Having signed for the Albion within weeks of each other in the summer of 1980 – Michael from Manchester City and myself from Rangers – it was inevitable that we would become good pals.
We were both heading south for the very first time, so we struck up an understanding on and off the pitch. We lived locally in Hove, just a short walk from the Goldstone, and would socialise together. In fact, we all did in those days and it was that bond, that team spirit, that proved so important when it came to a matchday.
We had cost the club in excess of £400,000 each, which was big money in those days, and with it came plenty of expectation from the Albion fans. We both knew that we had to hit the ground running and that’s what we did.
The fact that Robbo went on to score 22 goals in his first season speaks volumes for both his ability and his character. He had real confidence that he could perform at the highest level and I could see from our very first training session that he was a top-class player.
He had good strength and pace and a very good touch. He was powerful but not what you would call an aggressive centre-forward. He was a fair player and would always play the game with a smile on his face. He just loved the game, he loved football and despite scoring all those goals for the club, he was very, very modest.
We struck up a very good understanding on the pitch; as a midfielder I knew Robbo would make incisive, intelligent runs and if I was coming onto the play, he would read my runs and often play me in. He could read the game very well, he had good awareness of what was happening around him, and it’s no coincidence that a club as big as Liverpool would sign him eventually.
Michael’s last season with the Albion coincided with our famous FA Cup run and he will always be remembered for his winning goal in the semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury.
I had been pushed up front alongside him and remember being sent though by Jimmy Case. My initial shot was saved by Bob Bolder but having picked up the rebound and steadied myself to shoot, Michael has nicked the ball off my toe and tucked it home! There is an image of me shouting at him just as I’m about to shoot, but we had a laugh about it in the changing room afterwards. We were just delighted to have made it to Wembley on what was such a fantastic day for us all and one of the most memorable in the club’s history.
Obviously the final itself has been well documented, especially the chance I had late on in extra-time to win the game. With Michael bursting forward and having turned the United defence inside out, I was genuinely expecting him to shoot and had put myself in a position to pick up any possible rebound. Instead he squared to me and we all know what happened next.
In the changing room afterwards we managed to see the lighter side of what had happened. ‘I’ve played with you for three years and you never pass inside the penalty box, so I wasn’t expecting the ball,’ I said. He replied, ‘Well, I took the goal off you in the semi-final so I thought I’d give you one back!’ We had a little laugh about it, knowing we had another chance against Man United, and it was only after we’d lost the replay that the importance of the chance would sink in and be associated with me to this day.
As often happens in football, we lost contact when our paths headed in different directions but it didn’t surprise me one bit that he went on to become a media star – although I thought it would be in the UK rather than Spain.
He was always an intelligent guy off the pitch, someone you could converse with on a host of different subjects, and by all accounts his grasp of the Spanish language was excellent. It was so good in fact that TV producers apparently persuaded him to talk in a more broken tongue to endear him to the viewers, but he would prove extremely popular regardless, given his extensive knowledge and warm personality.
I first found out Robbo was ill through Steve Foster, who remained a close friend, and I know he fought his illness with the same courage and positivity which he showed on the pitch.
My thoughts are very much with his family and friends at this extremely sad time. We have lost a very special guy, a lovely person and someone I’m proud to have known both on and off the pitch. He was one of the boys, one of the good guys. Rest in peace Robbo.