Valerie Robinson, regarded as one of English hockey’s greatest female players and the first ‘working class girl’ capped by her country, who was also recognised as a dual sporting talent after winning two BBC Superstars shows, has died after a long illness. She was 80.
A fit and wonderfully skilful athlete, Robinson (born Walsh) was the first woman to earn 100 caps and went on to make 149 England and 21 GB appearances. She scored 46 combined goals in a career spanning more than 20 years from the early 1960s.
A close friend and former club team-mate at Blackburn Northern, Kay Hanham, told The Hockey Paper: “She is a legend and a super star. When I coached the team, never once did Val make me feel that I wasn’t helping her. She made everyone look good and was the ultimate team-mate and club person.
“She was amazingly quick and had this famous trademark dummy. She was the provider not a goalscorer, did all the hard work by going past four players and laying on for a team-mate. She was an amazing athlete.”
Born in Accrington in 1941, Robinson first played hockey aged 14 at Accrington Girls High School and was hailed as the first working-class girl to be capped by England in 1963.
Despite her wealth of international honours – she helped England win the IFWHA 1975 World Championships – she was denied the chance of competing at an Olympics due to GB Hockey’s boycott ahead of the inaugural women’s tournament at the Moscow Games.
According to The Hockey Museum, Robinson played in 19 of the annual Wembley international matches, the first being her international debut in 1963 against Wales, while she missed only one between 1966 and 1984.
She continued to play at top club level for Great Harwood/Blackburn Northern HC into the 1990s – and well into her 50s – including in the first National League season of 1989/90.
However, her sporting career was not all about hockey. Robinson was also a talented footballer and played for Accrington Ladies as a teen and, when her team folded in 1959, she joined Preston Ladies. She was voted joint player of the year three seasons later, shortly before deciding upon a hockey career.
Preston’s manager Kath Latham once famously recalled Matt Busby watching one of their matches at Blackpool. He remarked to his fellow onlookers that Val “was the best (female) player he had seen in his life and, if she had been a man, he would have signed her up there and then for Manchester United.”
Robinson also showed her sporting prowess by twice winning the BBC Superstars competition, in 1979 and, as a supremely fit 40-year-old, in 1981.
In her first win of the popular BBC show, she won five of the six events and triumphed in the second, it was reported, despite not having eaten for three days, suffering from poisoning after exposure to an industrial explosion.
She went up against sprinter Kathy Smallwood, gymnast Suzanne Dando, swimmer Sharron Davies, sprinter Donna Hartley and squash player Angela Smith.
Robinson later reckoned that winning the two sprint events extended her playing career by five years.
Louisa Scanlon paid tribute to her aunt over the weekend: “Aunty Val was a very private person also an incredible sportswoman, both football and hockey which was very unusual at that time in life in the late 1950s as you can imagine as a young 14 and 16-year-old girl, but who would go on to make a life long professional career within sports. And so she was also a bit of a trailblazer too.”
Robinson later became a PE teacher and, alongside her late husband Gwyn, in 1980 opened a residential hockey centre. In 1985 she was awarded an OBE for services to hockey. She retired from hockey around the 1998 season.
Plans are in place for clubs in the North West to join in a minute’s silence on Feb 26.
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