Thursday 13 August 2009

Icon #21 Sir Bobby Robson

If you love football you love Sir Bobby Robson. When he passed away earlier this month the football world mourned the loss of gentleman and a football scholar. A man who was truly passionate about the game he loved in the best of ways.

His achievements in the game are well documented. Early success at Ipswich followed by the poisoned chalice of the England job. Then a spell at PSV in Holland before moving to Barcelona and winning everything but La Ligua. He followed that with his last job, at his beloved Newcastle, where, although not bringing silverware to St James', he did produce a side that played great football.

Sir Bobby's spell as England manager though was a roller coaster. The 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico were about as up and down a tournament as you can have. We lost our opening game 1-0 to Portugal and then drew 0-0 with Morocco. This was the first time I'd really taken an active interest in football during a World Cup and we were heading out. Robson had to change something, had to find a foil for Lineker up front, or we were going out before the tournament really got started.

You always got the impression with Robson that he could hold his hand up when things weren't going right. That talking to big names didn't faze him even if he was giving them bad news. In '86 his hand was forced when 'Captain Marvel' Brian Robson managed to injure his shoulder and Ray Wilkins got sent off. But the genius was to bring in Peter Beardsley and drop Mark Hately. A player that could pick a lock.

After 34 minutes against Poland England were 3-0 up, through to the next round and Lineker had a hattrick. Yes we went out to Argentina in the quarters but my bug for international football was caught. That we got cheated by Maradona only served to make me even more passionate about the game, it was the first time football moved me to tears and I still remember the agony of Lineker's last second miss from that John Barnes cross.

England came home heroes from a World Cup but the 1988 European Championships were a disaster and the press turned on Sir Bobby. To be fair to the press though, we had been awful. Lost to Ireland, destroyed by Holland (Van Basten got a hattrick) and humiliated by Russia.

1990 was different.

It's a story that doesn't need retelling here but 'that' Semi Final is up there as a pivotal game in my life. For about four years after I could barely listen to 'Nessun Dorma' without my eyes welling.

Robson held himself with such dignity during that tournament. We didn't play well in two out of the three group games and the press were at his throat throughout, following the announcement that he was leaving for PSV, after it had finished. But he never shied away from a press conference and in the end he turned everyone round with the performance of his team.

And that to be honest is the hard part about writing about a football manager. All of their deeds are a reflection of what the sides they've carved have achieved. Whether it's Mourinho, Dalglish, Ferguson, Clough or Shankly it's the teams they built that make them iconic. All of those just mentioned also have huge personalities. But without the players, having a big personality doesn't get you far, just ask Barry Fry.

Sir Bobby Robson was different though and I'd argue that Sir Matt Busby and Bob Paisley were too. Why? Because they transcend that label.

Robson's battle with cancer over seventeen years, whilst he continued to work, mark him out as a special man. He didn't give into it, he just fought in the same way he expected his teams to, with dignity and a resolution to not stop battling, until the final whistle.

The thing I will always remember is that jig on the touchline when Lineker scored in the semi final against the Germans. That out pouring of joy, not as a manager, but as an Englishman willing his side to get level. The complete loss of control that all football fans know so well when your team nets in an important match. Sir Bobby just loved football like the rest of us do.

He was, of course often hilarious too. Deliberately? I guess we'll never know. Looking for quotes, as I usually do now for the Icon Post, there are just so many funny things I could have put. He often manages to contradict himself in the space of a few words. Personally I like to think he knew what he was doing. It was all part of playing down how good he was at his job. 'Let them think I'm stupid, I'll bloody show them,' is the sort of thing I can imagine him thinking during a Friday press conference before a big game at the Nou Camp.

He didn't have an ego the size of a small country, like some of the Managers I mentioned earlier, had or have either. At least there was never any hint of that. If his side got out played he just said it how it was and that's something that is often lacking from the current breed. If I could say anything to Rafa Benitez it would be to look at Robson in front of a camera. When you come second Rafa you say well done to the team that came first, you watch what they did that was better than your team and you learn from it. That's what Sir Bobby Robson did all the time.

A great man, a man you'd have been proud to have had as a Manager of your club, Sir Bobby Robson, you were a Legend.

'Maybe not goodbye, but farewell.'

Today's post is dedicated to @RickHarwood, AT and @butterflygrrrl.

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