Towards the end of last season (a few days before the Play-Off Final in-fact) the Whitehawk FC fanzine, The Din, caught up with Fan’s Player of the Season, Jake Robinson. If you’ve not had chance to download the current issue you you can do do here. In the mean time we though we’d post the interview up on the site in the build up to the new season. Enjoy!
Can you tell us how you first got into Football? How old were you when you got involved in the Albion Youth Academy? And just for readers who may have no kept up with your career since you left Brighton, can you give us a brief rundown of where you were between Albion and Hawks?
I was actually turned away by the centre of excellence at Brighton at 9 years old. A couple of years later my primary school teacher referred me back to the Albion and I was offered another trial, this time with more success. I made my debut for the first team at 16 and scored a few weeks later to become the club’s youngest ever scorer. Since leaving I spent a couple of years at Shrewsbury Town, a loan spell at Torquay, then 2 years at Northampton including a loan spell at Luton Town. I have been at Whitehawk since July 2013.
As the club that gave you your first break I imagine you must still have quite a soft spot for Albion? Have you been to many games at The Amex? And if so, how do you rate it against the Withdean? It seems that most Albion fans I talk to find it quite hard to identify with the modern version of their club and often seem to pine for the ‘old days’ of the club being underdogs in makeshift stadiums. As someone who was there in the thick of things back then, is this a view you can sympathise with?
I have managed to get to the Amex a few times and it is certainly a very impressive stadium. It’s a far cry from the days of the Withdean, but something that everybody at the club worked so hard towards. The club has changed over the last few seasons, from playing staff to the backroom staff and I can understand why. They harbour ambitions of competing at the top level and to do that they have to make decisions on what they feel will be best for the club. Some supporters may feel that they have lost touch slightly with the club but I’m sure they will be appreciative of it in the long run.
Can you tell us about how your move to Whitehawk came about? What was it that attracted you to the club?
I received a call from Darren Freeman (the manager at the time) out of the blue, asking how I was getting on and whether anything was sorted for next season as my contract was not going to be renewed at Northampton. I agreed to a meeting with the chairman who offered me a deal which included a chance to build a career outside of football with a job, and begin to plan for my future. This combined with the chance to move back to my home town with my family and friends again is what appealed to me the most.
That’s really interesting about the club giving you the opportunity to get some experience away from football. How did you cope with dropping down from full time training to part time? Was it difficult to adjust from being a professional football to a more (in the eyes of some) mundane job?
It has been very hard at times, especially during the first 6 months. I found I wasn’t as fit as I was when I was training full time so had to start putting in some extra work in the gym and watching my diet more closely. Football is still my first priority, and the chairman/directors have been very patient with me as I adjust to full time hours.
You often hear stories about players finding the leagues more physical as they move down the leagues, is this something you’ve noticed too?
This league is definitely more physical than most I have experienced – Some teams more than others! I have some taken some kicks but it has been worth it for the success the club has had.
When you first joined the club you seemed to be stuck out on the left quite a lot as opposed to being played as a more central striker. I remember those of us behind the goal all thinking it was a real waste of your ability; Are you comfortable on the wing as much as in the middle? Given the choice, which do you prefer?
I have always preferred playing down the middle. I hope that this seasons performances have proved that it is my strongest position. I have spent a lot through my career as a wide player due mainly, I believe, to the type of player I am but I have always been adamant that I am best in and around the box scoring goals.
Last summer the club pretty much started from scratch as regards the squad and I think only five players stayed on from the previous season. How does a dressing room deal with such upheaval? I imagine your relationships with players like Tommy Fraser and Sami El-Abd had been key in bringing you to the club, where you ever tempted to follow them out the door?
I think it took last year’s squad a long time to gel as a unit, and also the team at the end of the season was almost completely different to the one that started the season. That coupled with the fact it was the club’s first season at this level made it very tough for us. It seems that this season, with a settled squad that has stayed together for the whole year, we have been much more comfortable and there is a real good team spirit and desire to work hard for one another. I never wanted to leave, I felt like I had a real point to prove to the management and supporters that I was better than I had shown and I wouldn’t leave without at least attempting to do that.
So onto this season and on behalf of all the Hawks fans; Congratulations on being voted Fan’s Player of the Year! It’s been a pretty impressive campaign, do you have any personal highlights? Any specific goals stand out for you?
This has been my most enjoyable season to date. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of the clubs rapid rise and a real honour to be voted Supporter’s Player of the Year. At the time of writing this my favourite goal has been the semi-final second leg strike at Basingstoke for obvious reasons. I think after Saturday’s game people have really started to believe that the club could achieve promotion. Other highlights have been the winning goal at home to Gosport and the semi-final goal against Burgess Hill to reach the Amex.
Who did you vote for as your Player of the Year and why?
We were given 2 votes and my two went to Danny Mills and Sergio Torres. Millsy because he is my strike partner and we stick together. Sergio just for all round consistency and the intangibles he has bought to the squad this season.
As a fan-base we’re quite often derided by opposing fans for some of the players we have in the squad and your name is one that comes up a lot – ‘Why is Jake Robinson playing for you, he’s too good for this level’ etc… I’ve read that your contract is up for renewal in the summer – Is this the case and if we don’t succeed in the Play-Offs, do you think that you’ll be happy to stay on? Do you harbour any ambitions to move back into full-time football at some point?
My contract is up in the summer that is true. As I have said before I have enjoyed this season so much I can’t see a reason why I would leave as long as the club wants me to stay. Getting back into full time football is always at the back of my mind but it’s not something I would rush into just for the sake of it. I would have to receive an offer that was totally right for me and my future and, ideally, I would love to return to full time football with Whitehawk in the national conference!
It’s very fashionable at the minute for people to talk about clubs being a ‘project’ and having a ‘’so and so’ year plan’ so I’m quite loathed talk about Hawks in those terms but the club has been quite vocal about trying to take us into the Football League – How far do you think we can go? What’s the view in the dressing room of how things are progressing?
I think the players are just enjoying the ride at the moment. The squad the manager has put together I believe would be more than capable of competing at the next level, perhaps with a couple of additions, so there’s no reason to believe there is a ceiling for the club playing wise for the time being. We know that the facilities have not moved on as quickly as the playing staff but it’s something that people are working very hard within the club to improve and I think it shows already.
Steve King seems to be a manager that players want to play for and some travel great distances to do so. Do you think he can be the man to take the club where they want to be? And how important has he been to the club’s success this season?
The manager has been instrumental this season in our success with his knowledge of the league and his ability to bring in players of the quality he has. He has also brought in a staff with a wealth of experience to coach the players to the way they want us to play, which I think is one that is enjoyable for the fans to watch.
Lastly, any closing comments or messages to the fans?
Just a note really to say thank you to everyone working tirelessly behind the scenes to raise the profile of the club.. Since I joined 18 months ago we have come on leaps and bounds, from the website and social media feeds, to the number of supporters and atmosphere at every game. It really is a pleasure to play for a set of fans that you know care so much about the club. Whatever happens at Boreham Wood this has been a season of success for the club and one everyone should be very proud of.