Mark Robinson interview: AFC Wimbledon boss’s unconventional journey from Chelsea tour guide to Arsenal canoe

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Tonight Robinson will lead the Dons at Emirates Stadium against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup and his journey up to this point has been about as unconventional as you can imagine.

It all started when he retired from football at the age of 16 due to an injury and walked away from the game he loved. What followed was a career in the music industry, opening his own children’s room and working as a tour guide at Stamford Bridge.

Robinson’s love for the game eventually brought him back to football and in 2004 he began coaching the Wimbledon Under-9 team.

Over the past 17 years, he rose through the ranks until in February he was appointed head coach.

“A lot of times it all still feels a bit surreal, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Robinson told Standard Sport. “You never want to get comfortable and get used to it.

“This club means everything to me. My dad had certain values ​​that he instilled in me growing up and he’s just a football club that never stops really giving. This club inspires me.

Wimbledon may inspire Robinson, but his trip should make people believe that anything is possible.

When he ruptured his quad muscle at the age of 16, Robinson was forced to leave behind a promising youth career at Fulham.

He moved away from acting, working for the music company The Performing Rights Society and there he eventually moved into a management role.

But deep down, Robinson’s love for football was still there. He did community coaching with Crystal Palace, while managing his work team.

A chance encounter with Tony Wilson, with whom Robinson played at Fulham, further fueled the fires when he revealed Wimbledon needed help coaching their youth teams.

Eventually, Robinson took the plunge and quit his job so that he could start a business with his wife and trainer in his spare time.

“I really integrated everything, because my passion was training,” he says. “We had just had our two children, so we set up a room for the children. It was a bit like soft game meeting Café Nero.

“It was a huge risk. We borrowed a substantial amount of money – six figures – to start the business. Most independent businesses go bankrupt in five years, but I’ve always been that person if you want to try something, go for it.

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The bet is won. The venue, It’s a Kid’s Thing, was an award-winning success and Robinson’s training was improving, not least thanks to his creative way of improving his public speaking skills.

“I actually went on guided tours twice a week in Chelsea,” he says. “It was really under pressure because the tour guides were ridiculously good.

“One was an Elvis impersonator, the other was a part-time actor, the other was a radio DJ and I was wondering, where do I fit into that?”

Robinson excelled with the Dons academy, taking them to memorable FA Youth Cup races, and ultimately the top position came his way earlier this year as the club fought to stay in League One.

From day one, he wanted to make the players understand that it was a new era. Fans came to paint the training ground blue and yellow, while its values ​​(communication, relentless, ruthless and ownership) were displayed on signs near the pitches.

The grounds themselves have also been altered, with grids laid out as part of his plans to turn Wimbledon into a top-tier team.

And then there was, in a nod to Robinson’s past, the introduction of music.

“It plays in the morning when the staff arrives at eight and it stays on all day,” says Robinson, who asked everyone to choose three songs they liked.

“It brings your surroundings to life. But also, it’s about making the players and staff understand that everyone is different. If you come to visit the training ground, one minute you’re listening to rap and the next minute it’s Frank Sinatra.

Culture is important to Robinson and he has spent time with England rugby head coach Eddie Jones to broaden his horizons.

Robinson doesn’t enforce fines – “if I make someone do something, then he’s not doing it for the right reasons” – and instead hammers out the values ​​he believes in.

“All I’ve been trying to get the guys to understand is that if you think the way you act on the training ground doesn’t impact your performance on the pitch, then you deceive. It erodes confidence, ”he says.

“Little things like when we have an analysis meeting and some people don’t put their chairs away.

“You might think it doesn’t have an effect on your teammates, but I’m sorry, your brain doesn’t work like that.

“He might be your best friend, but there’s something in his brain that tells him he can’t really trust you.” He can’t count on you. This translates to the ground.

Robinson is clearly right because the results on the pitch changed under him.

He kept Dons in place last year, although he took over after the team had gone 11 games without a win, and now they are seventh in League One.

He has revamped the coaching staff, looking for marginal gains by appointing a restart coach and a replacement coach, and Plow Lane fans love the offensive style of play. “On the ball it’s based on possession, but we want to play fast, attacking and exciting,” said Robinson.

“Off the ball we have to be really aggressive and push high, so I hope it still looks like a Wimbledon team to the fans – even though the style of play is different.”

Unsurprisingly, Robinson has bled academy players and in three years he believes the squad could be made up of 60 to 70 percent from the country.

Beyond that, Robinson dreams big, even bigger than tonight’s game at Arsenal, and he’s convinced the fan-owned Dons could play in the league.

“100 percent, without a doubt,” he says. “There is nothing more powerful than a group of people all on the same path, with the same vision.”

Who knows? As far as Robinson is concerned, anything seems possible.


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