Vital Manchester City exclusive: Matthew Robinson has played with and against the very best within the English Football League pyramid and now he tells us his story.
Position: Left Back
Previous Clubs: Southampton, Portsmouth, Reading, Oxford United, Forest Green Rovers and Salisbury City.
In the beginning
I played professional football for 16 years and I still play semi-professionally now. To say the games changed over the years is an understatement and in the years I was involved in the game I have seen a lot of changes.
When you leave school to join your first pro club it is a massive gamble. I don’t believe that any young lad actually really thinks about it in that way, but at my wise old age I realise just what a chance you are taking with your life.
You sign apprenticeship forms for a two-year period, and in that time you have to convince the management that you are worthy of the holy grail and that first pro contract. If you look at it in a different way, you are leaving school and moving away from your mates and family – you are giving up the chance of an academic career to have a pop at the big time, and if you look at the stats not many get that chance at that age.
Making the grade
I couldn’t imagine what those lads must have felt like when after the two years they were told that they had not made the grade. I do remember that we were all sat in a big room and then one by one we were called into the office to be faced by the manager Ian Branfoot and the youth team manager Dave Merrington to be given the news.
I remember one lad who I was convinced would have been offered a contract coming out in floods of tears and I just thought to myself I haven’t done it.
For those two years you are worked to the bone – your emotions are played with and your body and mind are pushed to the limit. Whoever thought that being a young footballer at that time was a cushdy little number were very much mistaken. The average day in the live of a young apprentice was an early morning, wolfing down your breakfast at your digs and bolting it out the door to get the early bus into town. You were supplied with a bus pass free food and accommodation and you were paid the YTS wage which in those days was about £27 a week.
Once you arrived at the ground it was straight into your kit and into the boot-room. As an apprentice you were given two pros to look after and basically bow to there every need. If they asked you to jump you said how high. It was just pot luck who you were given and how awkward they were. I was given Barry Horne, who was an absolute gentleman and who looked after me with friendly advice and was not at all awkward whatsoever. All I had to make sure was that his boots were spotless and slightly damp ready for training. I also had Nicky Banger who was quite young himself and had not long signed pro forms himself, so knew what I was going through.
Some lads weren’t as lucky as yours truly and had boots thrown at them and were called every name under the sun if they so much as breathed in the wrong direction.
Finding my feet
I was a quiet lad and just wanted to find my feet. I remember learning in my early days that you had to show the senior players respect or you wouldn’t last two minutes. I recall entering into the first team changing room and being told in no uncertain terms I wasn’t welcome.‘Get the f*** out of here, who the f*** do you think you are? You knock when you come in here’. Needless to say I didn’t go in there again uninvited.
Once you had sorted the boots and kit out it was onto the mini bus and the journey to the training ground to lay the kit out for the pros. We were all in charge of different jobs – the balls being cleaned and pumped up to the right pressure, the bibs being cleaned and a pot of tea being made for the staff and players, my least favourite job. I had never as much as boiled a kettle than make a massive pot of tea for 24 senior footballers. The first one I made I took in, put it on the table and prayed that it tasted like tea.
What the f***
I left the room only for Mickey Adams to scream out the door, ‘Who the ***k made this tea? Get back in here’. The tea was then shoved back in my hand and I was told to go and make a decent pot. People will probably say that this sounds a bit like bullying, but this was all part of the experience and character building and I know now that those big characters in the side at that time were actually trying to help us to become that bit mentally tougher and that was how they were brought up in their careers.
I soon learned that mental toughness was 70% of the battle and the ability counted for nothing if you didn`t have the mental strength to use it.
On one of my first days at the club I remember being called into the medical room and looking up and seen a young Alan Shearer and Neil Ruddock lying on the medical beds getting massaged and Shearer saying to me, ‘We need a tin of tartan paint to paint the medical room, can you go and sort it out’. Without thinking to much (doh) I went still a little bit star struck and going off thinking where can I get tartan paint from. It must have taken me about 15 minutes of looking around before realising that I had been stitched up.
This was a big part of football and the banter was always flowing. The one thing I can say about being a footballer is that you never really grow up and there was always something to laugh at or a joke to be played.
To read part 2, click here.