27 Aug 2013
In - Football

Here, Independent on Sunday columnist and author of The Nowhere Men, Mike Calvin, gives five reasons why Millwall's long-serving skipper Paul Robinson should be considered the greatest of all the great Football League captains...

1. He gets it
Millwall are tough to play for, even harder to play against. I've seen opposing teams lose matches in the tunnel at the Den; their body language betrays their anxiety. Equally, I've seen home players fail because they don't understand the mentality of the fans. As Robbo says: "Millwall is about giving everything for the shirt. Our fans demand honesty. Week in, week out, I will always give them what they want, which is everything. That is what they would give, if they had a chance to wear the shirt. People are tested out before they are accepted. It takes a while, but the bonds are there for life."

2. Loyalty
As a boy, Robbo alternated between watching Arsenal and Barnet. His father refused to allow him to watch games against Millwall, because of the club's reputation. "There was this perception of the club, almost a fear of it," he remembers. "My dad went along with the prevailing view of Millwall. Ironic, isn't it, given that I grew up to be captain?" Robbo is that rarity, a one-club man. He has made 334 appearances in a decade, and still believes in old-school values, such as apprentices cleaning the boots of the pros they hope to emulate.

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3. More than a club
Robbo is a brilliant ambassador for a club with a one-dimensional reputation. His commitment to community projects, such as Millwall's link to a local food bank, is not superficial PR posturing. He is particularly affected by hospital visits: "It humbles you every time you go in. You give thanks for what you have got. It helps to keep you grounded. Football can be a selfish business. You are conditioned to look after number one. When you are in the bubble that is football you can lose yourself in the importance of it. Sometimes you can lose sight of reality."

4. Dressing room warrior
Robbo is the leader of a group I christened the Guvnors. They're senior pros, who set high personal and professional standards. He's not as loud as some in the dressing room, but when he speaks, there is a passion, an urgency and a surprising sensitivity to his message. My favourite line, delivered in those frantic seconds after the referee has sounded the bell to summon the players, was this: "We're playing for the people who hate their jobs, who'd love our lives. Let's give them something special."

5. Wemberleeeeee
It was the fantasy Robbo constructed in countless childhood games against his brother in the back garden. He scores the winning goal at Wembley, and ascends the steps to the Royal Box to collect the trophy. When it came true, in May 2010, it was enough to ensure Millwall's promotion to the Championship. He knows it will define him: "It was so special I could almost look beyond the personal achievement. It was my way of thanking the fans for allowing me to do the job I love. Without them there is no Millwall. They give me the platform to achieve my dreams. To lift that trophy at Wembley was my way of repaying them."

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