Reporter Rosie Swarbrick spoke to Spain’s Mr Football, Michael Robinson, who set the ball rolling on his path to global stardom in Preston.
Michael Robinson is Spain’s top television pundit and his hit show Informe Robinson has cemented his place as part of the furniture in a country he has called home for the past 27 years.
Spaniards and Spanish speakers across the globe hang on to every word of the man who was forced to learn the language after arriving in Pamplona with just five Spanish words.
His voice is that well known that the former Liverpool and Brighton forward was picked out to play a Spanish-speaking comedic role in world-wide blockbuster movies Shrek 2 and 3.
As we speak Robinson is running up and down the stairs of his Spanish villa rushing to pack a case – in-between puffs of a cigar on his plush balcony – for an imminent flight to Brazil where he will present Spain’s World Cup coverage to the mainland and to parts of the USA.
His English is perfect but has a lilt of a Latin edge, it is hard to believe that the European Cup Winner and revered host was born in Leicester and schooled on the doorstep of North End’s fierce rivals in South Shore, Blackpool.
But the 55-year-old credits his stellar career to a priceless start amongst a host of footballing legends at Deepdale.
He said: “I was a lucky young man; I joined a club steeped in history with Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Alan Kelly around.
“It was the greatest baptism and apprenticeship at the hands of those great people
“I have every reason in the world to thank Preston. I lived in Blackpool, my mum and dad had a boarding house.
“I went to school in Blackpool, all of my friends lived in Blackpool and I was at PNE as an apprentice.
“It is only down the road but my parents would say ‘young Michael is playing for North End, he went to the enemy’.
“My main memory is of the bus station going to and from home. I used to spend most of my time in the grocery store across the road from the players entrance getting cans of pop for the older pros.”
After one season at Manchester City the Republic of Ireland international moved on to Brighton and Hove Albion, Liverpool and QPR before joining Spanish side Osasuna in 1987.
Robinson never expected to stay abroad but he was charmed by the relaxed culture and his honest approach was embraced by the passionate Spaniards.
He said: “Strangely enough the only O-level I got was a cse grade one in French.
“Now I have a home in Biarritz, I speak fluent Spanish but my French is quite patchy; I stumble and try and make myself understood, the languages are like a big cross word.
“My Italian is OK but I won’t be having a shot at Portuguese when I’m in Brazil.
“When I first came to Spain I was fascinated by the lifestyle.
“When I arrived all I knew was gracias, hola and adios like all majority of mortals.
“I was fortunate that for me it was easy because I was thrown in at the deep end.
“No one in the football club spoke English and in Pamplona the town restaurants, books and menus were all in Spanish and there was no internet back then.
“I was like a toy for the dressing room
“I was sent to the bar to ask for funny things – I was often sent to ask for ‘five sons of a prostitute’.
“Which is one of the most offensive words you can say out here but being the town centre forward they knew I was English and it was all taken in good humour.
“Living in a city where only two people spoke English so it was reasonably easier for me than it was for Sammy Lee.
“When Sammy arrived about six months later he came out and there was somebody to speak English to, he didn’t have to learn the language.
“When I retired in 1989 I went back to England but within two months I missed Spain more than I had missed England when I left.
“I was fortunate to get an opportunity to come back to Spain.
“The last few years, with the austerity measures and the economy, it has been different. I’ve been out here 27 years, living in an ideal world.
“A lot has changed, after Franco, children have all lived a better life than there parents.
“When I started playing at Osasuna a trip to Madrid in a car used to take eight hours, now it takes four hours. I’ve seen motorways and airports being built and life going forward.
“In Spain people don’t need money to enjoy themselves; they are happy with chat and a glass of wine.”
Robinson’s favourite footballing memory is from his time at Brighton and their romantic journey to contest the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley.
Brighton were relegated form the First Division at the end of the 82-83 season and Robinson moved on winning the treble in his first season at Liverpool.
He came off the bench for Kenny Dalglish in the 1984 European Cup Final victory over Roma in Rome.
But 30 years on Robinson says he had an overwhelming emotion of relief rather than jubilation.
He said: “I was lucky enough to go and win lots of things with Liverpool but my happiest moment does not have anything to do with winning anything.
“To play at Wembley that was normally reserved for cup finals and internationals.
“It was five weeks between the semi-final and the final.
“I was desperate to play, I was terrified of getting a cold and when I was crossing the road id look about five or six times.
