There is a unique aroma that Fleur Robinson can identify as the moment her football journey began.
“I think I was three or four - dad was chairman and I would be plonked on the physio’s couch in the dressing-room at the end of the game and just remember that smell of liniment,” she tells Telegraph Sport.
That pathway started in the home dressing-room at Burton Albion where her father, Ben Robinson, has been chairman over a span of some 45 years, and has now taken her to National League Wrexham, where she was appointed chief executive in March by the Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
A busy few months has ensued for one of the most prominent female executives in professional football, from negotiating Wrexham’s debut in Fifa 22 – the first ever non-league club to be included in the game – to navigating the fly-on-the-wall cameras capturing a Netflix style docu-series about the takeover, ‘Welcome To Wrexham’.
Robinson is set to finally meet Reynolds and McElhenney in person as the Hollywood pair are expected to make their first appearance at the Racecourse Ground on Saturday when Wrexham take on Torquay United. “They haven't been able to get over yet with the pandemic,” says Robinson.
“I look forward to [when they visit] - it’s quite incredible they have bought a football club in Wales. Their values, how they came across in terms of their ambition, really aligned with what I’ve been used to. I’d been at Burton over 25 years so it would have to be something special to turn my head.
“As you would expect, they [Reynolds and McElhenney] are involved in the decision-making. That’s great - that’s how it should be. Sometimes football owners come in but aren't involved in that vision and direction.
“I’m sure they will be delighted when they get here and meet the staff, the team here and the local community. It’s a great set of people. Very close knit. Passionate. Tribal. Everybody makes sure that things are done in the right way."
The first black female CEO of a professional football club, Robinson was this week named on football’s prestigious Black List for influential role models within the national game. It is the second time she has appeared on the list and, while she says that “people don't particularly see me as being a woman of colour,” some of the experiences of her father remain etched in her mind.
“Certainly my father has probably encountered some negativity in boardrooms,” she says. “People going to their male white colleagues first to shake hands. It’s quite sad that we haven't seen that diversity within boardrooms, or football clubs.
“I’m a believer that you have to see it to believe it and there haven't been those role models in place. It’s for people to be there for their qualifications and skills. I think it will change over time. I left school and this would never have been an option. I don’t see myself as a role model as such but it needs people to talk about the roles in sport. You do see things changing slowly.”
As a woman, she has had her own challenging experiences. She recalls her first commercial managers’ meeting after Burton were promoted to the Conference (now the National League) under Nigel Clough in 2002. “I was the only female around the table, and half the age of the rest of the people,” she says. Another place of frustratingly slow change has been the Football Association, but Robinson was appointed to the Council in 2016 and there is an ongoing drive to finally make the organisation more representative of the communities it serves.
— Wrexham AFC (@Wrexham_AFC) September 12, 2021
“It is becoming a more inclusive environment - I was only speaking to [female] CEOs at Grimsby and Harrogate this week,” says Robinson. “There are more of us in these key roles, which is important for the next generation. It is evolving but not as quickly as we would like. There are challenges. I see it now. You go to a boardroom, and people gravitate to the male party you are with as opposed to you as a female. That’s the generation change that needs to happen. Any organisation needs to have that diverse workforce to bring different cultures together to create ideas. And it’s not just the boardroom. I’m also a big advocate for the administration support within football.”
Robinson’s appointment at Wrexham was announced in March but she stayed on to see out last season as Burton’s commercial director. There had been no plan to leave but, despite the drop of two divisions in the pyramid from League One back down to the National League, she found the opportunity at Wrexham just too good to turn down.
“You have to have that local connection. It’s a community club with a great fanbase - and that was one of the things that attracted me to the role. It’s very similar to Burton in that the club plays a huge part in the local community. That includes commercial connections as well.”
Reynolds and McElhenney’s decision to buy fan-owned Wrexham has hugely raised the club’s profile. In August, Hollywood-style ‘WREXHAM’ lettering mysteriously appeared on a hill at Bersham Bank colliery tip alongside the A483.
The club said they knew nothing about it but did respond on Twitter: "Wrexham, it's always been the Hollywood of Europe, apparently.” There has certainly been an added buzz this season and their recent home match against Chesterfield attracted a club record National League crowd of 9,147. If the Hollywood pair attend the match against Torquay on Saturday that record will surely be broken once more.
No wonder Robinson describes a busy five months in the role as “definitely a challenge”. She has two young daughters and a local shortage of property has delayed her planned relocation. “I’m doing a lot of commuting - staying over here once or twice a week,” she says. “When things settle down, we will look for a base in Wrexham.”
And the ambition? “The aim has to be to do as much as we can off the field to get promotion to the Football League and push on from there,” she says.