“He was proud when he heard someone say, is that Mike Robinson? He’s the man who saved The Bell’.”
“You won’t get anyone like him anymore. There aren’t the people with the type of commitment to sit in The Bell with a list of phone numbers on a Friday and make sure there are four full cricket teams on the field on a Saturday.”
That person who did that year in, year out was Mike Robinson, affectionately known as Robbo to the hundreds if not thousands of youngsters and cricketers who he came across in the local area.
It’s three years since Oswestry lost a true sporting legend, who sadly died just a day after his wife Lesley following a short illness.
Three years on I’ve had a look back at his legacy, his commitment and the impact he had on Shropshire cricket and sport as a whole.
And it wouldn’t be about Mike Robinson if there weren’t a few funny tales thrown in there along the way.
As a youngster Mike grew up in West Felton and first played cricket for Cae Glas, before moving to Oswestry and becoming part of the Morda Road furniture.
After moving to the area in the 1980s, Dave Vart, known as Varty to those in local sporting circles, befriended Mike and played alongside him for the club.
“The thing with Mike was that he was one of those people, much like the comedian Peter Kay for example, who could make the most mundane things funny,” explained Vart.
“He had a way of making things funny and that is what people liked. I always say the conversation was never the poorer for when he walked in the boozer.”
The pair played together for Oswestry, with Vart recalling one funny match at Broseley where he was left less than impressed with the makeshift wicketkeeper.
He explained: “We had no wicketkeeper, so Mike said I’ll do it.
“Anyway, they had one lad who we said, if we get him out then we’ll win.
“So early on I bowl and he skies one up in the air, and Robbo’s there, he’s circling and the ball comes down and it lands about ten yards away from him.
“With his head down he just goes, ‘sorry Varty’, and walks back behind the stumps.
“The bloke only went on to make 100 and win the game!”
The younger members of the Oswestry sporting community will remember Mike more for his contribution from the club house, rather than on the wicket.
But as his son Mark, a player who went on to play minor counties cricket explains, he always liked to tell the stories where he had an impact on the pitch.
“There was one game he played against Bridgnorth. Anyway Oswestry bowled them out with seven overs to spare so Oswestry got the overs.
“Dad opened the batting and in the 57th over he got a single to move onto 37 and Oswestry won.
“Everyone laughed at him, but like he said they wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t played like he did.
“He loved telling that story.”
Mike’s impact on sport in Oswestry was huge, but one thing that did drive him on was a fiercely competitive streak.
As many will know Mike hated losing, but on the other end was a gracious loser.
Mark explained: “There was on story, there was an under 15s team with people like Nathan Leonard and James Neill.
“Anyway they got to a semi final and lost by one run in a national final.
“They shouldn’t have lost at all.
“After the game Dad was so gutted he was behind the club kicking the railings, and he wouldn’t talk to anyone for ages, that was what he was like.
“If he lost a darts match he would be the same, then come back and buy the bloke a pint.”
As well as his exploits and success in growing Oswestry Cricket Club into the force it was today, Mike was also a successful journalist.
Alongside this he had famous stints as a bookmaker alongside his good friend known to many as Gubbo, a spell in charge of The Bell pub and was Oswestry’s resident horse race night host alongside Vart himself.
The stories of these conquests through Mike’s colourful life are written into Oswestry history for many, as Vart explained.
He said: “We did a race night at the Lord Hill Hotel to about 220 people and we only knew about 20 of them.
“We had VHS tapes but not a VHS player, but like Robbo would do he rung me in the afternoon and said: ‘Varty, I’ve sorted it, I’ve got a player from someone in The Bell for a tenner’.
“Anyway we went down there and put the tape in and it wouldn’t work and we couldn’t get it out of there.
“We did another at West Felton Village Hall and I asked the missus to bring us some cider, as they didn’t have a bar.
“She brought four plastic bottles of cider and we though, that won’t be enough.
“By the last race we were gone and Robbo, who was supposed to be commentating, was telling tales of how he used to go in the pub in West Felton and he would play football down the lanes in the village! It was comical!”
Vart also explains Mike and Gubbo’s famous lack of success in the bookmaking trade, and how one bloke took a stack off them after backing Coventry and Wimbledon to win the FA Cup in consecutive years.
It led to Mike labelling himself ‘the most unlucky bookmaker around’.
Both Vart and his son Mark also detailed tales of his stint at taking over The Bell pub, with the latter explaining that he spent almost all his redundancy money taking it on, because he wanted to make sure his mates had somewhere to drink.
But as Vart explains there was one place where he was always happier than most.
