This article was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme during the 2017/18 season. Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my interview with Lee up on my website.
Lee Robinson has been in superb form since he joined the Pars, with the goalkeeper feeling that his career starts now. The 31-year old Englishman spoke with Jordan Burt about the struggles he has faced over the course of his professional career and how he has renewed ambition to pass his experiences on to the next generation of goalkeepers.
Like most footballers, sport was a mainstay of Lee’s childhood with the beautiful game at the forefront of the Sunderland-born shot-stopper’s mind.
“As far back as I can remember, I have played football. I used to play in goals as well as outfield when I was younger, before I started to focus on goalkeeping more specifically when I was 12 or 13. I enjoyed playing sports like cricket and tennis as well as doing things like athletics at school. For me, however, football was the one I was really interested in.
Running, jumping, catching and kicking balls…that is all I have really ever done! That is one thing I would say to young kids right now though: don’t just play football. Sports like tennis help with some of the specific movements that you have to do. I play quite a lot of tennis and it is something that can definitely benefit you when you are training as a goalkeeper.”
Robinson began his senior career at Rangers in 2004.
“I got released from Sunderland for being too small when I was 12 and I didn’t really want to play football seriously anymore and I was like that for the next few years. I had a couple of opportunities, but I wasn’t bothered. When I was 16, Sheffield United asked me to sign, but then Rangers came in for me. I was meant to be going to Celtic initially, but I ended up at Ibrox in the end!
I have played the same way since I was 12 – I enjoy catching crosses, which I would say is my best attribute. I have always been quick as well so I have always wanted to be involved in the game. I remember, though, that when I joined Rangers the goalie coach told me to stay back because he felt I was playing far too high up. It has now become a big thing, but for me, it was just normal.”
Robinson made one appearance for the Gers top team, coming on as a substitute in a match at Tynecastle in 2006.
“I stayed at sports college for an extra year when I was 16 instead of moving away to a club, so to then join Rangers, it was a massive step-up for me. To be on the bench for Rangers at 17, within the space of 8 or 9 months after joining, it helped me go on and have a great couple of years there. When I look back now, I don’t feel I worked as hard as I could have done. That is why I want to work with young goalies now and to let them know that when you are 16, 17, 18 you should be working extra each day on every part of your game. Education is also a massive part too, which I didn’t really take part in either, when I probably should have. Sometimes I do wonder if I should have started off at a so-called lesser club as I might have been given a chance earlier. I didn’t really get a taste of first-team football until I was 21 when I moved on loan to Morton and that wasn’t a great experience. Young goalies, even at 16 or 17, need to be out playing competitively these days, at any level, as long as there is pressure and the game means something.
I had been away with the first team throughout the season but didn’t make the match day squad until the day of my debut. Funnily enough, the goalkeeper at Rangers that day was Ronald Waterreus and he joked with me before the game that he was going to get injured and I’d come on, and, ironically, he did! I had quite a bit to do in the 15 or so minutes I played and that was great. I thought better things were to come, but in actual fact it was probably the beginning of the decline of my Rangers career.
I wasn’t ready to play for them consistently at that time, but you don’t think that way when you are that age. It made me realise I needed to go out on loan and make mistakes.The following season I was on the bench a lot of the time – it was a really good experience, especially being involved in the European matches. Paul Le Guen liked the way I played and gave me a 3-year contract. I had a few bad years following that and I wish I had someone then like myself now, to provide me with some advice.”
Lee didn’t make any first-team appearances before he joined Greenock Morton in the summer of 2007.
“You don’t actually realise how hostile it is at Cappielow. They had a good crowd back then and I didn’t realise how hard it was going to be. I started off well, in my first few games, but, we didn’t have a great team so we began to struggle. Then I broke my finger before coming back in near the end of the season.
Davie Irons, the manager back then, said I played a massive part in them staying in the league, but I didn’t look at it like that at the time: I viewed it as if I had failed. Even though I had played well, my feelings were I shouldn’t be going out on loan and failing, but now I realise I was sent there to make these mistakes and learn; I don’t think it had the desired effect on me, to be honest. I should have just taken each game at a time and taken something away from all those experiences, whether they were good or bad. I shouldn’t have got too high or too low, but, I felt that if I couldn’t play well with Morton then Rangers won’t want me either.”
Rangers sent Robinson out on loan the following season, firstly to St Johnstone and then Queen of the South.
