By Jason McKeown
As soon as his team mate Charlie Wyke turned with the ball, the rookie was off. Curving his run goal side of the defender, charging into the open space left unguarded by a high pressing Rochdale back four. The through ball was inch perfect, enabling him to run onto it at full tilt. With his first touch he nudged the ball around the onrushing keeper, and with the second he smashed it into the unguarded goal. Wild, wild celebrations – on the pitch and in the Kop stand behind him.
There’s no doubt that, on Saturday 9 December 2017, Tyrell Robinson would have been feeling good. At 20 years of age, and on his full league debut, Robinson had just been the star of the show in a thrilling 4-3 League One victory over Rochdale. In front of 19,261 fans, his 78th minute strike proved the winning goal. Only three weeks earlier, Robinson had come off the bench for City at Wigan and scored a stunning last minute winner. His star was rising.
Within a month of his Rochdale goal, he agreed a new two-and-a-half-year contract at Valley Parade. The club announcement, complete with former chairman Edin Rahic posing for a photo with Robinson, beamed that the new deal, “reinforce[s] one of the club’s recruitment strategies by investing in the very best youth talent.”
In total, Robinson would play 26 times for City over the 2017/18 season. It was a campaign that ended with disappointment as the Bantams fell from play off contenders to mid-table, but Robinson’s emergence was one shining light.
Or so it seemed.
If Saturday 9 December 2017 was one of the best days of Robinson’s life, one of his worst came on Tuesday 14 August 2018. The net was closing in on him, as truly awful behaviour from 24 hours earlier was about to come home to roost.
Bradford City were in action at Macclesfield Town in the League Cup. Robinson had been named as a substitute, and was warming up on the pitch with everyone else, when six police officers turned up at Moss Rose, 30 minutes before kick off.
Ryan Sparks, who had recently been installed head of media and public relations, was stood with City supporters in the away end on what was meant to be a night off, when his phone rang. It was Edin Rahic, asking him to pop over to see him at the other side of the ground to help him out. Sparks was dispatched to speak to the police. Obviously no one at the club knew what Robinson had done, and Sparks explained about the game, that Robinson was involved as a sub, and asked if they could wait. The seriousness of the situation meant this wasn’t an option.
So with just 10 minutes until kick off, Sparks had to knock on the door of the away dressing room, and ask to speak to Michael Collins. The manager was just in the middle of delivering his final pre-match team talk, and was now quietly informed by Sparks that Robinson would have to be pulled from the game. The rookie manager was left absolutely stunned, just like everyone else.
Robinson was taken away by the police before the game started. He would spend that night back in West Yorkshire, locked in a police cell.
The details of what Robinson had done 24 hours before the game are truly horrific and not something we will republish here. Other than direct you, valued reader, to a link if you want to find out more. Proceed with caution, it’s grim.
Robinson was eventually released on bail, pending further enquires. Rahic left Sparks and Paula Watson in charge of dealing with the fallout, as the chairman – under mounting pressure from supporters over the way he was leading the club – didn’t want to risk facing even more criticism. So whilst Sparks and Watson crisis managed, Rahic lamented the loss of a saleable asset. The day after Robinson was released on bail, pending further enquires, he was suspended by the club.
Robinson would never play for City again. It took a long, long time for West Yorkshire Police to bring the case forward, and Robinson’s absence sparked plenty of supporter chatter. Especially as he remained a regular social media poster, talking up how he was training on his own and expecting to come back.
Everyone knew he was accused of doing something wrong. But without any public detail, some supporters argued that the innocent until proven guilty mantra meant the club should bring him back into the fold. Or at least communicate more about why they wouldn’t.
On 20 February 2020, West Yorkshire Police formally charged Robinson, and City instantly sacked him. Details of the case began to become more known. The seriousness of what he was accused of more apparent. Robinson would be found guilty. And earlier this week was formally sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
It is a horrible situation all round, and all sympathy belongs to the victims and their families. As for Bradford City, as the dust settles and we look back on the situation with the gift of hindsight, it’s hard to criticise them for the stance taken.
Of course, as supporters we value and strive for transparent communication from the club. But the seriousness of the situation meant that it was simply impossible for them to say anything more. This became completely beyond, and more important than, a game of football. Bradford City deserve credit for understanding this. For putting the victims first.
The contrast with Sunderland and the awful tale of Adam Johnson further emphasises this. Sunderland were aware of what Johnson was charged with, and privately knew of the damning evidence that showed his guilt, yet continued to let him play games for nearly a year. When it eventually came to light that the club had knowingly kept silent, it caused huge upset amongst Sunderland fans – and the wider world – that the Wearside club would prioritise winning games of football over letting the justice process run its course.
The fact Sunderland only sacked him after he pleaded guilty didn’t exactly enhance the reputation of the club. As soon as he was no longer of value, they dumped him. Such was the outrage, CEO Margaret Byrne eventually quit citing a “serious error of judgement”.
As Chris Weatherspoon wrote of Byrne in the excellent book, Short-Changed: The Highs and Lows of Sunderland AFC During 20 Years at the Stadium of Light, “Instead of advising the club’s manager and owner of the fact she had incontrovertible evidence that a first team player had made a significant error of judgement, she kept schtum. Instead of recognising the likely reputational damage to the club, and herself, should all this come out, she turned a blind eye and carried on as if nothing had happened.
“What she had done was morally reprehensible. Through her actions, Sunderland fans were forced to watch a man, whom their club’s CEO knew to be a paedophile, play football for their team for nine months.”
Knowing what Robinson did now makes you feel sick, and it would be even worse if City had continued to let him represent us by playing games of football when they would have known all about the allegations. Some of the supporter comments at the time and criticisms towards the club haven’t aged well. And there are lessons to take in not rushing to conclusions without the full facts. Recognising that there is sometimes more going on than what we could know about.
The club deserve credit, retrospectively, for the approach taken. There were rumblings that Rahic was warned about Robinson’s questionable behaviour before the horrible event. Suggestions that perhaps the club could have monitored him better. Certainly, you would hope lessons have been learned along the way. But during a testing period for all sorts of reasons, they managed the legal situation very well. Principles before points, as it should be.
As for Robinson, the 2 minute 8 seconds YouTube highlights of the December 2017 Rochdale win will serve as a lasting reminder of just what potential he had. What an opportunity within his grasp to build a career as a professional footballer. If he had shown the right behaviour and dedication, Robinson could have gone far.
He’s going to spend the rest of his life regretting the fact he threw it all away.