No way to treat a legend

WHEN Newcastle United visited Portman Road for Dale Roberts' testimonial this summer, it was surely a unique occasion. Never before can a football match have taken place where a statue of the away team's manager stood outside the stadium.

WHEN Newcastle United visited Portman Road for Dale Roberts' testimonial this summer, it was surely a unique occasion.

Never before can a football match have taken place where a statue of the away team's manager stood outside the stadium.

Ipswich was not the first stop on Bobby Robson's management journey.

In England, that was Fulham, where his ten-month tenure was so spectacularly unsuccessful (36 games, six wins, 21 defeats, one relegation) it's a wonder he ever got another job in the game.

Yet just two months later he was a surprise, but inspired, appointment to the hot seat at Ipswich. Now, 22 years after leaving, he remains as revered here as in his native north east.

After all, he won a couple of trophies with Town. That may not seem a lot in 13 years, but it's more than they have achieved since - and it's two trophies more than he's won for the vastly richer Newcastle.

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Sir Bobby is one of the nicest blokes in football, as well as one of the oldest, but, however much we love him, he's never really been one of the great managers.

He's lifted trophies in Portugal, Spain and Holland (where, let's face it, there isn't the depth of opposition).

But at home his total haul is just two items of silverware - Ipswich's 1978 FA Cup and 1981 UEFA Cup successes - in 27 seasons, including eight as England boss.

There has been much talk of how much he has done for his beloved Newcastle. In fact, he leaves them almost exactly where he found them, struggling in disarray near the foot of the Premiership.

His five years in charge produced a record of success (and failure) almost identical to their previous five years.

In fact, Kevin Keegan twice took the Magpies closer to the Premiership title and even the derided Ruud Gullitt led them to one of their many second-place finishes in the FA Cup.

Of course, it's not all Bobby's fault. Chairman Freddy Shepherd must shoulder a share of the blame for the Geordies' continued under-achievement. He sacked Sir Bobby just four games into a new season and on the eve of the transfer deadline.

Had he politely shown him upstairs in the summer, as he should have done, the transition to a new manager could have been achieved with dignity.

But then, I say there's nothing dignified at Newcastle these days - not since Sir Bobby's gone.

SO, a new school year begins. Fresh blazers, fresh faces, fresh hopes.

One thing I confidently predict. Those now embarking on their A-level courses will achieve yet another record-breaking set of results.

How much longer can this continue? And how much longer can the government go on pretending that the exams aren't getting easier?

In the best journalistic tradition, I can't name my sources, but I know one marker of A-level papers who was instructed this year to be ten per cent more generous than last year.

And I know another teacher who found that a recent A-level science paper had identical questions to an O-level paper of around 20 years ago. Except that the A-level paper had step-by-step instructions on how to arrive at the answers.

Universities are now saying they need other ways of picking the best potential students, because there are simply too many candidates with fistfuls of A grades. One wonders what is the point of getting “perfect” A-levels if everyone else has them too.

This isn't providing equality of opportunity. It's shoving everyone into one pot and pretending we're all the same. Which we're not.

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