“I wasn’t having a particularly good time with Rangers at this point. The goalkeeping coach seemed to want me out the way and I was told I was going to St Johnstone to play as Alan Main was struggling with an injury, but he was fine and wasn’t making mistakes, so there was no need to change the goalie. They were top of the league and I was only there for around a month before I realised I wasn’t needed. They asked me to stay for another couple of months but I decided it was best to go back to Rangers, try to find another loan move and go to a club where I knew I was going to play.
Gordan Chisholm had tried to get me on loan a few times before with Queen of the South; he told me he really liked what he saw in me and I went there and had a good couple of months.”
Robinson was released in the summer of 2009 and joined Kilmarnock.
“I went back to Rangers at the end of my loan which was also the end of my contract: I didn’t want to move to Kilmarnock to be honest, I tried to put obstacles in the way. But that’s what happens when you get released. It can destroy your love for football.
I played one match, in which I got man of the match, and that is all I played that term. I knew at the time it wasn’t the right thing to do.
Then I went back to Queen of the South as one of their goalies got injured. They had a keeper there already that they were happy with, so I said I would only join them if I got to play in the cup games. I got a couple of man of the match awards on our way to the Final of the Challenge Cup. I did quite well and played a big part in getting them to the final, but it was cancelled in the November and rescheduled for March, whereas I left in the January.”
After taking 5 months away from football, Robinson signed on once more with the Dumfries club.
“I was playing tennis a lot: I couldn’t really afford to do it, but I think it was what I needed. Allan Johnston – who was a player there at the time – asked me if I would come in and train with them for a few days. Gus MacPherson was the manager and despite getting player of the season for them that year, I really wasn’t happy with how I played overall. Allan then got the job and we had a brilliant season in League One; we won it by miles, I had a really good season where I hardly let any goals in. We had a great run in the cups, too, where we beat some good sides such as Hibs as well as Rangers. We had a great year together.”
Despite picking up the SFL Goalkeeper of the Year award, as well as being named in the PFA League One Team of the Year, Lee decided to move abroad for his next adventure.
“It worked out well in the end as we had a great season where we hardly lost a game and I played really consistently too. It wasn’t easy going to these hard places, up north and everything, but I wouldn’t change anything.
The season before was my first full season of playing consistently and I went into that campaign and played every match. There are some tough games in that league, especially if you have to travel to a side like Arbroath when it is a windy, rainy, horrible day. But we had a good team and Nicky [Clark] was firing in the goals each week which helped us: it was positive all round. We never had two defeats in a row all term. I got man of the match in the Challenge Cup Final that year too, as we won on penalties.
Then I joined Ostersunds in Sweden…people tell me it was the wrong choice, it wasn’t. It was the right club at the wrong time and my 4 months there were very difficult. I knew at the time Ostersunds were going places and they have done really well. People say I was stupid moving when I could have played with numerous teams in Scotland, but I don’t think it was, look at them now, competing in the Europa League superbly this season until they were knocked out by Arsenal. Their manager was really good and he wanted the keeper to play out from the back and have the ball at his feet: I think that would have been a really good move for me. It was a perfect club, but the wrong time for me. I played two matches, then I got unwell early on and I didn’t play, which made the stay across there such a hard few months.”
Kirkcaldy was Robinson’s next destination but that move also didn’t pan out the way the Englishman hoped.
I only went to Raith because they had a big cup final to play, against Rangers. I felt it’d be great to play against them and that was the main reason I went. I wasn’t on much money and I can honestly say it was probably the worst few months of my career. I had a tough time in Sweden, but I honestly couldn’t wait til the season finished when I was at Raith: don’t get me wrong, if I had enjoyed my time at Stark’s Park I would have stayed longer, but I hated it.”
Robinson moved back to Rangers the following year, providing competition for Cammy Bell under Ally McCoist, with the goalkeeper making 9 appearances for the Gers that campaign.
“It was an easy decision to go back there and I felt I did well; I probably would have stayed, but new owners came in, a new chairman and a new manager, with everyone out of contract being let go. That was disappointing as I felt I worked hard and played well, so that was certainly a tough one to take.
Signing on with another Championship club in Scotland, Queen of the South, suited me. I had been out the game, and I was delighted to be offered a 2-year deal. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way I had planned with me leaving prematurely. The whole team and myself started last season brilliantly before we had a couple of bad results. Then they got rid of the manager. It was a bad time again for me and I was just desperate to leave. I told the manager [Gary Naysmith] at the end of last season that if I was ever going to do anything, it was going to be now. I said to him “I think you are going to have a new goalkeeper next year” before they then waited until the transfer window had shut in the summer before releasing me, so, I was unable to sign for anyone until January.”
