Friday, 31 July 2015

Remembering Sir Bobby Robson

One of football's modern managerial legends and great enthusiasts passed away seven years ago today. Sir Bobby Robson's influence still endures to the top of the game today: Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are his direct disciples. I had the privilege of interviewing Sir Bobby at two very different points in his career and here's my affectionate personal tribute to him:

Sir Bobby Robson, who lost his long-term battle with cancer aged 76, was a good player but it was his zeal for management which really marked him out. A life truly fulfilled with Ipswich, England, PSV, Sporting, Porto, Barcelona and of course, Newcastle United.

During his England days.
He nurtured players to greatness from Romario to Ronaldo; from Gazza to Gary. And if that's not enough, Mourinho and Guardiola, two of the most feted coaches in the world game were cultivated by the great man.

I had the pleasure to interview Sir Bobby with both England and Newcastle. He was the man who crafted Gazza into a senior England performer despite having branded him "daft as a brush". Backing Gazza to step up to the plate was a gamble at the time, but the boss was trusting and generous with ability. He was instantly rewarded as Gazza struck twice in a 4-2 win over Czechoslovakia, the first international I covered for radio.

Sir Bobby was already of pensionable age at Newcastle; he had a great contract and with nothing to prove, the pressure was off. The job was a labour of love. His enthusiasm was so infectious, I smiled with him during our live interview on Prem Plus and he increasingly chuckled back at me. His answers were so long, I had to switch from arm to outstretched oxygen-starved arm to keep the mike under his chin!

Sir Bobby was still on the ball in his Newcastle days
Sir Bobby was famed for mix-ups. On England duty, he wished Bryan Robson a cheery "Morning Bobby!", Bryan dutifully replied "You're Bobby, I'm Bryan, boss!". At Newcastle, Shola Ameobi claimed the boss dubbed him "Carl Cort".

But a less well-known story was relayed to me by former Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers defender, Steve Wicks.

Wicks had just completed the best season of his career at Loftus Road and had been picked for an England B international in Mexico just months before the 1986 World Cup. Bobby was still pondering the 22-man squad he was going to take to the Finals with rumours that 3 or 4 places were still up for grabs. To add tension to the B game, the boss was going to pick the last available places from the best performers. He popped down to the England dressing room before kick-off to prepare the would-be World Cup stars:

His influence still endures today
"Now, I know you might be nervous 'cos I'm here, but just do your best and good luck to each one of you!", said the England boss.

He then went round the dressing room shaking each of the player's hands with a "good luck son". He arrived at Wicks, an imposing 6 foot 2 inches tall with the physical attributes of a goalkeeper as much as the central defender he was:

"I want you to know son, that you've had a brilliant year... yes, I've monitored you all season!". Wicks couldn't believe it. It sounded like Bobby's mind was made up to take him to the World Cup even before the game had started. "Wow, thanks boss!", Wicks choked out.

"Yes son..... your save at Aston Villa was one of the best I've ever seen!"

In a classic Bobby moment, he'd mixed up Wicks with Woods. Norwich City's Chris Woods, so it was the goalkeeper not the centre-half that went to the Finals.

I've spoken with a lot of friends and fellow fans and the tributes have been no more heartfelt than that of my friend, Jamie Gould. A Geordie and lifelong Newcastle United fan, who told me this:

"It was so sad to see him decline, but he still made it to matches regardless of the difficulties. It was great that he got to manage Newcastle but he was treated terribly at the end. He was the perfect ambassador for the game - but he was more than a Toon manager, more than an England manager, more than a Barca manager. He was a great man of football generally and, moreso, a great man, a great human being. The loss is surely felt well outside the confines of the football world; even people who never met him will say, hand on heart, 'I loved Sir Bobby Robson'".


  1. A giant of the world game- a warm and permanently optimistic man.

  2. Sir Bobby Robson was a bit different from all the other great managers in the world.
    The others, Sir Alex, Wenger, Mourinho etc, all divide opinion. There are plenty of people who don’t like them and are quick to criticise them in the press, on radio phone-ins, and in the pub (90% of it is ill-informed rubbish, in my experience).
    Yet you’ll struggle to find anyone who had a bad word to say about Sir Bobby.
    There was something about him that made him very likeable. He certainly didn’t suffer fools, but he knew how to handle individual players and bring the best out of them.
    I especially admired the level of dignity he maintained with everything he did. After the ‘Hand of God’ episode in 1986, he could very easily have gone on a foul-mouthed tirade.
    Instead, he kept a level head and knew that no matter how bitter he felt inside, he had to put it behind him, and so did everybody else.
    One of my earliest memories of football was Gazza’s tears in Italia ’90. After England were so cruelly knocked out, Sir Bobby’s priority was the welfare of his players. Ever the gentleman, he was quick to congratulate Franz Beckenbauer on his team’s achievement.
    The press were often incredibly harsh on him- remember the “In the Name of Allah, Go!” headline after England escaped with a draw against Saudi Arabia in 1988?
    I don’t blame him for handing hiss notice in prior to Italia ’90, or for spending the best part of a decade working abroad afterwards.
    The fact was that during his reign as England manager, the players available to him were good, but not great (with a few notable exceptions), his track record suggests he got the best out of them. Most of the criticism levelled at him during his tenure with England was grossly unfair- some of it crossed the line and became far too personal.
    When he became manager of Newcastle United at the age of 66, he showed once again what can be achieved with comparatively limited resources.
    There was none of the cynical and negative football so many Premier League teams play today. The policy was always to pass the ball forward whenever possible, and if it can’t be done, pass the ball sideways. The fans loved it, the players loved playing for him, and the side was a pleasure to watch during that period.
    For all his achievements in football, his most important role was his work in the fight against cancer.
    When he went public with his first battle with mouth cancer in the early 90s, his words persuaded people in many countries to go and get themselves checked if they were showing symptoms. We can be sure there are people still alive today as a result of this.
    More recently, his selfless efforts in setting up the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, to help raise money for the development of anti-cancer drugs, leaves a remarkable legacy of which his family can be very proud.
    Sir Bobby’s sheer enthusiasm for the game, for life in general, as well as his dignity and good humour during difficult times, is an example to us all.


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