RIP, Neil Robinson

Ground-breaking former Everton footballer Neil Robinson has passed away suddenly at the desperately early age of just 65.

The world’s first professional footballer to declare himself an ethical vegan, Neil suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Widnes on Thursday 23 November.

A boyhood Blue who made 23 appearances for the Club he adored, Neil went on to enjoy spells with Swansea City, for whom he made 137 league appearances, Grimsby Town and Darlington.

But it was his matches wearing the Royal Blue jersey which he cherished most.

Born at number 45 Spellow Lane, Neil proudly believed that gave him the status of the Everton player to have been born closest to Goodison Park.

And as a Holt High School pupil in Childwall he dreamed of playing for the Blues.

It was an ambition he realised on 31 January 1976 against Burnley at Goodison Park – just three years after he had turned down an offer of a professional contract with Liverpool to sign for Everton.

That was his only appearance of the 1975/76 season – but astonishingly his first three appearances of the following campaign came in an FA Cup third round clash with Stoke, a League Cup semi-final against Bolton and a League Cup final second replay at Old Trafford against Aston Villa.

He ended his breakthrough season with four league starts, against Derby, Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle, all of them victories and three of them at his beloved Goodison Park.

The 1977/78 season brought Neil’s only Everton goal against Chelsea – in hilarious circumstances!

The flame-haired full-back drove a fierce drive past former England goalkeeper Peter Bonetti down at the Gwladys Street End and celebrated wildly. But while Neil was cavorting around the pitch his team-mates were trying to persuade referee Peter Willis to disallow the goal and award a penalty kick to allow Bob Latchford the opportunity to get closer to his target of 30 league goals and win a national newspaper cash prize!

In the event both players ended the match happy with Latchford scoring two late goals and Robinson keeping his cherished strike.

Robinson had already, famously, declared his commitment to vegetarianism.

He explained: “In 1970, at the age of 13, I became vegetarian after watching a TV documentary about an Amazonian tribe who sacrificed a cow by slitting its throat.

“After the poor beast had fallen to the floor the tribesmen jumped up and down on its throat to drain all the blood from its body then proceeded to chop up the animal to cook on the open fire. I was shocked by this sudden and stark realisation that meat was actually the flesh of a once living animal.

“I thought to myself that this just was not right for humans to do this to another species and I decided that I no longer wanted eat any meat. Ten years later, in 1980, I decided to become vegan.

“This meant that I was vegetarian for the first seven years of my professional playing career and vegan for the last ten years. My fitness was never ever in question at any football club I played for. In fact, I would say that I was always one of the top three fittest players at all my clubs.”

In the 1981/82 season he became the first vegan to score in a top-flight match, for Swansea and in 1985/86 was named Grimsby Town’s Player of the Year.

His older brother Sir Ken Robinson was a world renowned expert on creativity and education for which he received his knighthood in 2003.

Poignantly Neil had only just set up his own website earlier this year, celebrating his 42ndyear as a vegan and promoting his passion for ethical vegan living, health and fitness and world peace.  

Neil, the youngest of seven children, leaves wife Pauline and three children Neil David, Alison and Kathryn.