If only ever so briefly, Newcastle United had earned a spot in second place in the Premier League table but sit a solid third now. It was not a difficult leap from this event to Newcastle United's third place finish in 2002-03, and by extension to one of the greatest Geordies of all time- Sir Bobby Robson. Wor Sir Bobby. As CHN's first offering during the International Break, I offer a new/first installment of A User's Guide to Newcastle United: Legends Edition.
Robert William Robson was born on February 18, 1933, the fourth of five children. Fitting of a Geordie legend, he was the son of a coal miner and grew up in Langley Park, about 18 miles south of Newcastle on the A1. His father (who Bobby would say "was black and white... he bled black and white, my father" in an interview much later in life) would take his son to St. James' Park to see the hometown team, who would boast talent the likes of Jackie Milburn and Len Shackleton during Bobby's early years.
Bobby would begin footballing at a young age, eventually playing for the Langley Park Juniors, balancing footballing with his apprenticeship as an electrician. He would impress, of course, playing for the U18s by the time he was 15. 2 years later, it was time for his first professional contract, and he would receive a couple options: Northeastern club Middlesborough offered while there was some interest from his hometown club, although the efforts made by Newcastle were not "appreciable." Ultimately, it would be Fulham who would swoop in and prise a young Robson from his home, an absence that would last (professionally) for nearly 50 years.
The totality of his career (playing and managing) is what earned Sir Bobby his status amongst the Geordie nation,so it would seem disingenuous to skip over his playing career completely, even though it was completely executed well south of Newcastle.
At the behest of his father, Bobby continued with his career as an electrician even after signing his professional contract with Fulham- he would work on the Festival of Britain site during the day and trained with Fulham 3 nights per week. This was ultimately a temporary arrangement - but still a testament of exactly where he came from and what he was made of. Robson would end up making 152 appearances over 6 seasons in his first stint with Fulham before moving on to West Bromwich Albion for 6 years and 239 appearances. During his time at West Brom, he would make 20 appearances for the English National Team, scoring 4 times (all at Wembley). In 1962, he would return to Fulham where he would play the final 5 years of his playing career.
After a brief stint with the Vancouver Royals of the NASL, Bobby would return to London to manage Fulham. It would be the least successful of his stops as manager (despite his signing of later Toon great Malcolm Macdonald), and after failing to save the club from relegation and a poor start to the following season in Division Two, he would be sacked by newspaper. He had not been notified of his dismissal prior to seeing the headline in the newspaper "Robson sacked". It would only be 2 months before he was back in the game, however, landing as a mid-season replacement at Ipswich Town in January of 1969. 709 matches over 13 years and Bobby would have done enough at that point to be permanently revered by at least one fan base. After a couple of warm-up years in the early 1970s, Robson would bring Ipswich the first bit of silverware of his management career, winning the Texaco Cup (a home countries competition for clubs that had not qualified for Europe) in 1973. It would be 5 years until their next silverware success, an FA Cup Triumph in 1978, which essentially be the start of a meteoric rise through the management world that would include stops at some of the most prestigious posts in the world. Following the FA Cup triumph, Ipswich Town would be runners-up in the First Division in 80-81 and 81-82, with the latter season including triumph in the UEFA Cup. On the heels of this sustained success, he would accept the managers seat of England in 1982.
England National Team
Shortly after the conclusion of World Cup '82, Wor Bobby was appointed manager of England. Ever self-asured, he had this to say after accepting the appointment:
"I know I'm the best man for the job. My track record is better than any of the other people interested in managing England" - 7 July 1982
The first task at hand was qualification for Euro '84 (interestingly, one of the first moves Robson made was to drop Kevin Keegan... what tangled webs we weave!), which is a hurdle that was not cleared-- failing to qualify, Robson offered his resignation in favor of Brian Clough [slight aside-- they just don't make them like they used to, do they? Amazing people and characters that came from that era of footballers.], a resignation that was not accepted (luckily enough for the FA as it would turn out). Leading a team of legends that included Peter Shilton, Glen Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and some kid named Peter Beardsley, Robson would lead England into Mexico in with a shout at World Cup '86. They would progress to the knockout stages, only to be undone by Argentina in a match that featured two of the most widely known goals of all time... the "Hand of God" (or the "Hand of a Rascal" as Bobby would call it) and the "Goal of the Century-- both credited to Diego Maradona.
Continuing on for a second cycle as the England manager, Robson and his England squad would this time qualify for the European Championships in 1988-- although the results would end up causing him to again tender his resignation to the FA. Once again the resignation would be declined by the FA. He would continue on into World Cup '90, leading his country to the semi-finals for only the second time, and the only time not on English soil. Although he got them close, he and his squad once again fell just short of the goal, losing in the semi-final and again in the third place match. All told, Robson would lead England into 95 matches over 8 years, with a tremendous end result of 47 wins, 30 draws and only 18 defeats. Over the eight years, the England squad scored 154 goals, conceding only 60 times for a mammoth +94 goal differential. The FA decided that this would be the time to decline an extension of Robson's contract, ending his 8 years on the England hot seat.
