From North End to the West End

Michael Robinson playing for PNE
Michael Robinson playing for PNE
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You might consider switching former Preston North End prodigy Michael Robinson from centre forward to left wing a tactical mistake.

But the striker, who once held the record for a fee received for a Deepdale player when he was sold to Manchester City for £750,000, is forging a new career making thought-provoking documentaries.

Two of his films – first aired on his monthly sports programme on Spanish TV Informe Robinson – will have their UK premieres at Amnesty International UK’s football film festival in London in June.

Sidelines takes place from June 6-8, the weekend before the World Cup starts in Brazil, at Hackney Picturehouse, east London.

It will be a weekend of thought-provoking films, including the UK premiere of Eric Cantona’s new documentary about Brazil, Looking for Rio, lively Q&As and panel discussions, all with a football and human rights theme.

Robinson’s two documentaries show football in a different light, away from the money, the glory and the glamour of the World Cup:

The Children of the Habana

The 2013-2014 Premier League had more Spanish players than ever, but who were the first Spaniards to play professional football in England?

In the spring of 1937, with the Spanish Civil War raging all around them, a group of 4,000 unaccompanied child refugees sailed from Bilbao, on a re-commissioned cruise liner called the Habana, to safety in England.

They were told they would only be gone for three months, but many would never return to the country of their birth to live - see picture right.

With little formal schooling available to them in England, and that which was disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War two years later, the children – the boys at least – spent much of their time playing football.

It served them well. They didn’t know it at the time, but among the children on board the Habana were a handful who would go on to become to first Spaniards to sign for clubs in the English league – clubs such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, Coventry City, Southampton and Brentford – paving the way for the likes of Arteta, Silva, Torres and Enrique today.

The Hour of Africa

On the eve of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, The Hour of Africa takes us back to just before the last World Cup, in South Africa.

Journalist John Carlin joined Michael Robinson to explore football under Apartheid, and to follow its changing role in South African society since then.

It’s now 20 years since the end of Apartheid, and this film explores what having the World Cup meant for South Africa and South Africans in this young democracy.

Michael Robinson said: “I have really good memories of my time at Preston and Man City, and I’m thrilled that Informe Robinson is taking part in Amnesty International UK’s Sidelines football film festival.

“Both these documentaries show the important role that football played in three sad episodes of the 20th Century – the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

“They are stories of conflict, but also stories of the extraordinary solidarity of ordinary people wanting a better future for themselves and their society.

“Documentary film can be a really powerful way to look at important and untold stories.

“As a former footballer, I’d say there are few lenses that offer as fascinating view of the world as sport.”

Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen said: “We are delighted to be showing these two films at Sidelines.

“They are poignant stories that at times are shocking and sad but feature characters who demand our respect for their skill, tenacity and resilience against the odds.

“They show sport in a different light, which is what the Sidelines festival is all about.”

The screening of The Children of the Habana and The Hour of Africa hour will be followed by a Q&A with Informe Robinson reporter José Larraza, editor of football quarterly The Blizzard Jonathan Wilson and Amnesty’s Naomi Westland.

Beginning his professional career at Preston North End, Michael Robinson stayed at Deepdale between 1975 and 1979.

During this time he made 48 appearances, scoring 15 times.

These included three goals in 10 games in the promotion season to the old Division Two.

In 1979 he made the trip across Lancashire to play for Manchester City despite having no top-flight experience.

He was a losing FA Cup finalist with Brighton in 1983, pictured below.

He left for Spain with Osasuna in 1987, later becoming a TV pundit and accepting Spanish citizenship.

Strange but true: Michael Robinson played Doris ‘hermanastra fea’ (the ugly sister to us folks) in the Spanish versions of the Shrek movies