Friday, July 31, 2009

Bobby Robson for England (v France), 27 November 1957

One of the most upsetting things about growing older is that people who you have spent your whole life admiring, respecting or loving start to die. When you're a kid, the deaths of people don't effect you quite so much as your little brain can't cope with the emotion and you haven't had long enough to get to know the person involved. In my mid-thirties, I find now that the deaths of both people I know and celebrities who provide the backdrop to my childhood and adult life hit me much harder.

Never has this been truer than when I heard the devastating news this morning that England legend Sir Bobby Robson had lost his battle with cancer. He was 76. Robson never managed a club I supported (with the exception of Barcelona for whom I have a soft spot for family reasons), and I never had the pleasure of meeting the man. What he did do however was provide the wallpaper for my entire life as a football fan from my early teenage years.

For many people my age the World Cup in Italy in 1990 is one of their defining football memories. In the days before football was on our televisions twenty four hours a day we all crowded around our sets at World Cup time to watch the magic of the world's best footballers - these exotic players who we only ever got to see once every four years or so. Italia 90 was no exception. The hairs on the back of your neck standing up when Nessun Dorma started playing on the television, Des Lynam's consummate professionalism and the hope, as ever, that it might *just* be England's time.

Bobby Robson was holding onto the England job by the skin of his teeth in 1990, lest we forget. A terrible Euro 88 nearly cost the Geordie his job as England boss but as the squad arrived in Italy with such talent as Barnes, Lineker, Beardsley, Waddle and, of course, Gascoigne there was hope (if not expectation) that England would perform.

Italia 90 provides to this day some of the most iconic images of my football life. Rijkaard and Voller's spat, Schillaci's eyes bulging from his head and the tears of England's number 19. That tournament also endeared Bobby Robson to the English public, an affection which he would never, ever wane. His fist pumping encouragement to his England side is seared into my memory, as is his "one man conga" down the touchline as David Platt's volley hit the back of the Belgian net.

For the thickness of a goalpost and a couple of miscued penalties Robson could be spoken of in the same breath as Sir Alf Ramsey. Still, England came as close to winning the World Cup in 1990 as we ever will in my lifetime and Robson was a national hero.

Lest we forget his achievements as a manager, they are considerable. The FA Cup and UEFA Cup with Ipswich Town. Two Eredivisie Championships with PSV Eindhoven in 1991 and 1992. The Portuguese Cup and Championship between 1994 and 1996. The Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners Cup with a Ronaldo inspired Barcelona in 1997. He also guided Newcastle United to a third place finish in the Premier League, famously winning his first home game in charge 8-0.

As well as the iconic images from the World Cup in 1990, my abiding memory of Robson will be his humility and tears on the presentation of the BBC Sports Personality "Lifetime Achievement" award in 2007. He was clearly and visibly moved by the presentation by Sir Alex Ferguson, the appearance of many of his players and peers and also the presence of his wife Elsie who survives him.

Sir Bobby Robson was, quite simply, one of the finest English managers of all time and one of the nicest men in football. He will be sorely missed.


Shane said...

Nicely put.

swisslet said...

agreed nicely put, and a lovely man.

One thing that has angered me is some of the saccharine coverage in the media - The Mail was yesterday calling him "England's Bravest Knight". Now, I am saddened by his death, but -- princess diana-isms aside -- that's just hypocrisy, isn't it? Aren't these the same papers that gave him a cruel and very public flogging for many years?

He was clearly a lovely man and will certainly be missed. I don't think they make them like that any more.

One thing though: as the son of a miner from County Durham, I believe that technically he's not a Geordie and might actually be a mackem...

swisslet said...

...and remember how the reason he had to work abroad was because he left the England job virtually unemployable (before his succes in Italia 90, anyway)?? Just shows what a ridiculous bubble we England fans lived in even then.