Celebrating Sir Bobby Robson - ‘He united the world of football’
Few people are able to unite the usually divisive world of football as one. Sir Bobby Robson was one of those men, writes Stuart Jamieson, sports managing editor for Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun.
It’s easy in hindsight to glorify the past, especially through the prism of rose-tinted spectacles, but the former England and Magpies’ boss was every bit the man his legacy depicts him to be.
Few have navigated the choppy waters of the St James’ Park hotseat and emerged with their reputation in credit.
Robson not only achieved that, but left his job on Tyneside as the godfather of North East football – despite having won nothing during his time at the club.
So if he, like so many before and after him, failed to add to the trophy cabinet, why is he so loved and revered by the Geordie fans?
The answer is that while he didn’t win any silverware, he won the hearts and minds of the fans with his passion, commitment and, let’s not forget, footballing acumen.
It’s easy to look back on Sir Bobby now and remember him as a benevolent grandfather figure, with that famous twinkle in his eye, But he was a winner, first and foremost.
When he arrived on the steps of St James’ Park in 1999, he came with a record that was almost unparalleled in football, not just in what he had won, but where he had won it.
Success followed him wherever he went, from those early days at Ipswich Town, to Holland with PSV, Portugal with Sporting and Porto and the biggest of them all, Catalan giants Barcelona.
While his time as England manager had as many highs as lows, he rode the roller-coaster with a grace that few since have matched – and he remains the only man to guide England to the World Cup semi-finals on foreign soil.
He inherited a Newcastle side that was in desperate need of an overhaul, but with precious little funds at his disposal.
Defeat at Chelsea in his first match in charge was narrow, but he won his first home game against Sheffield Wednesday. 8-0. Alan Shearer scored five. A new era had been launched.
Contrary to popular belief, Newcastle fans don’t ask for much from the team they follow the length and breadth of the country. They just want to be entertained and see their passion mirrored in the players which wear the famous colours.
Robson knew this – he was one of them after all - and built a side full of flair, but with an element of steel to it.
By the end of the 2002 season, United had qualified for the Champions League, as the fans were taken on a journey which saw them do battle with the likes of Inter Milan and Juventus in a series of memorable nights.
And while players such as Shearer, Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas caught the headlines, there was never any doubt about who masterminded the transformation - it was always Sir Bobby.
His press conferences were the stuff of legend, talking football for hours with anyone who was willing to listen - and there were plenty of volunteers. Stories abound of his characteristic mix-up with names – Dyer once famously thought he had been dropped because Robson kept referring to ‘Kevin’ in the teamtalk, but the players would run through brick walls for him, and the fans adored him.
But while his United side could entertain in the same vein as the Kevin Keegan-era team of the mid-1990s, there is another, perhaps more significant reason why Sir Bobby was so loved.
He understood the club, the fans, the region - he appreciated the place the football team played in society.
In his autobiography, he famously wrote: “What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it.
“It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.
“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.
“It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
That is the reason why Sir Bobby is loved not only on Tyneside, but in Ipswich, in Barcelona, Lisbon, Eindhoven, and all over the footballing world.
It is why the charity set up in his name - the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation - continues to achieve so much. It is why he will be remembered once more on Monday at Portman Road, and why he will never be forgotten.