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Robinson was born in Leicester; but when he was young, his parents moved to Blackpool to run a bed-and-breakfast hotel. Robinson started his career with Preston North End in the second division, then moved in August 1979 to Malcolm Allison's Manchester City, the fee of £750,000 being widely regarded as extravagant for a young player with no top flight experience. He was sold at a loss later that season to Brighton & Hove Albion, and rebuilt his reputation as both a strong and skilful attacking player.
Robinson made an impact in the 1982–83 FA Cup final, feeding the ball to Gordon Smith for his infamous miss in the first game against Manchester United, performing outstandingly in a 2–2 draw, but eventually losing in the second match at Wembley (0–4). It was enough, however, for clubs to bid for Robinson, who was keen to leave due to Brighton's relegation.
Liverpool came in for Robinson and paid Brighton £250,000 for him and he duly battled with established Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush for a place up front. In that first season, Liverpool won three trophies – the league, the league cup (where he was a used substitute in the final 0–0 draw against Everton, but was not picked for the replay) and the European Cup (being a used replacement in the final against A.S. Roma) – and Robinson played enough games to earn a title medal.
Despite showing some ability, Robinson was often on the substitutes’ bench, and so moved on to Queens Park Rangers at the end of 1984: there, he was an unlucky loser at Wembley again, in the 1986 League Cup final, against Oxford United (0–3). However, during the run to the decisive match, he earned himself a place in QPR fans' hearts, when he scored a 40-yard goal against arch-rivals Chelsea in the quarterfinal replay at Stamford Bridge.
In January 1987 Robinson moved to Spain to play for CA Osasuna, with ex-Liverpool team-mate Sammy Lee joining in August. He retired in the summer of 1989 at the age of 31 after making 59 La Liga appearances for the club and scoring 12 goals, two of which came in 1987–88 season as the Navarrese overachieved for a final fifth place.
Robinson, who won 24 caps for the Republic of Ireland, stayed in Spain after retiring, having settled very well in the country and learned the language to fluency, a trait that was later picked up on by Steve McManaman (with Real Madrid from 1999–2003), who regarded Robinson as his mentor.
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