The unmistakable voice of Spanish football

Michael Robinson pictured in 2017.
Michael Robinson pictured in 2017. / El Correo
  • a look at la liga

  • Michael Robinson, known in the UK as a European Cup winner but famous in Spain as a TV maverick, died on Tuesday at the age of 61 after a long battle with cancer

Cameras rolling, the luxury car pulls up to the kerb of one of Madrid’s swankiest hotels; the concierge opens the door to one of Spain’s most recognisable characters, who duly fills the night air with unprintable expletives.

The idea was to illustrate just how famous the former Liverpool footballer Michael Robinson had become in his adopted land as a television personality. Instead, he bulldozed into the lobby, shrugging off admirers like he used to bypass defenders.

The show he’d presented and produced that night on Canal+ hadn’t gone entirely to plan and this was a man who demanded perfection.

Soon we saw the amazing smile that lit up a million television screens, but his entrance gave us an insight into this larger-than-life personality who sadly died this week, aged 61.

In the UK he was known as a European Cup winning footballer at Liverpool, the inspiration behind Brighton’s journey to the 1983 FA Cup Final, a star at Preston, Manchester City, Queens Park Rangers and an Ireland international.

He was a remarkable man. He presented, produced and invented television shows. He filled the screen with his incredible personality. He spoke no Spanish when he arrived in the country but he soon had his own lexicon.

The transition started when he was finishing his playing career at Osasuna and was invited to commentate for Spanish television. Naturally enquiring and ambitious, he went onto revolutionise the way things were done in the media.

He wanted to bring the maverick approach of Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football to his new land. He spoke eloquently but from the heart and dismissed his English counterpart, Gary Lineker, as Mary Poppins.

It wasn’t just football. With his pal Seve Ballesteros he devised a golf competition, commentated on Rugby Union, inspired a cartoon show and was the voice of the Ugly Sister in Spanish Shrek.

Immensely proud of peaking his football career at Liverpool, it’s fitting that his final broadcast was at Anfield for the Atlético Madrid game in the Champions League.

An hour in his company was a greater education than an hour in the company of any other human I’ve ever met. It was very rare that he could fit everything he wanted to say, needed to say, into just sixty minutes though. That’s why he was so deep in thought the first time we met at that Madrid hotel; his director had dared to cut him off mid-sentence.

There will be many tributes from the football and television world but my wife, who never witnessed him in either field summed him up. “He’s the man who taught us the true meaning of a Spanish lunch.” Six hours was the record.

Close pal and former teammate Graeme Souness tells the story of autograph hunters chasing Michael and Seve Ballesteros down the street. “Six wanted Michael’s signature, only one wanted Seve’s.”

Remembered in the UK as a fantastic footballer, in Spain he was TV royalty.