Derby born goalkeeper Jack Robinson began playing football for local sides Derby St Neots in 1886 and Derby Midland in 1887 before moving to Lincoln City in 1888. His senior football debut came in an FA Cup 1st round (proper) tie against Chester in January 1890. After helping the Imps win the Midland Football League in 1890 he returned to his hometown and signed for Football League side Derby County in the summer of 1891, making his Football League debut at Stoke in September the same year. Robinson spent six seasons at the Baseball Ground making over 180 appearances and was a key player in Derby’s 1895-96 campaign which saw them finish as runners up to Aston Villa in the League Championship. He was also twice an FA Cup semi finalist with Derby when they lost respectively to Wolves in 1896 and Everton a year later.
He was first capped by England in a 6-0 win over Ireland at Trent Bridge in February 1897, and won his second cap while still a Derby County player in a 2-1 defeat to Scotland at The Crystal Palace that April. He left Derby in August 1897 after 182 appearances and spent a season with Lancashire League New Brighton Tower, with whom he won three further England caps, before joining Southern League Southampton for £400 in May 1898.
He enjoyed a successful time with Southampton helping them to dominate the Southern League at the turn of the 20th Century. As goalkeeper, Robinson was instrumental in a string of victories over top flight sides in the FA Cup during this period, notably in getting to the 1900 FA Cup Final where infighting over the selection of an out of form English forward over the in-form Roddy McLeod of Scotland led to fighting between the English and Scottish factions and ultimately led to a very disjointed team performance and a heavy defeat in the Final to Bury. He also played in their 1902 FA Cup Final team when they lost 2-1 in a replay to Sheffield United at The Crystal Palace, the first match, also at The Crystal Palace, having finished a 1-1 draw. He also won 4 Southern League Championships during his time at The Dell.
Robinson was noted, during his playing career, for his reliability and was, according to author Francis Hodgson, among the first goalkeepers to dive full length to make saves. Touring Eastern Europe with Southampton, Robinson played a notable role in introducing modern goalkeeping techniques to Austria and Hungary. Gyula Grosics, the Hungarian international of the 1950’s, observed that “it was Moon of the Corinthians, Robinson, and many other world-famous England goalkeepers who have been the pioneers of this art, and they showed the way for all Europe’s goalkeepers.” Hugo Meisl, the noted coach of the Austrian”Wunderteam” of the 1930’s, went further, recalling:
“In that year (1899) the first English professionals came over, Southampton F.C. They beat the Viennese city eleven 6-0 and their goalkeeper, Robinson, showed for the first time how to tackle low shots by flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Until this day (1930) that type of save is called a ‘Robinsonade’ in Austria and Central Europe. After the match, Robinson gave an exhibition. His goal was bombarded simultaneously with six balls and he blocked most of the shots.”
While at Southampton he won 6 further England caps, taking his total to 11, playing his last international in a 3-0 victory over Ireland at The Dell in March 1901. Robinson left Southampton in May 1903 after 137 appearances and joined Plymouth Argyle as their first professional player, and he made 57 appearances for The Pilgrims over the next 18 months before joining Millwall Athletic in November 1905. and after a brief spell with Exeter City playing once in 1906, he returned to Plymouth in 1907 to join Green Waves of the Plymouth & District League in 1907. He then returned to Exeter City to play in their first ever professional team of 1908-09 and he made his Southern League debut against Plymouth Argyle at St James’ Park in November 1908, making 30 appearances in total for The Grecians. He finished his career with (then Birmingham League) Stoke joining them in May 1909 and making 55 appearances for The Potters before retiring from English football in 1912, although he then emigrated for some 10 years to the United States and while there played for Rochester near New York.
Robinson also played baseball, alongside Steve Bloomer, for Derby County Baseball Club and helped them become British champions twice in the 1890’s.