Goodbye, Sir Bob

Saturday, August 1, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Newcastle United, Sport

I’m not using the phrase ‘rest in peace’, because I’m working on the assumption that if there is an afterlife, Bobby won’t be doing any resting: he’ll already be taking training for the Heaven XI and sorting out tactics for the crunch match against Lucifer United.

Sir Bobby Robson was born in January 1933, and died yesterday at the age of 76, leaving behind quite an impressive legacy and record. For someone who picked up 20 caps for England, the fact that the majority of people don’t even think about his playing career is testament to his longevity and success as a manager, winning the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Dutch and Portugese Championships; the Spanish and Portugese Cups and the European Cup Winners Cup.

But more importantly than that was the impression he left on the game. Bobby Robson was an anachronism; a gentleman in a game where gentlemen were few and far between. He not only demonstrated how the game should be played, he provided a model as to how people ought to behave. Not only that, but his enthusiasm for the game was infectious.

Bobby Robson probably was the sort of person for whom the phrase “has forgotten more about management than you will ever know” was coined. Except I don’t think he’d really have forgotten it entirely. He’d just have forgotten the name of it. And this was one of the things Robson was famous for — those verbal slips which led to his “genial old duffer” image.

For example, there’s the infamous Shola Ameobi interview:

Journalist: “So Shola, do you have a nickname at the club?”
Ameobi: “Not really no.”
Journalist: “What do the lads call you?”
Ameobi: “Shola.”
Journalist: “What does [manager] Bobby Robson call you?”
Ameobi: “Carl Cort.”

Ameobi interview reproduced in Daily Mirror Blog

And there’s a wide selection of other Robson quotes, including my personal favourite “we didn’t underestimate them; they were just better than we thought”.

But as genial old duffers go, it was only two thirds right. He was genial, and he was old, but was he really a duffer? His introduction to management at Newcastle would suggest otherwise. Ruud Gullit had just resigned after a defeat in the rain (lots of rain) against Sunderland. Robson took over, although he did not manage the next game — he simply watched a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea from the Stamford Bridge stands to take in a view of his players.

So that’s a demoralised disorganised shambles heading for the relegation zone. Robson comes in, inspires the players, and in the very next home game, the team beat Sheffield Wednesday 8-0, with Alan Shearer scoring five. Perhaps Newcastle should have approached him again last season…? He also changed the way Shearer played, accepting that he no longer really had and pace and would need to adapt his game to succeed. Shearer did adapt, and probably lengthened his career considerably as a result.

Robson also led Newcastle to the second Group stage of the Champions League in 2002/03 despite losing the first three games, becoming the first ever team to do so in a thrilling night in Rotterdam as we beat Feyenoord 3-2, and Juventus beat Dynamo Kiev to ensure we finished in second place (although a draw would have been sufficient).

His time at Newcastle didn’t end too well however: it appeared from the outside at least that some of the younger players (we all know who they are) didn’t have the proper respect for him, and seemed not to have the right attitude. Here his ‘niceness’ possibly cost him the job, as a lot of people felt he needed to be more ruthless in his treatment of certain brat-pack members. It was also possibly the only time his age counted against him: when Newcastle dropped two places to finish fifth (fifth? sigh), these issues with the attitude and behaviour of younger players seemed to be thought to be caused by his age, and many Newcastle fans began to wonder whether he was past it at seventy-odd.

This for me is the only occasion over the last twenty years when you can make a justifiable case that Newcastle fans were too impatient or too demanding of their manager. We had good quality football, and a good quality squad. But we were missing discipline. So Freddie Shepherd shot Bobby “Bambi” Robson. Unfortunately our follow up manager Graeme Sourness set about achieving discipline at the expense of good quality football and a good quality squad, which I can’t help feel was missing the point somewhat.

While he might have left us with a series of entertaining quotations, Robson can best be summed up by pointing out a few simple points:

  • No-one, including many Sunderland fans I know, seems to have had a bad word to say about him
  • Everyone loved his enthusiasm for the came
  • He liked football to be played the right way — on the grass
  • He was a man of honour and integrity: one of the best role models ever to have come out of professional football
  • Once he’d established his managerial credentials, I think every club he managed was in a better state when he left than it was in when he took over
  • Neither Newcastle nor England have had a better manager since (although Capello has got off to an admittedly decent start)

…or possibly he can be best summed up by realising that even just a few days before dying of lung cancer, he was able to turn up to the charity game. There’s a big part of me believes that he would have died earlier, only he wasn’t prepared to miss the match… now that’s a true football man.

Goodbye, Sir Bobby. Football, and the world, is a poorer place without you.

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1 Comment to Goodbye, Sir Bob

  1. Gary Miller says:

    August 1st, 2009 at 10:10 am

    A true gentleman – on and off the pitch. A lot of today’s players and managers would be better people by emulating his attitude and virtues.

    C’mon Heaven XI…

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