Obituaries

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Val Robinson Gwyn OBE at Palace 1985
 
Val Robinson, shown here with husband Gwyn, was awarded
an OBE for services to hockey in 1985.

 

A Tribute to Val Robinson OBE:
International hockey star, club player, BBC Superstars winner, footballer, golfer, hockey coach and friend.

18.12.1941 – 12.02.2022

The hockey family will have been saddened this week by the news of Val Robinson’s death at the age of 80. Her many achievements are being extensively covered in the national press and on social media. Some of these tributes can be explored through the links at the end of this tribute. A very personal tribute to Val has also been written by Alison Baker, a pupil of Val’s at Stratton School, Biggleswade in the 1960s and then later an international teammate. This is attached in the document below.

At a time when women’s hockey had little coverage outside of the hockey-playing world, one name was still familiar to many households – that of Val Robinson. She was one of the stars of the annual England women’s international hockey match held at Wembley Stadium, which was televised most years in the 1960s and ‘70s. Later, Val was the winner of the 1979 and 1981 BBC Superstars events at the age of 40!

 

1973 Eng v Ireland Wembley Val Robinson     

1974 wembley val robinson

     
Val Robinson in action at Wembley Stadium vs Ireland in 1973 (left) and Netherlands in 1974 (right).

 

Val wasn’t always the most influential player on the pitch or the most effective – being tightly marked by the opposition became the norm for Val – but she was always the favourite of the schoolgirls and the decibel levels went up several notches whenever she received the ball. Why did people admire her so? Maybe they recognised a free spirit and ferocious courage within that slight frame? Maybe it was the skill of her mazey runs with the ball on the end of her stick on what was often a heavily rutted grass pitch?

Val’s international record is unique and her hockey career reads very impressively. She played in at least 149 England matches in the 21 years between 1963-84, scoring 47 goals. She also appeared in 21 matches for Great Britain (GB) between 1978 and 1981 scoring 8 goals. No other player has shown such longevity and consistency of performance. A number of the top modern-day players have certainly chalked up many more caps, but none have extended their careers anywhere near to 20 years. If England and GB had played the same number of games a year in the 1960s and ‘70s as they do now, it could be argued that Val would have accrued in the region of 400 caps which puts her on a parr with Kate Richardson-Walsh, who now holds the record for the most GB & England international appearances.

 

1966 England 1
 
Val Robinson in the England team of 1966, seated second in from the right.

 

Perhaps a hypothetical comparison, but Kate’s respect for Val’s legacy was clear in the tribute she gave upon hearing of Val’s death:

“With her ability in both hockey and football, today she would have been a professional sportswoman and it’s because of people like Val that I got to play hockey full-time at the end of my career. She was well known not just for her hockey ability but also for winning BBC Superstars twice which is no mean feat! We stand on her shoulders. What Val stood for and what she achieved as a sportswoman is an inspiration to me. Her name and her legacy will live on forever.”

 

Watch Val Robinson compete in BBC Superstars

https://youtu.be/g3Ojq82X_a8

 

Val began her international career at a time when selectors picked 11 players for specific positions, and there were no substitutes. There were no team coaches and no structured training programmes; the players had to buy or hire their kit. They travelled to games independently, often on public transport and matches were played on grass pitches, often not of an ideal quality. By the time she retired, the international game had changed beyond all recognition – all international teams had a coach and a manager; a squad of 16 was selected and matches were played on artificial pitches. There were physiotherapists, training weekends and fitness programmes along with sponsored kit, team coaches to travel to games and interviews with the media. How did Val view all these changes? Most she welcomed – such as the move to artificial pitches and more fluid team line-ups that suited her skilful and adventurous style. She did admit that while always being a very fit player, she never took to ‘training programmes’, never used any of the physiotherapists and was always wary of ‘officialdom’ and the media. Would she have thrived in the modern game – of course she would! She was a supreme athlete with a courageous spirit and a will to win. As all top strikers would tell you, they hate being substituted so rolling subs would have been a challenge to Val but she would still have relished that challenge.

 

1981 wembley banner
 

A banner flown during the England women's hockey match against Wales at
Wembley Stadium in 1981. It reads, "Val Robinson eats leeks for Breakfast".

 

What did Val’s teammates think of her? I have been reading so many tributes this week and what comes through is a mixture of the high standards of excellence that she set for herself, her courage in the face of the many ‘agricultural’ tackles that she was subjected to over the years, her humility and the fun of being in her company. Val was not a conventional leader; she never took to the captain’s role, but she was the centre of most teams she played for and her teammates loved her company and support.

Even after she retired from the top flight, Val continued to enjoy club hockey for Great Harewood Hockey Club for many years (now Blackburn Northern) and a number of us continued to enjoy playing with Val for Rambling Roses, a team for past England players. Rambling Roses were invited to play in many exhibition matches and travelled abroad to play in several tournaments. Without the pressure of the full international, these were great games – the comradery on the pitch and watching Val in action will be a lasting memory for us all. The last time we played was in an exhibition match in 2010 as part of the Women’s Champions Trophy at Nottingham – Val was nearly 70 and maybe couldn’t run around as fast as Jane Sixsmith but her class still shone through.

So many people felt they ‘knew’ Val and would tell stories of when they played with her, against her or simply watched her. Playing in a modern era she could have had a massive twitter following – except that she would have hated it. Essentially, she was a very private person who was happy in the company of her beloved husband Gwyn, her family and a few close friends. To hear Val speak about her career and her memories, you can listen to an interview conducted with her in June 2021 below.

So, to finish, we should all raise a glass (a half pint of bitter in honour of Val) and sing “And here’s to you Mrs Robinson”.

 

Enjoy The Hockey Museum's Interview With Val Robinson

https://youtu.be/9191JvGpEio

 

Katie Dodd
18 February 2022

Interview conducted 18 June 2021.

 

Other Tributes To Val Robinson

pdfA personal tribute from Alison Baker can be downloaded by clicking the PDF icon to the right (top icon). Alison was a pupil of Val’s at Stratton School, Biggleswade in the 1960s and then later an international teammate.

Click for England Hockey's tribute to Val Robinson.

Click for The Hockey Paper's tribute to Val Robinson.

Cick for The Guardian's tribute to Val Robinson.

pdfVal Robinson's obituary from The Telegraph is downloadable by clicking the PDF icon to the right (middle icon). Copyright: The Telegraph.

pdfVal Robinson's obituary from The Times is downloadable by clicking the PDF icon to the right (bottom icon). Copyright: The Times.

 

 

Obituaries: An Introduction

This features page contains obituaries, previously appearing in the News section of the website, of persons who have made a significant contribution to hockey’s history. They are all people who have been in the forefront of innovation in the sport. This section of the website is the go-to location to...

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Roger Self OBE, 1939-2017

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Trevor Jones, 1930-2021

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Valerie Robinson OBE, 1941-2022

Valerie Robinson OBE, 1941-2022

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Varinder Singh, 1947-2022

Varinder Singh, 1947-2022

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Wim Van Noortwijk, 1941-2020

Wim Van Noortwijk, 1941-2020

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