Former England manager Sir Bobby Robson has died of cancer aged 76. He had been battling the disease in various forms since 1992.
Robson will be best remembered for taking England to within a penalty-shoot out at the 1990 World Cup, but he also enjoyed success both domestically and with European clubs and had the kind of record that few modern managers can equal.
Born in County Durham in 1933, Robson gave up an electrician’s apprenticeship to sign for Fulham in 1950, aged 17. It would be one of only three teams he would play for in his career and during his time at Craven Cottage he scored 69 goals in 152 appearances.
His skill, pace and awareness on the pitch attracted both the attention of West Brom and England and in 1957 Robson was handed his England debut, where he netted twice in a 4-0 win over France.
But his international career was ended after injury in 1962 and he missed that year’s World Cup, and never played for his country again after earning 20 caps.
It was as a manager, though, that Robson far eclipsed his achievements as a player. He had unsuccessful spells at Vancouver Royals and Fulham, famously finding he’d be sacked by the latter by a billboard outside Putney station.
What followed next went on to cement Robson’s reputation as one of the best coaches England has produced.
Finding himself at Portman Road in 1969, Robson benefited from a hands-off approach from the club’s owners. In his 13 years at Ipswich, he established the club as a domestic and European force by winning both the FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
What’s more, he kept Ipswich punching above their weight and led them to two runners-up spot. The small team from Suffolk were punching above their weight and Robson was the reason for this.
He was also ahead of his time as a coach, bringing in foreign flair to his Ispwich team, and both Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen played a key part in bringing the UEFA Cup to Suffolk. Muhren went onto Manchester United and won the European Championship with Holland.
When England came calling in 1982 after Ron Greenwood stepped down, Robson got the call. Although it was a wrench to leave Portman Road, his record as the national boss is the World Cup finals was second only to Alf Ramsay.
Robson didn’t get off to the best start, failing to qualify for Euro ’84, in both 1986 and 1990 England became genuine contenders for the title.
Diego Maradonna’s inspired performance and famous ‘Hand of God’ account for England in 1986 and, despite dominating against Germany, missed penalties from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle saw England fall at the semi-final stage in 1990.
Despite England’s success in 1990, Robson endured a relentless barrage of hostile coverage in the run up to the tournament.
His team had been poor at Euro ’88 and, after being effectively told his contract wouldn’t be renewed after the World Cup, Robson fixed himself up with a job at PSV Einhoven – a move that was seen as treachery by the press.
But, by the time England returned home, Robson was given a hero’s welcome as his move to national treasure status began.
Lesser managers may have decided to call it a day after a successful World Cup run but Robson threw himself into management on the continent.
At PSV, he won back to back league titles, before doing a league and cup double at Porto and the Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup and European Cup Winners Cup at Barcelona, during which time he signed a young Brazilian forward known as Ronaldo.
But it was back home that he took on one of his biggest – and most personal – challenges. Newcastle United, his first love, were stuck in mid-table following the sacking of Ruud Gullit and ridden by player egos and attitudes.
Yet Robson maintained the fair but firm attitude than saw him succeed in some of Europe’s biggest clubs and soon his team containing the likes of Alan Shearer, Keiron Dyer, and Craig Bellamy challenged at the top of the table, finishing 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. England even considered him as a stop-gap before Sven was appointed.
It was Robson’s failure to make headway in Europe combined with a slow start to the 2004/05 season that saw chairman Freddy Sheppherd dismiss the popular manager. But, always one to conduct himself with dignity, Robson never came across as bitter and remained well loved on Tyneside.
It was in 1992 that Robson was first diagnosed with cancer, yet it was a measure of the man that he beat the disease not just once but four times. In recent years, though, his health had been failing and a stroke plus two operations in 2006 saw him enter retirement.
Last year he launched the Bobby Robson foundation to raise money and awareness about cancer prevention, and last weekend saw The Bobby Robson Trophy charity match at St. James’ Park for this cause.
Robson, typically, insisted on meeting and speaking to all the players involved before the game. As ever, he received a rapturous reception from the fans, none of whom knew it would be the last time he would take a seat at the stadium.
In an era where football rivalries have become more pronounced, it said something that not one player nor fan had a bad word to say about Robson and while his presence loomed over the game, he was never the kind of manager to let his ego dictate his actions.
Warm, dignified and a brilliant manager, Bobby Robson’s influence extends to all parts of football, from Holland to Newcastle, from Ronaldo to Mourinho. Football has lost a true legend and the game will be all the poorer for his passing.
RIP Sir Bobby Robson 1933 – 2009