The rise of Stevenage FC in recent years from non-league to third tier offers proof of the progress that can be attained in football, and with the rewards he has earned and the remarkable ethos he endorses, the club’s midfielder Robin Shroot encapsulates this completely.
At only 25, the ex-Birmingham City man has invaluable experience on his side. This may only be his third season with Stevenage in League One but Robin has already seen both sides of the coin in many respects, in football and in life. The South West Londoner was released by Wimbledon at 16 with the club’s league place about to be taken at that time by Milton Keynes Dons and the next five years brought about some testing but ultimately enriching moments overall.
It is quite possible to have heard the name at some point in recent seasons, especially if your club have come up against Stevenage or one of Robin’s loan employers, but you may not be aware of his story or the outlook and mindset he carries with him. His ideals on life and the game he loves are really worth taking the time to find out about and as is the way on here we get started with music. Robin’s enthusiasm and vigour are traits that are a dream to work with and this is in evidence with how he evaluates the role of music in his journey.
“I have always loved listening to music before games, both on the coach and at the stadium, and I believe it can help you attain the right frame of mind throughout life. Being honest, I mostly listen to old school r&b, soulful, funky house and uplifting dance, and some acoustic.
“I have friends who are in bands also and of course I will always listen to anything they have created. I’m very lucky to have been able to attend quite a few gigs.
“I’ve seen Rihanna twice, Black Eyed Peas, Snow Patrol, Ellie Goulding, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Craig David three times. I think in terms of live performances, Craig David and Ellie Goulding were standouts, both have fantastic voices.”
As he makes reference to, Robin, who still lives back in South West London and makes the trip to Hertfordshire for training with Stevenage each day, has some musically-strung companions. A band who reached number 4 on the UK album chart last year with their third release ‘Given To The Wild’ and one of the country’s most exciting female artists shared some moments from their younger days with Robin.
“I travelled on the same school bus as The Maccabees and Jessie Ware. We used to sing Oasis songs at the back of the bus.”
Jessie Ware actually wanted to be a football journalist before her vocal capabilities shone through and Robin knows a thing or two about varied career paths. He spent five years in non-league football with Staines Town, AFC Wimbledon and Harrow Borough before he signed for Premier League-bound Birmingham City in 2009. During these years he had been a PE assistant at a school for students with ADHD and Asperger syndrome, as well as coaching in South London and working alongside youngsters with educational needs, criminal records and backgrounds in care homes for example.
When he joined up with Alex McLeish’s Birmingham, who were en route to a 2nd-place finish in the Championship, Robin got his opportunity to mix with the likes of ex-England striker Kevin Phillips, and a World Cup player who knew how to bring the Tunisian vibes to the Midlands!
“In my opinion, Radhi Jaidi at Birmingham was the best changing room DJ I’ve ever heard. He played tunes that came out two years after he first played them and was a walking collection of French house, hip-hop and r&b.
“Most of the music throughout club changing rooms is pretty similar. People play it safe and download a house playlist that will get a good reception as anyone that plays anything a bit outlandish on the iPod usually gets a bit of stick!”
Robin appeared in the FA Cup at St. Andrews as Birmingham were beaten 2-0 by Wolves in January 2009. His loan experience with Walsall, Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town set him up for his move in summer 2011 to Stevenage, who had sealed promotion to League One after a play-off final win at Old Trafford over Torquay United.
The former Northern Ireland Under-21 international was signed by Graham Westley, who would leave Boro for Preston North End before making his return for a third spell at the club last season. Robin played 34 times in his first campaign as the club, latterly under ex-Colorado Rapids boss Gary Smith, made it to the League One play-offs in their first ever year in the division. The 6th-place finish meant a semi-final tie with Sheffield United but ultimately a 1-0 aggregate defeat
Robin hit four goals in his debut season, including a memorable 88th-minute equaliser against Huddersfield, and struck seven in 29 games last year, although Boro ended 2012/13 in 18th. Recovery this summer from a broken foot gave Robin the chance to benefit from increased help from the physio while the other players were away and he has also trained with ex-Bradford City and Jamaica midfielder Jamie Lawrence, a past interviewee on here who runs rigorous but football-focused sessions.
Pre-season also included a trip to La Manga, Spain with Boro, and Robin takes a different standpoint to many of his fellow pros by viewing the dreaded post-break return to training as a task with a raft of benefits to behold upon its completion. This is also a time for new recruits to integrate and a French striker and former Sunderland youngster impressed Robin with his unorthodox routine in front of his new colleagues.
“Oumare Tounkara decided that he was going to do a sort of eclectic percussion/dancing performance instead of singing on his initiation to the club. Fair play to the lad, he engaged the room and owned the stage!”
Robin had to wait until he was 21 for his chance as a professional but this status has also meant him having to get up there and give it his all with his vocals. Luckily, he had a head start in this area!
