Monday, September 21, 2009
Ten moments from Sir Bobby's football life
John Brewin and Chris Murphy
Sir Bobby Robson's career in football spanned nearly 60 years. Here are ten of the key moments of the life and times of one of the game's most cherished and dignified men.
Three Lions on his shirt
Bobby was a much admired inside-forward in his days with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. It was at the latter club where his talents were sufficiently recognised for an international call-up. His first appearance for his country, in November 1957, saw him score twice against France and he was thus called up for the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden.
It was not a happy trip, as England exited after a group-stage play-off with the USSR but Robson retained his place and starred as England thrashed Scotland 9-3 at Wembley. He made the 1962 World Cup squad but injury prevented him making an impact. His international career was over, "unfulfilled" as he called it.
Sacked by Fulham
Having taken a coaching course, Bobby then decided to move into the management game. Fulham, a club he retained great affection for, seemed an ideal place to start. In January 1968 his first managerial assignment was an FA Cup Third Round tie with Macclesfield Town. A 4-2 rollercoaster was survived but Robson could not prevent the Cottagers' slide from the First Division, despite the addition of Malcolm "Supermac" MacDonald.
The Second Division was barely more hospitable and club chairman Tommy Trinder, a TV entertainer with the catchphrase "you lucky people", sacked him. Bobby found out the news from the headline on an Evening Standard billboard outside Putney station.
A second chance in the management game was offered in 1969 by the hard-drinking Cobbold family and Bobby Robson was given more time to build, needing four seasons to gain a foothold in the First Division. Four seasons in, the likes of Trevor Whymark, Colin Viljoen and Kevin Beattie were part of a team that was heralded for the quality of its football. From there, only one season - 1977-8 - saw Ipswich finish out of the top six and that year was a historic one, as Ipswich lifted the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
Three years later, Bobby's team had a chance of a treble but had to settle for the UEFA Cup, as his team, now featuring the likes of Alan Brazil, Eric Gates, John Wark and Dutch duo Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren, ran out of legs. An injury to Beattie, described by Bobby as the "best English-born player that he has ever seen," proved costly in the chase for honours. Robson's slow burning career was recognised as he was given the England job to succeed Ron Greenwood after the 1982 World Cup.
The Hand of God
Bobby failed to qualify England for Euro'84 but his team made sure they would be at Mexico '86. Robbed of the talents of Bryan Robson - the man he called "Captain Marvel" - and vice-captain RayWilkins in one horror half against Morocco, a change of plan was called for and a scratch partnership of Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker began to fire in the final group game against Poland.
Paraguay were next negotiated before a quarter-final with Argentina beckoned. This match came with wounds from the Falklands War still raw and Argentine captain Diego Maradona was determined to win this match by any means necessary. His handball for the first Argentina goal remains infamous, just as his second remains exalted. Bobby forever blamed the Tunisian ref for allowing the first goal. Speaking years later he said: "We were at stocking-top height. We saw the handball clearly. I said to Don (Howe), "the ref hasn't seen it, he's given a goal!" And Don said, "no ...""
In the name of Allah, go
Bobby's stock was high after Mexico and he furthered his reputation with a European qualifier campaign that finished with 100% record. Euro'88, in Germany, promised much yet it was a disaster from the moment Ray Houghton scored a header for Ireland in the opening game. Holland's Van Basten and Gullit destroyed England in the next game before the Russians finished the job.
Italia '90 was the next target but a tortuous qualifying group saw England only just make it, squeezing through after a 0-0 draw in Poland. By now the knives were out, as a series of unconvincing displays and some lumpen football had the press pack on Bobby's back. A friendly game in Saudi Arabia in 1988 had seen England unthinkably draw with the minnows. The tabloid headline "In the name of Allah go" was actually a sequel. That had followed on from "In the name of god go", which had been used in the attack during the disasters of the summer of 1988.
Gazza's Italian tears
Robson knew his contract wouldn't be renewed after the 1990 World Cup and he bowed out with a bang. After labouring through the group stage, David Platt's extra-time volley beat Belgium in the last 16 and saw Bobby dance a jig of delight on the touchline. Cameroon were duly despatched, thanks to Gary Lineker's prowess from the spot, and a semi-final date with West Germany was secured.
The game is seared on the memories of the many millions who saw it as a classic piece of footballing drama. Paul Gascoigne got the booking that ruled him out of the final, the tears flowed and Gazza-mania was born. The teams couldn't be separated after 120 minutes, but Waddle and Pearce misfired from the spot and England were out. Robson threw an arm round almost every member of a tearful squad and led them home bursting with pride.
Robson's was back on the continent soon after, taking over at Dutch giants PSV and leading them to back-to-back titles. But it was during his spell in Eindhoven that he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. A short, unsuccessful, spell at Sporting Lisbon followed before he joined Porto.
After winning the Portuguese Cup in his first season he again secured back-to-back league titles before resigning to take the reins at Barcelona. Despite signing Brazilian striker Ronaldo and producing a prolific scoring side in La Liga, Barca's treble cup triumph - they won the European Cup Winners Cup, the Copa del Ray and the Spanish Super Cup - was still too modest a return for such a giant club. Robson duly stepped aside to allow Louis Van Gaal to be appointed manager.
The Local Hero Returns
After Ruud Gullit's'sexy football' experiment at Newcastle culminated in his sacking, Robson returned to his roots in 1999, to a hero's welcome. In his first game at St James' Park Robson lead Newcastle to a crushing 8-0 victory over fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday. Alan Shearer, who credits Robson for reinvigorating his Toon career, scored five goals.
After two seasons consolidating in mid-table Robson moulded a classy squad out of the ruins of Gullit's side with Robert Lee, Laurent Robert, Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, and, of course, Shearer, prominent in their rise. In season 2002/3 Robson orchestrated an assault on the top four as Newcastle finished fourth and qualified for the money-spinning Champions League.
Europe on Tyneside
After defeat in their first three games Newcastle's joy at taking a seat at Europe's top table quickly dissipated. But wins over Dinamo Kiev and Juventus (courtesy of an Andy Griffin winner) on Tyneside meant they had a sniff of round two if they beat Feyenoord away and Juve's second string won in Ukraine.
Cruising at 2-0 up, a crazy ten minutes saw the Toon pegged back. But with almost the last kick of the game, and with Juve running out winners in Kiev, Bellamy scored a last-gasp winner to send Newcastle through to the second group stage. The second stage was most notable for a hugely creditable 2-2 draw with Inter Milan at the San Siro, in which Alan Shearer delighted the 14,000 travelling fans with a double salvo. But defeats at home to Bobby's former clubs PSV and Barcelona signalled the end of the road.
Shepherd shoots Bambi
After Robson and Newcastle finished fifth in 2003/4 Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd famously dithered, saying he "did not want to be the man who shot Bambi," but confirming Robson's one-year contract would not be renewed the following summer. After two draws and two defeats in the Magpies' opening four games Robson was then sacked on August 30. Shepherd replaced him with Graeme Souness. The malaise since is no coincidence.
The majority of fans were united in their condemnation of the timing and how it was handled. Clutching a putter and few personal effects, a shell-shocked Robson left his office for the last time. He has retained a special place in the hearts of Newcastle fans since, reflected by the thousands of people who attended a charity game in his honour just last week. The proceeds went to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, the charity he started to help other cancer sufferers. How fitting his final public appearance was in an arena he knew and loved, among people who knew and loved him.