UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Before the Red Bulls played San Jose on August 28, midfielder Carl Robinson got a phone call that he was dreading: his father had been informed by his doctor that he had about two weeks to live. Robinson’s father, who spent his days as a builder, had a tumor growing on the outside of his lung in addition to one on the back of his head.
After informing the team and getting a leave of absence from the club, Robinson immediately flew back to Wales to see his father. He was saddened to see a strong man whom he admired when he grew up weakened and unable to sit-up or even eat on his own. Blood clots from a recent hip surgery and the tumors were taking their toll on his father.
Robinson first picked up the sport of football, what we call soccer, from his father. An athlete of note in his small Welsh town growing up, Robinson’s dad was offered a professional contract at age 20 by prominent clubs Coventry and Cardiff. He didn’t want to move from the area and the woman who’d eventually become his wife, so he declined the contract. But there was another reason why he didn’t sign.
“He didn’t want to cut his hair,” Robinson said, noting that his father’s hair at that time was near shoulder-length and the clubs insisted he chop his locks.
So instead, he’d settle down, marry Robinson’s mother and lead a quiet life. His father, Robinson says, was not embarrassed to critique his son’s performance on the field, but also loved watching Carl play.
“Everything I’ve done before in my life was for him,” Robinson said.
His father was planning to come to New York to watch the Red Bulls in the playoffs this November, but the illness drew an end to those plans. Robinson visited and sat with his dad every day during his trip to Wales. One day, he slipped out for about 20 minutes to visit with his wife and children, who were nearby. When he came back home, his father had passed.
His mother told him that his father didn’t want Carl to see him pass. His father considered him the “sensitive one” of the family. He waited until his son was away for a spell to finally pass from this earth.
“He didn’t want me to see him in pain.”
Usually in Robinson’s hometown, around 200 people will attend funerals in the small village, where everyone knows everyone else. Robinson said that the head count for his father’s service was more than 900 people. Even across the Atlantic, his teammates in New York were remembering Robinson’s father. The Red Bulls played on September 11, the day of the funeral. Robinson said he received numerous text messages from teammates and the Starting XI wore black armbands to mark the day.
And there was a touching moment from Thierry Henry.
After scoring a first half goal, Henry ran to the sidelines and motioned teammates away. Taking off the armband, Henry gently placed it on the ground. Then leaning down, he gathered his hands as if to cover the armband and then, slowly rising, he rose his hands as if the spirit was rising from the ground towards heaven.
Robinson had no idea of the celebration until told by MLSSoccer.com on Tuesday afternoon.
“That does mean a lot,” Robinson said. “The entire club has been fantastic to me.”
Robinson said that the season was being dedicated to his father’s memory.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012