Former Ipswich Town youngster Matt Robinson reflects on his time in the professional and non-league game
To make it as a professional footballer, a few things need to fall into place.
First and foremost you need ability, but there are also other facets out of an individual’s control.
You need to be spotted by the right person at the right time, stay clear of serious injuries and get some good old fashioned luck.
Ability-wise, Matt Robinson certainly had enough to pique the interest of a number of Football League clubs.
He was first part of a successful Ipswich Town youth and reserve side that contained the likes of future Premier League footballers Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose.
Stints at Wrexham, Derby County and Bournemouth followed and while he did eventually turn pro with Cambridge United, it was a short lived affair before he dropped into the non-league game in 2005.
On reflection, the former Soham Village College student ultimately feels he was not good enough to make the grade.
Yet, while he is offeringno excuses, there can be little doubt injuries and misfortune did not help his cause.
“I broke my leg playing for Ipswich’s reserves just when the first team manager George Burley was looking to promote some of us into the squad,” said Robinson, now 36.
“Benty and Ambrose were the two obvious contenders and they kicked on, but he was also looking at me because I was scoring goals and playing well.
“I’ll never forget breaking my leg because I did it away at Bristol but had to travel all the way back on the bus across the back seat – the pain was unreal.
“George was sacked soon after and although the next manager Joe Royle extended my contract, the injury did not heal as quick as it was supposed to and I ended up leaving.
“After that I went to Wrexham and trained with the first team but they did not have enough money to offer me a contract, and then I went to Derby with Burley.
“I actually scored in a reserve game for Derby against my mates at Ipswich, but again that one fell through.
“When I first headed down to Bournemouth I got pushed over and dislocated my finger which put me out for a month.
“When I went back they even give me a squad number – 29 – and I made the bench, but a full-time contract never materialised.
“John Taylor at Cambridge signed me on until the end of the season in 2004 and I played a bit. That continued under Herve Renard when he took over, but I was in the squad one week and out of it the next.
“He ended up wanting me to be the second choice left-back. I was a forward or winger, and maybe I said something I shouldn’t have, but then I ripped my groin and that was it.
“I went through a stage of hating myself, feeling like the world was against me. It was tough because I had played football since the age of eight at Ely Crusaders before moving to Ipswich. It was all I wanted to do.
“I got injuries and other players took the chance presented to them. Looking back I think I wasn’t good enough to make it, but obviously injuries never help. It was just one of those things.”
After helping Cambridge City to reach the Conference South play-offs in 2004/05, Robinson joined his hometown club Soham Town Rangers.
The injury curse struck again – this time knee ligaments ruling him out for a number of months – before he moved to Mildenhall Town.
Robinson then broke his foot and dislocated his ankle following a switch to Norwich United, and upon his return to fitness he headed back to Soham.
His final appearance came back in Mildenhall colours on a wet October evening away at Needham Market, where as a substitute Robinson bagged the only goal of the Suffolk Premier Cup tie to knock out the higher-league hosts.
That was five-and-a-half years ago and could leave Robinson harbouring a feeling of what might have been, but he has no regrets.
“When I first went to City I thought I would do well there and move back up,” he added.
“It just didn’t happen. At the time when I was leaving Cambridge United, Livingston offered me a contract and there was interest from elsewhere. City was on my doorstep and so I went there.
“Looking back that was probably the wrong thing to do, but these are the decisions you make.
“I still enjoyed every minute of playing for the teams I did. Playing for my hometown club Soham was good and there was a great bunch of lads at Mildenhall.
“Things may have been different if I had made certain decisions, but I stick by what I did – there are no regrets.”