“The final was most romantic time I ever had in football.
“In my first season at Liverpool won the treble, winning things with Liverpool was extremely satisfying
“As a kid I was a Liverpool fan but winning with Liverpool was a relief, we were the best team in the world and we were expected to win.
“The happiness of winning never really happened - it was mission accomplished.
“With Brighton it was the most humbling campaign, it wasn’t expected I felt happiness.
“I’m a perfectionist, I was a bad winner, I never really felt ecstasy winning playing football.”
Robinson turned down the opportunity to work for ITV and instead grabbed the chance to work as a commentator for Espanol.
He said: “It didn’t seem like a real job I moved to Eurosport in 1989 to cover the Italia 90 World Cup.”
“I moved to Canal + they made me a proposition that was absolutely impossible to refuse.
“Write the television show about football that you have always wanted to see but never got to see.
“They called me at my house in London and said by the way the football programme is going to go out on Monday at 8pm when everybody knows what has happened.
“I thought who on earth is going to want to know, ladies will have been kidnapped over the weekend and think the remote control is theirs.
“And then I come along and more football
“I love every minute, sometimes I feel like I’m locked in Toys R Us and I can play on the swings with no security stopping me.
“Informe Robinson tells stories about sport, not about winners or about losers it is about the generosity and humanity. The emotional stories through sport and we find heroes. The other week I interviewed a survivor of an Austrian concentration camp a man and a young kid saved by football.
“The man was a Spanish footballer exiled in the Spanish civil war and sent to Mauthausen-Gusen. The boy was with him and because he was a footballer they never went to the death camps.
“That little boy grew up and now he lives in Ibiza so we went to interview him for the show and told his story.”
Informe Robinson made two films that where shown Amnesty International’s UK film festival over the weekend – The Children of the Habana and The Hour of Africa.
Robinson said: “We are trying to tell a human, cultural story through football in the Amnesty international films.
“The Habana arrived in Southampton in 1937 it was a boat full of Spanish kids fleeing the civil war and it had the first seven Spanish footballers that played professionally in Britian.
“One even went back to Spain and played for Barcelona.”
Away from sport Robinson lent his voice to animated blockbuster films Shrek 2 and 3 playing the role of Doris, who Jonathan Ross voiced in the English version.
Robinson described the incredible experience of working alongside good friend Antonio Banderas.
He said: “It was a hell of a kick, I was in Shrek Two and Three.
“I was told I would play Doris and so I was practising this woman’s voice.
“In one room Antonio Banderas was sword fighting with the air and voicing Puss in Boots.”
He said: “I know him quite well and he came out whilst I was making coffee in the studio and I said, ‘Tony what do you think of this voice?’
“He laughed and said I’d need to talk to the director as it wouldn’t be necessary...
“The director said, you are a transvestite, you run the bar. You don’t need a woman’s voice.
“When people hear your voice coming through Doris it will be hilarious.
“And then in the next Shrek I became a Princess in the court of Princess Fiona. It was such a kick to see this character moving on the screen coming to life with your voice.”
Robinson believes there is a massive difference between English and Spanish football.
He said: “As far as football is concerned the only thing they have in common is the pitch is the same size
“In Spain emphasis on skill and the artistic – aesthetics are important.
“I’ve been at the Bernabeu and seen Real booed off for a 4-0 win.
“And I’ve seen them applauded off to a sanding ovation for a 2-2 draw after fighting back from two down and nearly winning a game 3-2 – it is the style and manner of the performance, not the result.
“Out here football is an excuse to be happy – the way the game is played and the manner of the performance is what matters to them.
“It is an artistic expression.
“Whereas England has a Victorian attitude. They want someone from the trenches, the salt of the earth, who will kick people, is tough and hard working.
“The Spanish save their money up to go to football and want to watch a work of art.”
Robinson tries not to mix business and pleasure but mentored Steve McManaman when he signed for Real Madrid in 1999.
He said: “I interviewed Steven some years earlier; I first met him on an extremely sad day.
“He apologised for arriving at an interview 10 minutes late; his mother had jut died, he is an absolute gentleman.
“When I heard he came over my wife helped his wife adjust.
“Other than Steven I don’t have major relationships with the soccer players.
“Some times I have to criticise them and I try to be as professional as possible.”
“It used to be a timid nation and the process of coming out of the shell is being evoked by sport – sport has been the main reason.”