There is a momentary pause from Mark Robinson as he searches for the right words. It is admittedly difficult to condense 18 years of memories into a couple of sentences.

'It was an incredible journey,' he explains. 'Constant challenges. Every year was different, there were always changes. But great people did amazing things and it is a club that I will always have a deep affection for.'

The club in question is AFC Wimbledon, who Chelsea take on this evening at Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup second round. Robinson, who coaches our Under-21s, will be in attendance. It will be a night full of differing emotions.

He says: ‘I’m really looking forward to it. You’ve got one team, Chelsea, that has been my life. My family's club. And then you've got the other that I spent 18 years at and is a huge part of my coaching journey.

'It's the two clubs coming together so it will, of course, be quite an emotional night for me. But it will be a really nice night as I'll see loads of people I’ve known for years.'

Visits to Stamford Bridge were unimaginable for Wimbledon when Robinson arrived in 2004. The club was in the early stages of its rebirth – Wimbledon FC had been relocated to Milton Keyes in 2002 – and competing in the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.

Robinson joined to coach within the club's youth set-up. It was a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

'The club had a Sunday League youth structure – literally boys playing Sunday League football – and I took one of the younger age groups,' Robinson recalls. 'We started off training in parks and used coats for goalposts.

'After a couple of years, it was decided the club needed to do things more seriously in case we got back into the professional leagues. So we went from working in parks to writing coaching curriculums and bringing in coaches.

‘Every time we improved as a youth structure, the senior side would get promoted. So we were always playing catch-up, always having to push ourselves to be better.

'When the club got promoted to the professional leagues, the work got harder. It was very challenging but a fantastic experience.’

The impact Robinson made at Wimbledon can't be overstated. Not only did he help structure the club's academy – which is the most successful category 3 academy in the country – he then oversaw it as Academy Manager.

Robinson also spent time as head of coaching, lead professional phase coach, and also the club's loans manager. But in January 2021, he stepped in as interim manager of the senior side.

The objective was to keep Wimbledon in League One; no easy feat given the club had lost the previous 11 matches. Yet Robinson's side lost just six of their final 21 games to retain their place in the division.

The 2021/22 campaign followed. It was a landmark one for the Dons who welcomed supporters back to their spiritual home: Plough Lane

‘We'd played matches there the season before but supporters weren't allowed in the stadium [because of the Covid-19 pandemic],' Robinson says. 'So, I was the first coach to manage at Plough Lane with a crowd.

'We faced Bolton Wanderers and it was an incredibly emotion day and the game was fantastic – it ended 3-3 between us. It was, of course, unfortunate how it ended but I have great memories from that period working with a lot of young players I brought through.'

Robinson left Wimbledon in March 2022; injuries and the departure of top scorer Ollie Palmer resulted in a downturn in the club's form. He joined Chelsea later that year as coach of our Under-21s.

A boyhood Chelsea supporter – and a previous tour guide at Stamford Bridge – that was very much a dream realised.

Yet Wimbledon holds a special place in Robinson's heart and there will be an understandable sense of pride when the two sides walk out onto the Stamford Bridge pitch this evening.

'It’s going to be a lovely occasion for the club and for myself,' he says. 'I still go back sometimes to watch Wimbledon when we’ve not got a game and the Chelsea first team are playing away.

'In the early days when I was setting up the youth structure, the crowd was around 3,000 and I got to know a big percentage of the fanbase. When the draw was made, I got loads of messages and people saying "we're coming to get you!"

'I do hope Wimbledon play well and I hope the supporters really enjoy themselves, but I want a Chelsea win!'