There is a cold, hard faced and almost callous nature about modern-day football. A dog eat dog mentality in which ethics and integrity are forgotten; where the result and the almighty pay packet have overriding importance. It seems only too right to spend some time on his 80th birthday remembering a man who stood for everything that the modern-day game has forgotten. It’s easy to romanticise about past heroes given the cynical world we live in, but when it comes to Sir Bobby Robson it would take a cold and bitter man not to get carried away when remembering his story; his journey from a pit village in County Durham to one of the most universally loved and respected characters in world football.
I only met Sir Bobby once and it was the briefest of brief meetings but that moment will live with me for the rest of my life and left an imprint on my psyche that no other person has been able to achieve. I’ve met some special people in my time. Genuine legends in the football world like Kevin Keegan and Sir Geoff Hurst but none of them were able to walk with the aura that Sir Bobby did. As an impressionable eighteen year old I stood at the entrance of St James Park waiting for my Dad to join me for a home fixture against Manchester United. Sir Bobby walked into the main entrance and on his way past said to me without prompt “Are we going to win today son?”. I was lost for words and mumbled something like “It’s a tough one but I think so”. His reply was “Of course we are, be nice and positive for us, that’s what we want here don’t we?” and with that rebuke he was gone. Of course Sir Bobby was right, if you’re a Newcastle United fan you’ll remember the game as Duncan Ferguson and Alan Shearer inspired the Magpies to a glorious 3-0 win over Fergie’s treble winners. Bright and positive no matter what, that was Sir Bobby.
It takes a special character to unite warring factions. Whether it be Newcastle and Sunderland, England and Scotland or Barcelona and Real Madrid. Upon the passing of Sir Bobby, all parties were represented in sharing their grief and paying their respects to the great man. Indeed even some of his greatest foes were falling over themselves to lavish praise and share memories about Sir Bobby. Former rivals such as Niall Quinn, Sir Alex Ferguson and Franz Beckenbauer were as open about their mourning as any supporter of one of his former clubs. Cities that are hundreds and thousands of miles apart were united in their grief upon the passing of a man who touched the very soul of their clubs. Whether it was taking an unfashionable Ipswich Town to a famous cup double, inspiring the England team to an unexpected run to the Italia 90 semi finals, taking on and succeeding in the hottest of hot seats at Barcelona, glory in Portugal and Holland or belatedly resurrecting the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United, Sir Bobby left his unmistakable footprint at every club.
Indeed even after his passing he is still inspiring and supporting as much as he did for any of the players he managed during his career. It would be easy, if not lazy of me to bring up how his passing was used by Newcastle United to inspire the promotion charge three years ago, or how his legacy transcends anything that can be offered on a football field. The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation continues to provide support and fund research into the treatment and eventually prevention of cancer. Cancer was a spectre that loomed over Sir Bobby on five separate occasions and was successfully fought off on four of them. However, in putting his name to the Foundation and through his hard work and dedication alongside his loving wife Lady Elsie, he is ensuring that those who suffer just as he did are able to have a fighting chance of beating the disease just as he did. That will rank far above any achievement he had whilst involved in football and ensure that his legacy, not to mention his selflessness will continue on for many years to come.
When considering the structure of this article I seriously considered rewriting the introduction. Not everything about the modern game is how I described it. After all, who wouldn’t marvel at the glorious nature of a legend in the making that is Lionel Messi, or the brilliance of the Spanish national side at the last two major International tournaments?. However, to do so would be to neglect the point that the modern game is a poorer place for having lost someone like Sir Bobby. A genuine working class hero who became one of the revered figures on the world game. The thing with Sir Bobby was that he understood just what the game meant to the supporters of clubs around the clubs and it seems fitting that I leave you with one of my favourite quotes of his. I thank you for taking the time to read this article and hope you appreciate the quote. I firmly believe everyone involved in the modern game at every level should spend a little time remembering a man who understood what the very essence of the beautiful game was.
“What is a club in any case? Not the building or the Directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get out clauses or the marketing departments or the Executive boxes. It’s the noise , the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city” – Sir Bobby Robson