In the end, things have worked out great for me. I have now joined a better club and we are set to finish above them in the league this year, too.”
“I knew it was a proper club; it is a Premiership club, probably one of the biggest sides in Scotland. Since coming here, my initial feelings have been proven correct. It is always good to have a manager who is positive. If you have someone in charge who wants you to get the ball and then try and start things, compared to someone who is worried about making mistakes, then it helps and that was the main reason for me choosing to sign for Dunfermline.
I had to leave my family to travel up to Scotland on New Year’s Eve so I could train with the team on New Year’s Day. Dunfermline are one of just a few clubs for whom I would have made that decision. It has all worked out for the best in the end. I didn’t know how big a rivalry it was with Falkirk until the day of the match. I had heard a few stories about what had gone on with Deano [Dean Shiels] in the previous match, but, it really hit home when the police came in to speak to us all before the match and let us know the situation. I had been doing my own stuff after I left Queen of the South, but, I hadn’t done anything in the 3 weeks prior to signing on. It was my first game in 8 months, but, nobody really cares about that, in reality, do they? If you go in as a goalkeeper and have a bad game, nobody bothers that you haven’t played or trained properly in a long time, people just expect you to do well, so, you have to be ready to do your job. It was a really tough game to come into but I felt I couldn’t have had a better start! It’s been really tough on Sean [Murdoch] as I know how well he’s done for the club, but he’s been great with me, which has helped me settle in so quickly.”
In the months leading up to Lee’s switch to East End Park, the shot-stopper, alongside his brothers Mark and Shaun, has created a company called The Modern Day Goalkeeper, which he hopes can provide young keepers a platform to express themselves in a positive light at the beginning of their careers.
“After I left Rangers, I had a year out and it was the April of that year I started it up. I have always wanted to do something – I don’t like to say coaching, but, certainly something in which I can help young goalkeepers. It was perfect, and it has grown into something now which could be great and have a big impact on young keepers. As I have said already, I wish when I was 19 I had someone like myself and The Modern Day Goalkeeper company to help me out and be there for myself and give me some advice. We just want goalkeepers to play more positively rather than thinking they always have to play the percentages. I want them to play higher up and get involved; I feel they should be almost like an eleventh outfield player, where they can start attacks, be athletic, quick and playing in a positive way: it is great to see the reaction to it, so far.
We have had support from top professionals, Barcelona, but, also, kids from all around the world who have contacted us to say that our videos have made goalkeeping more interesting and more fashionable. I used to love Fabien Barthez, who was so naturally talented. He is always remembered for one bad season at Manchester United, but, he had the exact same issue as me, in terms of his height. We are both 5’10” and that is difficult. You have to be exceptional to do anything in the game as a goalkeeper, when you are smaller. These days you hear people saying they are playing like Manuel Neuer, who has a similar style. It is funny that it has now became fashionable but I have been playing that way since I was 12-years old. If I can get players to play now, how I have then that’d be great; my biggest problem was the pressure and thinking about things too much.”
Sky Sports programme Soccer AM have featured Lee and The Modern Day Goalkeeper on their show throughout season 2017/18 and this is something which highlights that there is genuine interest in what he is trying to achieve.
“I should have done so much better in my own career: up until this season, I have always felt as if I have under-achieved because I got nowhere near where I was expected to. I know exactly why I haven’t reached the levels I should have, but hopefully now, aged 31, this is the beginning of my career, and alongside that, I have the opportunity to help young kids learn because I have so much advice to give, Working daily with lads like Cammy Gill and Craig Burt is great; they are both doing really well and have a lot of potential.”
We have done everything so far with an iPhone and a GoPro. We have posted videos and tips about goalkeeping technique and we have done that without a lot of money or equipment. I think it can go a lot bigger – we currently have 107,000 followers without spending a lot of time on it. We have spoken with a lot of top goalkeepers from all over the world; players like Pepe Reina and Jesper Cillesen are following us and it is nice to speak with these guys and to hear them say they appreciate the videos regarding the techniques I use. We have also had a lot of big companies on social media, such as SportBible, who have all been interested in working with us, as some of our videos have accumulated over 20 million views across different platforms!”