“I remember Oswestry going to Sutton Coldfield, they needed to stay up and we were going for promotion,” he added.
“As it went, Oswestry lost but after there was a karaoke and all the players went in and had a few beers and Robbo was up singing Kenny Rodgers – The Gambler.
“Then he was sitting next to me in the front on the way back drinking from a bottle of wine with his feet on the dashboard.
“That was Robbo, he was never more happy than when he was involved in sport with a group of lads!”
Mike was key to the transformation at Oswestry, overseeing the building of a new state of the art club house and the rise of the club up to the Birmingham League.
“He was so proud of the club’s rise into the Birmingham League and how it came about,” explained Mark.
“To see people down at the club like Wasam Jaffer who was adored for his career in India, they were the things Dad was most proud of.
“Also being able to help so many youngsters play, and seeing so many people go on to play for county and go on to play higher.”
Mike also played an integral part in bringing in a string of overseas professional players who helped Oswestry climb the leagues.
As Vart recalls he played host to two Australian players one summer, despite warnings from his wife Lesley.
“I remember two Aussie lads coming over, and his wife Lesley asking where are they going to stay,” he explained.
“She told him they aren’t staying here, and Robbo said he would sort it. Anyway, what happened, they ended up staying there and they ate him out of house and home, but he would never even considering asking the club for expenses for it, he just wanted the club to get better and better.
“His wife in the end was upset in the end when they left and had to go back to Australia.
“He always wanted to make the club a better club. He sold the committee the idea of getting the bowler called Sadaf Hussain. Now in Pakistan, they can’t understand why he has never played for the national team, he was that good.
“Anyway, the way Robbo sold it was basically that he would do anything and everything apart from making the teas! That was what he was like, he just wanted to make the club better.”
Proud at seeing the rise of the club on a senior level, Mike was extremely passionate about the junior side of the club.
In years gone by hundreds of youngsters have flooded the Morda Road pitch during training nights, that in turn led to Oswestry fielding four sides every Saturday.
“This isn’t against the people at the club now but it is no coincidence that there are only three teams there now,” added Mark.
“He would have always wanted to make sure here was four out there.”
Both of Mike’s sons, Mark and his other brother Paul, went on to represent the club at senior level for a number of years.
And they began in that youth set up that was championed by their father.
“What he did for the juniors at Oswestry was incredible,” explained Vart.
“ We walked around the pitch one day for a game and he said, what is special about those players Varty.
“He answered, all of them came through the junior set up, and they had done.
“His commitment for it was unbelievable. The mark of people involved like that is what happens when their own kids leave basically.
“His lads went on to senior cricket, but he did all that work with the juniors.
“And he would sit every Friday and make sure there was enough players out there for four teams every single Saturday.
“And I think because of who he was and he was trusted, people would say, yeah I’ll go and play for Robbo, and it is no coincidence why there are only four teams now.”
He always had an ambition to get the Lashings XI down to Oswestry, a team made up of former professional players.
And when Mike was ill in hospital, that dream became a reality as they visited Morda Road and played in front of a big crowd.
Mark added: “He was proud the club managed to do that.”
Days after Mike and his wife sadly passed away, Oswestry were going into a game to win their league.
Mark played that and the side wrapped up the victory in a fitting tribute to Mike.
The legacy left by Mike still lives on at the club today with a room named after him in the clubhouse.
He will always be remembered for the impact he has had on sport and cricket in Oswestry and Shropshire and as Mark explains, his father’s legacy is one that will be hard to ever eclipse.
He added: “Looking at Dad’s legacy it was so big what he did down there, he was the reason why the club was in the Birmingham League, why so many children were playing the game.
“He was secretary, he did all these jobs, he played before that which not many people will remember at all.
“You can have 100 members at clubs but there are always four or five people who do everything. In Dad’s case he was about three of them.
“It is hard to say if anyone will have an impact on sport in Oswestry like he has, because participation isn’t what it was.
“He was always going through his huge list of numbers to get people out there on a Saturday.
“How many people would want to have that list and go through it every week.
“But his legacy is always there. They wanted to name the ground after Dad originally, but then a sponsorship came in and they asked us what we thought.
“Well we said Dad would always want the club to have the money, so the main room at the club was named after him.”
For all his success both in the newsroom as a journalist, on the field as a sports man or watching from the club house, as Vart hilariously explains, there was one moment that stood up there for Mike as one of his finest.
He said: “Of all the stories and memories, he always used to say there was one when he was on the bus to a Shrewsbury game.
“Someone got on the bus and Mike could hear him up the back, and the bloke said to someone else, ‘is that Mike Robinson? He’s the man who saved The Bell’.”