“I’ve only ever had to sing once, and it was (B.o.B featuring) Bruno Mars ‘Nothin’ On You’. I used to sing at school though so it was definitely a performance I took pride in!”
As anyone who grew up in the 90s will confirm, it was pretty difficult to steer clear of the masses of pop music, whether it was Hanson, Five, B*Witched, Steps, Backstreet Boys, or one of the other leading examples, which Robin succumbed to with his first album at that time!
“Honestly, it was probably the first Spice Girls album (‘Spice’) when I was about 7 years old, on a cassette tape!”
That choice might not win too much favour in the Stevenage dressing room if he decided to sneak it in there as a throwback curveball and Robin names the Boro players who can usually be found in reasonably close vicinity to the pre-match sound system.
“James Dunne and Lee Hills usually have their iPods on the dock, although Lucas Akins and Filipe Morais are also reliable. I usually get on when the lads fancy some old school r&b!”
While he was a semi-professional, Robin worked with Jamie Lawrence mentioned earlier. He was up at 7am to prepare to train and he has shown his continued gratitude to the ex-Leicester City man for all his help in recent times. Robin came into the pro game a different way to numerous players and it shows. There are plenty of players who show up each day but are the last ones into training and the first ones out, relishing the chance to get away to spend time on other interests. Robin takes the approach of covering all angles with his training, preparation and fitness, with his huge love for hot bikram yoga a big preventative measure against injury.
The positivity he gives off is one of the reasons why Boro fans hold him in high regard and he believes in investing time in the connection from club to supporter. The season got underway with what transpired to be a 4-3 home loss to Oldham Athletic on Saturday but Robin’s unshakeable bright outlook means that with the summer preparation behind him and the chances this campaign has to offer there is no reason not to set the bar high.
“I love football regardless of location, season, time, etc. so of course I’m looking forward to the new season which is upon us! Everything is an enjoyable challenge and it will be great again to show we are worthy of a fight for promotion.
“It’s probably been one of the more physical pre-seasons I’ve been a part of, but I was out for three months with a broken foot just as the season ended. I have realised that I have a big responsibility to create goals and score goals.
“But this has also enabled me to go out on the pitch without fear and just express myself, as I know that when I play with freedom I play my best football.”
Of course Robin’s focus is on Stevenage but as a Sheffield Wednesday supporter I had to take the chance to discuss a simply pivotal game in our promotion two seasons ago. In the penultimate game of 2011/12, Wednesday had finally overtaken bitter rivals United for League One’s second automatic promotion place after beating Brentford in the 3pm game. United hosted Stevenage in the evening kick-off at Bramall Lane with every Wednesday fan willing Stevenage to deny the Blades victory and leave the way clear for us to seal promotion on the final day.
Boro were hitting strong form and needed the win for their own play-off place and in the live TV game they took a 2-0 lead over United which they held before the home side fought back to 2-2 with minutes to go. Wednesday fans were in dreamland when Boro defender Scott Laird put them two ahead, but the final few minutes added twenty years on to the age of every Owls supporter! Gary Smith’s side hung on though and Wednesday took promotion the following weekend, with United losing the play-off final having got past Boro in the semis by a goal to nil on aggregate. Here are Robin’s memories of that day as he started and played 73 minutes of the nail-biting encounter and he strongly fancies going toe-to-toe with the league’s top teams again this season.
“Sheffield Wednesday fans still sometimes thank us for getting a draw that day, which is brilliant of course, as the club got its promotion back to the Championship afterwards. It was an unbelievable day, personally I hadn’t started a game in about two months, so to come back into the team in front of 32,000 passionate Blades and on Sky was amazing.
“It was also a brilliant game of football. I think if you watch it back now, in terms of quality and entertainment you wouldn’t be able to differentiate that from a Championship game of football.
“We actually played some excellent attacking football and really took the game to Sheff U, which I think was an effective tool we used throughout the season. There’s no reason why we can’t better that going into our third season in League One.
“There are some bigger clubs than us, but the bigger they are, the harder they fall!”
Robin and his counterparts turn their attention to the task in hand with Championship Ipswich Town (Capital One Cup), opening day League One leaders Leyton Orient and promotion tips Bradford City all visiting The Lamex Stadium this month. You might catch him cycling to and from the train station on his commute each day but in the meantime it is left to Robin to take on the regular last question. In this, I ask the player for their best career teammates to go alongside them in a 5-a-side line-up. Robin gives a mention to ex-Republic of Ireland midfielder Lee Carsley for his influence on himself and other youngsters at Birmingham but here are the four chosen ones for his team.
“Wow, tough one! Throughout my short career I’ve been extremely blessed to play with some wonderful footballers.
“I would probably have to say that Joe Hart would be in goal. Franck Queudrue would be at the back.
“Myself and Alexander Hleb would be in midfield, and Super Kevin Phillips would be up front! A match for anyone!”