Wor Bobby's Excellent Adventure
First stop: Dutch League
Following the end of his England tenure, Sir Bobby would spend the next decade on the European mainland. PSV Eindhoven would be the first stop, where he would win consecutive league titles in 1990-91 and 91-92. Despite winning nearly 69% of his matches, he was sacked for not making as much progress in European competition as the board wished, and he was sent packing.
Second Stop: Portugal
As would almost always be the case, he would land on his feet, taking the reins at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, where he would begin a rather long relationship with a name that would later become quite famous in world football: Jose Mourinho. Sporting would wind up third in Bobby's first season at the helm, but again he found himself afoul of the board-- the chairman (whom Robson would describe as a "loose cannon") sacked him midway through the second season with Sporting sitting top of the league. Once again, failure in Europe was given as the reason.
Second Stop Part Dois: Portugal
Once again, feet were landed upon- Bobby was hired almost immediately by Sporting's primary rivals Porto. Moving with him would be Mourinho, who had been his interpreter at Sporting, but would assume a role as assistant manager. Interestingly, his stop at Porto would also give him occasion to launch the career of another now-prominent Portuguese... a young Andres Villas-Boas. On the pitch, Robson set Porto right and energized a flagging fan base, leading the club to a Portuguese Cup triumph over former club Sporting and consecutive league titles in 1994-95 and 95-96. The title in 95-96 was achieved in spite of his first bout with cancer causing him to miss time in the first half of the season. Interestingly, he would earn the nickname Bobby 5-0 due to the frequent 5-0 score lines earned by his Porto squads. It seems that goal scoring followed him around a bit. Following the 95-96 season, he would be on the move again-- this time of his own volition.
Third Stop: Spain
Interestingly, it was another Portuguese that would lead to Sir Bobby's move to the Nou Camp and the hot seat at Barcelona. Jose would follow, and they would bring tremendous success to the Catalan club in the one season that he was on the sideline. Binging in an in-his-prime Ronaldo, they would earn the treble, winning the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup and (finally for Sir Bobby) getting over the European hump with a triumph in the European Cup Winners' Cup. Despite this success and being named European Manager of the Year, he would be moved to the position of General Manager in favor of Luis van Gaal. He would stay in that position for a year before hitting the sidelines once again.
Fourth Stop: Back to the Dutch League
The 1998-99 season found Robson returning to a club for the second time in his career- PSV Eindhoven signed him on a one year contract. He would lead them to a third-place league finish and qualification for the Champions League.
In 1999, Sir Bobby Robson, after nearly 50 years gone, became the stuff of Geordie legend. Always held dear by Geordies for his successes over his managerial degree, he became transcendent the same way any successful Geordie can... he came home. Ruud Gullit ended a decidedly dour and unpopular tenure with his resignation, and Robson replaced Gullit's defensive tactics with the attacking flair that Newcastle fans crave. His first match back in charge: an 8-0 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday. Taking charge of a bottom of the table Newcastle squad, Robson would lead the club out of the depths and a safe 11th place finish in the 1999-2000 season. He would bring European competition would follow Wor Bobby back to St. James' Park, the squad qualifying for the Champions league through a fourth-place finish in 2001-2002 and again in the 2002-03 season after a third place finish. United would not make it through the qualification stages in the 2003-2004 Champions League, being dropped to the UEFA Cup, a competition that Newcastle would end up losing out of in the semi-finals to Marseille. Following a slow start to the 04-05 season, Sir Bobby was sacked for the last time.
Sir Bobby Robson was born a Geordie. He married a Geordie, his wife Elsie. He may have been away from Tyneside for nearly 50 years, but he always stayed a Geordie. He was a unique figure in that everywhere he went, every post he held, he is universally loved by the fans of the clubs he left behind. He started influential management careers, put multiple clubs right (including his beloved Newcastle United)-- and that was just on the pitch. Off the pitch, he started the Bobby Robson Foundation for cancer research, was knighted (Sir Bobby Robson, CBE) and was given the Freedom of the City of Newcastle in 2005. In a footballing world in which relationships are fractured and contentious at times between clubs, Sir Bobby was universally loved and mourned upon his death. He fought cancer 5 times, coming through the other end five times. . . it was said that cancer didn't beat Sir Bobby-- he won 4-1. Now watch this without tearing up. I defy you.
Sir Bobby was a great footballer, a greater manager and an even greater man. And even better, he defined Coming Home Newcastle.