Ex-Hearts boss Craig Levein: Chris Robinson was one of the best people I've worked with in football

Craig Levein insists Chris Robinson was one of the best people he’s ever worked with in football as the former Hearts boss paid to tribute to his old employer following his death at the weekend.

Robinson was viewed as the lead influencer in the Tynecastle boardroom when the time came in late 2000 to appoint a new manager. The club hierarchy opted to bring back ex-captain Craig Levein, who’d made a success of himself at lower-league Cowdenbeath, and the two remained on good terms right up until Robinson’s passing.

“I've kept in touch with Chris since I was Hearts manager first time around, so I knew what was going on,” a sombre Levein told the Evening News. “I was kind of expecting the news, in all honesty. But I was friendly with him, so when I heard the news it was a real downer. It was sad news, really.

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“After I left Hearts we kept in touch and would often go out for a bite to eat. We have another mutual friend as well so we did catch up, not monthly or anything like that, but a couple of times a year. We'd catch up and have a chat. I got on really well with him. I really liked him.”

Hearts chief executive Chris Robinson introducing new manager Craig Levein to the media in 2000. Picture: SNS

As custodian of Scotland’s third biggest club, many had an opinion on Robinson without knowing the man as a person.

“He was very private,” explained Levein. “I don't think anybody really knew him on the footballing side of things. He always kept himself to himself. He was quite a quiet and shy person. He wasn't over-demonstrative.

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“He was a massive Hearts supporter. Massive. I'm sure he spent a lot of his own money during the time he was at Hearts, trying to do the right thing.

“He was a good friend to me and my wife, Carol. Him and Liz were really good people.”

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Craig Levein and Chris Robinson in November 2001. Picture: SNS

It wasn’t the easiest of times for Craig and Chris to work together at Tynecastle in the early noughties. Budgets had to be curtailed on a yearly basis as the cost of the squad kept having to come down while there was pressure on the manager to keep things going strong on the park. Despite such a stressful environment there was no resentment between the pair, which Levein puts down to his old friend’s character and refusal to sugarcoat anything.

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“A lot of people have comments about Chris Robinson. But my experiences of him have always been very good,” the former Scotland boss said. “He didn't suffer fools gladly, but he was very straight and honest and I enjoyed working with him.

“Part of my job was to reduce the wage bill as quickly as possible and to stay competitive. The budget was tight. We had to move on a lot of big name players that we had and start again, almost. That was a challenge but he didn't tell me one lie. He was always up front with what the problems were at the club and what needed to be done. He was true to his word as he said he would support me in every way he could and that turned out to be the case.

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“I've been fortunate to work for some good people and I put Chris right in amongst them.”

Chris Robinson attending a Hearts game at Tynecastle as a supporter in 2011. Picture: SNS
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While he had his allies, Robinson wasn’t a figure so popular with the majority of Hearts supporters, especially once plans were announced in 2004 to pay off the club’s near £20 million debt by selling to Cala Homes and moving the team to nearby Murrayfield on a temporary basis while they sought to find a new stadium.

An error in judgement in may have been, as evidenced by Vladimir Romanov taking over the club, cancelling the sale and Hearts remaining at a refurbished Tynecastle to this day. But while the logic may not have been entirely sound, Levein has no doubts Robinson harboured the best of intentions for his boyhood side.

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Furthermore, Levein – who later returned as director of football and later became manager for a second time – believes Robinson’s legacy should also include his part in facilitating a famous day in 1998 when Hearts ended their 36-year wait for a trophy with the Scottish Cup final victory over Rangers.

“A lot of clubs in Scotland got into debt at the same time, led by the Old Firm. David Murray at Rangers was certainly spending a lot of money and everybody was trying to keep up. When I went into Dundee United they'd done the same sort of thing, spending to try and keep up with everyone else. At that time in Scottish football everybody just joined in, took the money that was offered and it was almost a race of who was to be bankrupt first. It was a crazy time,” reflected Levein.

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“To be fair to Chris, he put plenty of his own money into Hearts as well. He was a really strong supporter of the club and I know there were a lot of people unhappy with his tenure, but around the time Hearts won the cup he would've been one of the biggest shareholders. He helped Jim at the time by funding the squad and the budget which helped them win the Scottish Cup. It's certainly a decent legacy.

“The debt was there through the attempt to try and win trophies. That was the purpose. And it happened.”

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