Robbo first staked his claim to be manager.

It could have easily been five or six to Oxford that evening.

It’s hard to think why, even with some OKish results in January (we’ll forget Boreham Wood) it just fell apart so quickly.

James Simmonds going back to Stamford Bridge changed things, but even without that, the “Process” was starting to look shaky.

The “Finishers Coach” was less an innovation and more of a gimmick that wasn’t working.

Many blame MR’s time in charge failing because of the sale of Ollie Palmer. It’s a massive reason, but it’s not the reason, if you’re searching for one.

Certainly, Robbo’s time never properly recovered after that, especially as it took a week to get in Cosgrove.

Looking back, maybe MR was a bit too grateful being in charge at AFCW.

A lot of managers would have kicked off big time at the decision makers for pulling the rug out from under them.

But our now ex-Head Coach almost seemed passive. He didn’t want to sell him, but if he had been more forceful he might have got his wish.

If there is a single reason why MR looked on top of the world in early December, and was down the job centre by the end of March, it’s the following.

We lost our momentum with the December postponements, and he just didn’t know how to get it back.

Remember I said earlier that the biggest failing was forgetting MR was mid-50s and had never managed a professional men’s side before?

Teams have got it back before, and it’s not impossible for a side to return to form.

Yet to reboot things after such a layoff needs a certain type of managerial talent. The better managers have that, the inferior ones don’t.

Robbo may have had the “Process”, the youth development background, the support of the decision makers, and as many ideas as a philisophy department at the nearest university.

But he just didn’t have the one vital skill he needed most of all.

We muddled about a bit, and even got a credible draw against Sunderland. But after that, it just became terminal.

The writing on the wall was there against Doncaster. To go 2-0 at home over a team worse than you should see victory.

That we drew 2-2, and almost lost at the end (wonder if Lee Brown wish he’d done that goal-line clearance now?) said it all.

At the time of writing, that was the last time we got a point. Let alone a win.

We were effectively an under-23 setup in a professional football division, and it was showing.

MR himself seemed to know it, with his post-game interviews becoming less in tune with reality with each game.

A marked contrast to his first one at Oxford, where more than a truth bomb got dropped.

The club itself was very keen to keep championing him, there was a video of him with a couple of the DTB big cheeses trying to sell the “Process” again.

Somehow though, it seemed to antagonise more and more people. It was as though the amount of games without a win didn’t matter to AFCW.

Was it a case of Emperor’s New Clothes, as somebody a month before his departure suggested?

Quite possibly, it was.

When outside parties are pointing out the obvious, then you know you’re in major trouble.

This devastating critique from a Lincoln fan read less like a match report and more like a call for an intervention

Plenty in the club still supported MR (I’ll never forget the reaction from one party after the final whistle at Plymouth, and I’ll leave it at that).

The final week of Robbo’s tenure felt like the worst. Losing to Cheltenham despite being 1-0 up by 80 minutes hurt.

The public support on the OS for him just before Cambridge will long be used against the decision makers, and justifiably so.

We lost that game, the penny dropped, and Robbo reportedly said very little in the dressing room afterwards, because he had nothing to say.

This Monday just gone, his long association with AFC Wimbledon ended.

A lot of it wasn’t his fault. Selling OP was the obvious one, not backing him with more transfer funds and more experience next to him was another.

But he was well and truly part of the naivety that may well put us in League Two next season.

The “Process” may have been a noble idea on paper, but when you’re a poor-paying club in League One, you need much more pragmatism.

In the days of EPPP, ever higher wages for ever more ordinary players, and L1 sides getting in Championship level managers, we took the wrong approach under MR after all.

We’ll eventually recover, but 2021/22 could be the watershed season.

Right now, his association with us will be tainted with probable relegation, but like other managers before him – history will be kind to Mark Robinson.

We probably wouldn’t have a youth development worthy of the name without him.

Nor would we have the loans setup (outwards) that has helped the likes of Zach Robinson this season alone.

He’s certainly responsible for us going back home as a League One side, and while his “Process” was flawed – it was at least an attempt to do something different.

Though ironically by trying it, it may force the club to go back to basics again.

The usual hope-he-can-come-back-to-Plough-Lane platitiudes apply here, and this time round it’s probably more genuine than most.

Even in his departure, there’s still quite a few who think he should have stuck around.

It would have been a very poor decision, football wise, but it illustrated how many hold him in high regard even now.

One thing though – I’m never going to listen to “Rocking All Over The World” in the same way again…

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