Sir Bobby Robson: A national treasure
The footballing world lost one of its true greats yesterday when former England manager Sir Bobby Robson died peacefully at his home in his beloved County Durham aged 76, after losing his long battle with lung cancer. He was born into a coal mining family, but life in the pit was not for him. Instead, Robson carved himself a one of the longest and most illustrious careers in football - and grafted a place in the hearts of football supporters around the globe.
As a player he turned out for Fulham, during two spells in the 1950s and 60s, and West Brom winning 20 England caps and appearing at the 1958 World Cup. But it was as a manager where he truly made his name, winning league titles in three different countries, guiding unfashionable Ipswich Town to domestic and European glory and, most memorably, leading the England nati-onal team to within a post's width of the 1990 World Cup final.
Robson first enjoyed great success during his time as manager of Ipswich, guiding the Portman Road club to the 1978 FA Cup and the 1981 Uefa Cup and twice securing a league runners-up spot. He took over the England reins following the 1982 World Cup, becoming the most successful England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey. In 1986, England were knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stages by Argentina and Maradona's famous handball goal. Four years later, he came closer to claiming the prestigious prize at Italia '90, but England suffered the heartbreak of a semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany.
Back in club management, Robson had spells with PSV, Porto and Barcelona, guiding each to their domestic title, before taking over the reins at his beloved Newcastle, his boyhood club, in 1999. A successful five years saw the Magpies qualify twice for the Champions League. Robson nurtured such talents as Romario, Ronaldo and Paul Gascgoine, whose tears on the pitch during that '90 semi-final are synonymous with Robson's England reign. Knighted in 2002, his influence transcended his role as player and coach. He was responsible for inspiring modern-day managing greats, including giving Inter Milan's Jose Mourinho his first break in coaching.
"It is difficult to accept such a person is no longer with us - but he is immortal because he leaves in everybody who knows him a mark of his personality," Mourinho said of his former mentor. "He was a great coach but, more than that, a great person.' Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I was never too big or proud to ask him for advice which he gave freely and unconditionally. In my 23 years working in England there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson. Let's hope it won't be long before another like him turns up because we could never get enough of them."
England coach Fabio Capello, added: "Sir Bobby was a wonderful man, a real gentleman. He will never be forgotten." Last year, despite his deteriorating health, he launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to raise money for cancer research. He made his final public appearance last Sunday, when 33,000 fans turned out at St James' Park to pay homage at a charity match to raise funds for his Foundation.
Football folk loved his eccentricity. He had a habit of getting the names of his players wrong. Shola Ameobi, the Newcastle forward, was once asked if Robson had a nickname for him to which he replied: "Yes, Carl Cort." During Italia '90, he was mulling over his next selection as he descended in the lift at the team hotel. As the lift doors opened, there waiting was his captain Bryan Robson. "Hi Bobby," said Bobby absent-mindedly. "No, I'm Bryan, you're Bobby," replied Bryan. It's a lovely story. In truth, however, there could only ever be one Sir Bobby Robson.