Conference champions 10 years on | Matt Robinson Christmas special

Non-league to Premier League in the space of a decade?

Yeah, that’s us. We’re proud of our story since 1885 but the past ten years have been special.

This season we’re celebrating the first of our four promotions with the first – and probably most important – one: the 2013/14 season when, ten years ago, a team led by a lovable London boy got back to the Football League.

In this series we talk to those heroes who made it all happen.

Watch past episodes:

Alex Lawless | Paul Benson | Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu | Scott Griffiths | Jake Howells

“In the downpour we told Barnet to calm it.”

It’s a line synonymous with the Town’s Conference winning campaign following an iconic game on New Year’s Day 2014 that saw the Hatters aquaplane to a vital 2-1 win at Kenilworth Road.

“They’re words I’ll never live down,” laughs Matt Robinson as we chart his path through the midfielder’s career and his role in helping the club return to the Football League after five years away.

But more on the rap later.

Robinson’s career at Kenilworth Road began in the summer of 2012 as a fresh-faced 18 year old.

After being released by hometown club Leicester, he was signed by Paul Buckle – and he soon realised what he’d let himself in for in one of his first training sessions.

“I whacked Ronnie Henry. He grabbed me and said ‘don’t do that again’. Listen, I’m not saying I didn’t, but I certainly knew then that I was in the lion’s den, playing with grown men trying to get out of the most difficult division in football.”

Even though he was a teenager at the time, Robinson quickly understood the Hatters’ difficulty in escape the confinements of the fifth tier.

“The pressure in the Conference was different, with eight-to-ten thousand fans,” he says. “The expectation is there but the turnover of players was big. Players felt threatened from those who had been there before and that breeds competition. Sometimes that’s healthy and it works but sometimes it doesn’t, and it didn’t work for Paul Buckle.”

Despite being grateful for Buckle giving him his full senior debut in September, come April Robinson was ready to be acquainted with a new boss – one which helped turn the club around.

John Still thrust a young Robinson into the heart of the Town midfield for the final seven matches of the 2012/13 campaign, where he would go on and score his first senior goal on the final day of the campaign at Southport.

“I don’t have many Luton shirts, but I have that shirt up, signed in my studio,” he says. “It’s a landmark that can only be replicated once, and put me in a good position for the challenge the next season.”

However, hoping to build on that milestone, Robinson found it tough when he reported for pre-season training.

“I fell off a bit in the summer when I came back. I was dealing with a lot of stuff off the pitch and my head was elsewhere,” he says.

“I didn’t do myself much justice. After the end to the previous season I thought it was my place to lose. However, John went with more experienced players, and I understood that. I’ve played in the division long enough to know that playing with youngsters rarely gets you success.

“I was disappointed, especially after coming off such a high. But I was given my chances in reserve games – which were pretty frequent – and in the FA Trophy. I remember we played Wrexham in the Trophy, we won 2-0 and I was the oldest player on the pitch. I felt I was doing my thing, this is how I’ll get back in.”

Any footballer will tell you of the moment in their careers where an opportunity presents itself. For Robinson, it came as a result of unfortunate circumstances for his teammate, Jonathan Smith.

“I wasn’t even expecting to be on the bench at Barnet,” he says. “Then Smudge broke his leg and all of a sudden it was ‘Robbo, you’re coming on’.” With their stricken teammate facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Robinson and the Hatters knew exactly how they would cope with the situation and keep their sights on winning promotion.

“In situations like these the camaraderie comes through, a togetherness,” he says. “The true definition of team is when you put everything else above everything and you push as one.

“The dynamic in that team felt like there was two teams within in a team but there was no divide. There were the young lads, trying to prove themselves, get their names out there and be a part of it with a lot of competition.

“Then there was a great selection of older boys; Alex Lawless, Mark Tyler, Paul Benson, Steve McNulty, Luke Guttridge. Even people like Anthony Charles, Jon Shaw, Solomon Taiwo – people who didn’t play as much but who could be there to calm things down if needed to, or sort things out in the dressing room.

