Football has often been described as a cut-throat business with little room for sentiment or even respect. So the passing of Sir Bobby Robson, the former English national team coach, last week was sad for many reasons but mainly that amid the nastiness and back stabbing that makes up current day football, he proved that it was possible to be both a gentleman and a winner.
Born in the north-east of England he started his playing career at Fulham and then moved onto West Brom where he played more than 250 games. He returned to Fulham and in total made over 300 appearances for the London club. He also played 20 times for England, scoring 4 times as well as appearing in the World Cup of 1958. He went on to manage Fulham but was sacked after only a year and then took on the Ipswich Town job in 1969.
Robson turned this rather modest club into one of the most consistent and attractive sides in England in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their league record under him was impressive. In the 10 seasons from 1973 to 1982 Ipswich only finished below 6th on one occasion and in that year, 1978, they won the FA Cup for the first and only time in their history, while three years later they went on to taste European glory by winning the UEFA Cup against AZ Alkmaar.
Robson was the people’s choice to take over as England manager in 1982 but the mood often turned sour for him as England failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships and then lost all three games in the 1988 European Championships. They made it to the World Cup of 1986 however and after a stuttering start they started to look like a team that could win the tournament until they came up against Diego Maradona and his ‘hand of God’ in the quarter-finals. He did go one step further in the 1990 World Cup in Italy when England lost out to Germany on penalties at the semi-final stage and though England were defeated Robson emerged from the tournament with his reputation enhanced.
At a time when few English players, never mind managers, travelled overseas to ply their trade Robson left to coach in Holland, Portugal and Spain. The decision to work abroad may, according to some, have been to avoid the stress of managing in England but when you are the coach of PSV, Porto, Sporting or Barcelona, particularly Barcelona, then pressure is a major part of the job. The fact that he won trophies at all of these clubs bar Sporting is testament to the quality of Robson as a coach. Qualities that were often hidden due to his conduct that was always respectful of opponents, fans, the media and of the game itself. Tactically he was astute, while players loved to play for him thanks to his passion for football.
He returned to England in 1999 and took over the reigns of Newcastle when they were second bottom in the Premier League and in disarray. He guided them to safety that season and then kept them in the top 5 in the Premier League for the following three years, including two seasons in the Champions League. He was sacked in 2004 and Newcastle have never been the same since. One of only 10 footballers to have received a knighthood Sir Bobby was described as the ‘heart and soul of the English game’ and will be sorely missed by all who love the sport.
- Read the BBC Sport’s article on Robson here
- Read the Guardian’s look back at his life here
- Watch a review of the 1990 World Cup here
- Take a quiz based on Bobby Robson’s life here.
a cut-throat business: A business where competition is tough, little room for nice guys
back stabbing: Unfairly attack someone, a suggestion of deceit is involved
modest club: Not a big club
to taste European glory: To win a European trophy
the mood soon turned sour: Public opinion changed, the fans were not supportive of him
a stuttering start: A poor beginning to the tournament, not consistent
his reputation enhanced: He was extremely well regarded, people thought highly of him
to ply their trade: To work
bar Sporting: All except Sporting
is testament to: Proves that, demonstrates that…
astute: Wily, clever, smart, deep thinking
took over the reigns: Became manager of; was in charge of
in disarray: To be in a mess; in chaos
Quiz Answers: Sir Bobby Robson
1. b. 6
2. b. The north east of England
Bonus question: Matt Busby, Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Bobby Robson, Geoff Hurst, Alf Ramsay, Alex Ferguson, Trevor Brooking
4. c. More than 250 times
5. b. 1982
6. a. The European Championships of 1984
7. b. 20
8. b. PSV
9. c. 1978