It’s with a heavy heart that I start this posting, as the sad news that Sir Bobby Robson has finally lost his fight with cancer after a 13 year battle with the disease. Sir Bobby’s last public appearance was at the charity match for his foundation on Sunday, and it was heartbreaking yet wonderful to see him receive the adulation of his beloved Geordie fans one last time.
Robson was the most successful English manager of the last 50 years, of that there is no argument, both at home in England and with various stints in Spain, Portugal and Holland. A true gentleman, his warmth, generosity and love of the game touched everyone that he came in contact with throughout his long and distinguished career. Whilst Clough had success at Forest in his early days, he never built on his early success at Derby County or Nottingham Forest, save for a League Cup win in 1988. Robson won trophies in 4 countries and took his country to a World Cup semi final over a 10 year period.
A successful footballer, Robson was a deep lying centre forward, similar to the role that Teddy Sheringham would later distinguish with such panache. He started his career at Fulham, but as with Sir Tom Finney, his father made him concentrate on a proper trade, becoming an apprentice electrian whilst still training with Fulham. In the two spells he spent at Craven Cottage, Robson made 344 appearances and scored 77 goals. The spells at Fulham bracketed a 6 year spell with West Bromwich Albion, where he appeared 239 times and hit 56 goals. He also regularly appeared for England, earning 20 caps and getting 4 goals between 1957 – 1962.
Yet, Robson’s playing career would be eclipsed by his success as a manager, though it didn’t get off to the best start. Returning after a spell in Canada, playing for the Vancouver Royals, Robson joined Fulham for a third time as manager in 1968. Robson took over a struggling side and was unable to keep them in the First Division. The following season, with Fulham in 8th, he discovered he had been sacked on a “Robson Sacked” placard outside Putney tube station.
It was to be his next place of employment that would set Robson on the path to greatness,;he took over at Ipswich Town in 1969. Staying for a total of 13 years, in his last 9 seasons at Portman Road, Ipswich only finished lower than 6th once. This achievement could not be understated, surrounded by the giants of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa, Ipswich were punching well above their weight. He consistently delivered European Football and under his guidance the club won the F.A. Cup in 1978 and the U.E.F.A. Cup in 1981.
It was clear that he had a job for life at Ipswich Town and his success as bringing players through the youth system was a testament to his skill as a spotter of players. In the 13 years he was the manager, he only signed 14 players, an incredible figure that showed the qualities the scouting network and youth system delivered.
In 1982, Ron Greenwood announced he would leave the England job and the F.A made Robson their preferred choice. The F.A’s dislike of Brian Clough meant the role was Robson’s to lose and even a last minute offer of a ten year contract at Ipswich couldn’t change his mind.
He took over in June 1982 and would spend 8 years in charge of his country. There were low points of course along the way, failure to qualify for Euro 84 and the teams woeful performance in Euro 88 but the success of getting England to Quarter Finals of the World Cup in 1986, and within a post width of a rematch in the final of Italia 90 saw Robson deliver the best showing by an England side in a World Cup since 1966.
Robson’s final two years in the England job saw him recieve unbelievably negative press, consistently being urged to quit. When the F.A. decided to remove him in 1990, I wonder just how long in Graham Taylor’s reign they’d realised what a mistake they’d made? Robson left with the success of Italia 90 still ringing in his ears and embarked on a 9 year managerial campaign in Europe. Taking over at PSV Eindhoven, he won the title in his first two seasons, but the PSV board wanted more success in Europe and Robson was removed in the summer of 1992. He then moved to Portugal and Sporting Lisbon, meeting a young interpreter by the name of Jose Mourinho.The two then moved to Porto and Barcelona. In 1999, Robson eventually got the job he’d always wanted, when he became the manager of Newcastle United.
Robson’s battle with cancer began in 1991 and he has fought 5 separate bouts of the disease in the last 18 years. He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2007, but still struggling to recover from a stroke caused by a brain tumour in 2006, it was one last fight too far. Setting up his foundation, it has so far raised over £1.5 million in 18 months, I hope that figure will rise in the next few weeks.
So farewell Sir Bobby. I will miss you; you were a lovely man, kind, warm, generous and gave me some wonderful times as an England fan. Football is a lesser sport with your loss.
“My condition is described as static and has not altered since my last bout of chemotherapy; I am going to die sooner rather than later. But then everyone has to go sometime and I have enjoyed every minute.” Sir Bobby Robson
“As a trainer without doubt Robson is one of the greatest in the world” Ronaldo
“He was like a father to me, I’ll never forget the love he showed me” Paul Gascoigne