“It was no-nonsense. We probably had five or six different captains for different things. One for discipline, another for a shoulder to cry on. Everyone got on and I think that’s the reason why we were so prolific that year.

“We had spirit in abundance, we had a synergy, we all had the same goal and there was no selfishness.

“And John Still, to a certain degree, was the glue. I guess he was the grandad, and Terry Harris and Hakan Hayrettin were the great uncles, who had the banter but could step in when needed. When people say a squad is like a family, it can be overestimated, but this genuinely was one.”

With Robinson in the team the Town continued their charge to the top of the table, overhauling Cambridge thanks to a 27-match unbeaten run that saw the midfielder on target in crucial wins against Grimsby and Chester.

Finally, following Kidderminster’s win over Cambridge, the Hatters were crowned champions. When the jubilant squad reconvened for training, Robinson's teammates reminded him of a promise he had made earlier in the season.

“We were 12 points behind Cambridge and I wasn’t in the team at the time but I said, ‘if we win the league, I’ll do a rap’. “So I felt the mood of what was needed and I wrote it in about ten minutes. I went to the studio and had one hour’s studio time. I played it to the lads at the weekly meeting and they were buzzing.

“When you already have a blueprint for a track it’s easy. Plus all the lads’ names ended in ‘y’, Shawy, Scotty, Howellsy, Wally, which helps. Then you have to isolate incidents that were memorable, like the downpour line.

“I think the song gave me a lot of popularity with the young fans but I like to think I did my part on the pitch too.”

The success that season would help Robinson’s career in both industries.

“With the bonus we got for winning promotion, I bought my first home studio. A Macbook, soundcard and a very expensive microphone,” he says.

“But I remember at Carlisle, on the first day of the following season, in the hotel before I was looking at the mountains and thinking, ‘I’ve made it to the Football League’. I’d come a way that not many had managed to do.

“I have a photograph on my Instagram of my shirt with the Football League badge on it. We won 1-0, and remember walking over to the fans thinking ‘this is a moment’. Luton Town are back.”

The 2014/15 season would see Robinson play his final games for the Town. A loan spell at Woking followed in 2015/16 before he made a move to Dagenham & Redbridge where he would make over 200 appearances.

Now the midfielder is contracted at Woking but on loan at Boreham Wood. However, his work in the music scene, as Kamakaze, has seen him nominated for the award of Best Grime Act at the 2022 MOBO awards, while his track ‘Last Night’ was added to the FIFA 20 soundtrack.

It became an instantly recognisable part of the game, especially during lockdown. It also made Robinson became the first person to have a song on FIFA’s soundtrack while also previously having featured on the game as a footballer.

As we discuss his music, it becomes apparent how far Robinson has come from the 18-year-old who stepped foot in Kenilworth Road and explicitly asked not to talk about his musical talents in his first interview.

“You know why?” he asks, as we put to him why he’s comfortable with it now, 11 years later. “Back then nobody saw it as a positive. It was seen as a distraction then.

“These days, things like this are encouraged but back then everyone would be on at me about it. Coaches, staff. The academy director at Leicester despised it.

“It was like I had to keep it in this box. I have this analogy: Nobody cares if a footballer plays golf. Playing golf isn’t taking anything away from their focus. It’s an old school mentality of what a footballer should be.

“The music came out of the box when the box split, when I could no longer contain it.

“People make music and want to create things that are timeless, things that people can pin on a noticeboard and say ‘this was my year, that’s my soundtrack to me life’. That’s the most rewarding thing for me.”

Robinson’s last words are reserved for football and someone particularly close to him.

“Pelly deserves all his flowers,” he says. “He’s the nicest, most humble, down-to-earth individual I’ve ever met. He doesn’t fit any mould, even his playing style doesn’t.

“With the work I’ve done with Nike, I was once asked ‘who’s the one person in football we don’t know about that we should?’ “I said Pelly because nobody else has what he has.”

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