Robbie Slater is one of the few current and former Socceroos to have played in the top-flight in France and in the four years at Racing Club de Lens during the ‘90s, he became a popular figure amongst fans for his unique look and style of play.
Slater’s work ethic on the pitch quickly garnered him respect amongst the passionate fans often being described as running around like a ‘lunatic’.
“Because it’s a working-class town, a working-class area, they love fighters and in me they’ve got a fighter,” said Slater on the Le Beau Jeu, the official Ligue 1 podcast.
“Not only a fighter but they’ve got something very different, not just to Lens but to France had seen in this red-headed kangaroo who ran around like a lunatic, and they loved that.
“They thought it was great, thought I played like crazy and I guess I was a little bit crazy. But I was very determined.”
Upon arriving in Lens for the first time, Slater was seeing the stadium for the first time and said seeing the empty ground gave him goosebumps.
“It was probably one o’clock in the afternoon and I said I wanted to go have a look at the stadium," said Slater.
"I walked up and the gate was open so I walked up into the stand and the stadium was completely empty. It was massive.”
He added: “Later on, in my time there we would break the record for spectators in a very famous game against Marseille, which broke the record for France at that time. I was midway up the stand and I looked out and actually got goosebumps.”
Despite a successful four years in the north of France, Slater still experienced some tough times. The qualifying campaign for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States took a toll on Slater’s club career.
“It was very hard, we had to pay our own airfares. The World Cup campaign of ’94, destroyed my career at Lens probably in a lot of ways because I was hardly there," he said.
“Patrice Bergues had taken over, there was a few new players and I was away that much that I ended up on the bench quite a lot in my last month at Lens, purely given the World campaign we had.”
While the end of his time at Lens was not what Slater had envisioned, he was still given a send-off from the club’s loyal supporters. While Lens was not the wealthiest area, the fans were loyal to the club, and Slater said that the love between him and fans was instant.
“One thing I would later find out, and hold dear to this day, is the people are the best in the world in my opinion," said Slater.
“There was a lot of people who didn’t have a lot of money. I sort of fell in love with the supporters virtually straight away, and they did with me straight away.”