Part three delves in to how an international hat-trick changed everything for Robert, the pressures of the game and a special return to Ninian Park with Norwich that meant so much.
As prolific as you were, it seemed to be your hat-trick against Scotland that saw your profile rocket. I remember you appearing on a Question of Sport soon after and the combination of the two was like a realisation that you had outgrown the club. West Brom came in for you soon after, so is it fair to say that those two things accelerate your career?
Definitely. The hat-trick against Scotland was a huge deal because it was at the highest stage and a lot higher than where I was playing with Cardiff. That definitely took me to a different level. I was also on Question of Sport after that and there were then more invites for things. International football was key for me and why in the end I probably got the move.
You were still at Cardiff when the rebrand happened. As a player in touch with Cardiff’s proud history, what were your thoughts on it an what was its effect on you?
Coming from a club that’s always been the Bluebirds, with so much history behind that, and that it suddenly changes, you think ‘woah, what’s going on here?!’ I think that was my feeling. As players, we didn’t really have a choice, we were just told what the plan was and when it was going to happen. This is the direction we’re going and we didn’t have too much time to think about it. Its different because you appreciate the history of the club and the colours are part of that. It was a strange time.
I think sometimes people don’t realise the lows players experience, they only see the highs. What are your regrets or low times in football and was it a particular game, injury or decision?
That’s a very good question from Leo. Almost every club I’ve been at, the fans have been behind me. Even though Derby and Nottingham Forest have such a big rivalry and Forest fans sing a song about how much I I’m supposed to hate Derby! The pressure is huge though. I could always handle it very well, but there were still some periods of time when I may not have been playing well, or didn’t score for a few games and those things knock your confidence. You have to handle that sort of thing a lot.
It’s the pressure off the pitch as well. For instance, when you have an injury. I remember being at Norwich and scoring 17 goals by Christmas, so I was on course for a season like when I scored 35 for Cardiff. In training, we were practicing shooting and I took a shot which injured my groin. Pretty much ripped it off the bone and it was a bad one.
At the time, everything was positive, then all of a sudden, for three weeks I couldn’t even walk to the toilet. I was in unbelievable pain, had an operation then recovery, which was pretty much learning how to walk again. For about two years afterwards, that injury still affected me. I was back after about three months, but I was managing it for a couple of years. Your mentality and confidence gets tested.
You also have pressure from people off the pitch. Sometimes people want to be around you for what they can get from you and that can be tough because you want to be around genuinely good people. Handling disappointment, whether big or small, can affect the people around you. Whether a bad decision or a poor performance, then may then go home in a crap mood. I was always able to bounce back. A bad game today is part of my progress and I’ll be better tomorrow, but you can see some players in that situation really struggle.
It takes a certain strength to be able to handle those pressures and then keep reproducing. Sometimes performing on the pitch, where you have control, is the easy part though. There is now lots of talk about mental health in football, where you have to be able to deal with the good and the bad. Social media is also crazy. It’s a real minefield. You can say something and it gets turned in to something else. You can’t take it too personally though and have to find a way to handle it if you’re in the public eye.
Watching you play for Forest when we were in the same division was like seeing your ex with another man. Did you have any chance to come back to us any sooner and do you regret not playing for Cardiff in the Premier League?
Dai Rhys Towler
Haha! Whoever came up wit that, that’s brilliant. Before I went to Forest, there were a few teams interested and I’m not sure if Cardiff were one of them. There was talk of interest, but it was never firm interest. Playing in the Premier League with Cardiff would have been the best. I would have loved that. Cardiff will always be close to my heart and I always want to see them do well.
I remember you scoring at Ninian Park for Norwich and the goal got a standing ovation. That must have meant a lot. That doesn’t happen very often.
You know what, when we were talking earlier about favourite moments, that would be up there. I think that may have been the first time I had played back in Cardiff. I was unsure of what to expect because when you move, you’re never sure what reception you will get. Whether they still like me enough to cheer me, or if they’re mad at me because I left!
I didn’t know what the reaction would be like during or after the game. In that one moment though, you got to see years of love. I think that’s the best way to put it. This was my club, where I grew up, carrying water bottles at 16 around this pitch and watching the first team. By the way, that was one of the best goals I scored in my whole career!
The two minutes after that goal were amazing because until then, I wasn’t sure, but then everyone started clapping and I had never seen that before at Ninian Park. When they did that for me, I was a bit emotional and humbled because that was pure love. That was what I was feeling being back and playing against Cardiff. I appreciated being back and all the years we had spent together. It was beautiful.
Cardiff or Nottingham Forest; you can only pick one?
HaHa! I don’t want to answer that question. They’re both very close to me. I can’t choose!