Over three seasons, Robinson scored 37 First Division goals for the club, more than any other Albion player. He joined Brighton in a £400,000 deal in the summer of 1980. In March 1981, he returned to Maine Road with the Seagulls to play in the First Division fixture against his old side. By that point, it was clear that his move to the South Coast had been a success. Although his new club was facing a relegation battle, Robinson was ever-present and his seventeen League goals so far had rebuilt his confidence and reputation as a centre-forward.
On the eve of the match, he spoke to Peter Gardner of the Manchester Evening News:
Michael Robinson returns to Maine Road today for the first time since his transfer to Brighton last summer with the controversial admission: ‘I had to leave City to get away from Malcolm Allison and save my career.’
Robinson lines up against a City side now without the man whose views forced him to leave the Blues. And the man who had earlier handed Preston a then-club record fee of £750,000 for the striker’s talents. Robinson says: ‘Malcolm Allison and I just didn’t see eye-to-eye – it became inevitable that I would have to leave the club. It was a total conflict of ideas. Malcolm wanted me to do things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. He was asking me to play wide up front, on my own or on the wing… crazy things like that. It just wasn’t me. All I ever wanted to do was to be successful for City as a centre-forward, my best position. But Malcolm somehow got these ideas that I should play everywhere except that one, and I could never agree. Being messed about like that was making me a poorer player. In those circumstances I just had to leave.
Looking back on his move to Brighton, Mike says: ‘Alan Mullery told me from the outset that he wanted me to play just as I always wanted to play, and I shall always be grateful to him for that. I am thoroughly enjoying my football once again. And that is certainly a relief after all the agonies and frustrations I went through in the later part of my stay at City.’
Robinson admits to still being baffled by the Allison strategy: ‘I couldn’t understand it then and I still can’t work it out now,’ he says, adding: ‘The season before Malcolm bought me he had Peter Barnes and Mike Channon drifting wide down the flanks, but no centre-forward to take advantage of the service. Then, when I arrived as an orthodox centre-forward, he sold Barnes and Channon. So where was I expected to get the service form? Since I have left City, I feel I have come on leaps and bounds. My game was deteriorating at Maine Road where Malcolm, in his time, blinded the players by science. Their minds were blank by the time they went out on the field. Here at Brighton I have found a new lease of life.’
The match at Maine Road ended in a 1-1 draw. Although Robinson didn’t score, he headed a long clearance by Digweed to give goalscorer John Gregory, in oceans of space, an excellent chance to make it two points rather than one, but Gregory stubbed his toe and the ball ran wide. Nevertheless, Robinson added two more goals to bring his League total for the season to nineteen. He also received the Albion Rediffusion ‘Player of the Season’ award.
Years later, Robinson was much more receptive to what Allison was conveying to his players as a coach. He said: “”I used to think Malcolm Allison woke up in the morning wondering how to complicate my life. He would speak to me about angles and zones. And I wasn’t the only one. Mick Channon didn’t understand a blind word either. But I archived it somewhere. Later, what Malcolm had been saying fell into place.”