‘Sir Bobby Robson – Everybody’s favourite uncle apart from mine…’
With all of this Eng-u-lund carry-on in full swing it has made me think back to one of our more patriotic Newcastle United custodians…..Sir Bobby Robson himself.
Now to have any alternative opinions on Sir Bobby Robson is generally seen as blasphemy and my own are based on how I perceived situations at any relevant time.
Bobby Robson was the manager of Ipswich Town in the 1970s and early 80s. They were an unfashionable club but had been League Champions in the 60s under Alf Ramsey. Robson almost replicated his success in the league and his teams were attacking and good on the eye…winning the FA Cup in 1978, followed a few years later with success in Europe.
After the 1982 World Cup in Spain, England manager Ron Greenwood stood down, Bobby Robson the overwhelming choice to succeed him, which he did do on 7 July 1982.
The following month after his appointment, me and my mates had the good fortune (or so we thought) of bumping into Mr Robson in the St James’ car park outside the old West Stand. It was Kevin Keegan’s Toon debut and Bobby kindly signed my programme that had a picture of Kevin signing for us, with Arthur Cox proudly standing over him, on the front cover. I always got my younger brother a programme back in the day and he was over the moon: “To Graeme, Best wishes..Bobby Robson” scrawled over the smiling NUFC duo.
Nearly 40 years on and Wor Lad still has it but there is a bittersweet irony to the tale. Bobby Robson’s first England squad was announced a few days later and Kevin Keegan who was the current captain, found out he had been dropped, not from Robson as should have been the case, but by a journalist. Robson wasn’t a very popular man in these parts back then, if you all remember carefully?
Anyhow, Newcastle got off to a shocker at the beginning of the 1999/2000 season and Bobby got the call from Freddie Shepherd, almost three years after he had initially turned down the chance to replace Keegan.
Bobby quickly turned things around and I have often thought of what would have happened if he had taken the opportunity back in 1997 and managed Keegan’s great side, which Dalglish and Gullit had totally decimated.
Undoubtedly , the highlight of Bobby’s Toon tenure for me, was when we followed beating Arsenal at Highbury with a victory at Leeds in the last minute. The Mags were top of the league on Christmas Day 2001 and once again we had all started to believe in Santa Claus.
We eventually petered out and finished fourth, then pushed on and finished a place higher in 2003. Me and the lads booked a table at the Lancastrian Suite that summer for an Evening with Sir Bobby Robson (knighted in 2002). On arriving we were misplaced at a table right near the front, next to some local “celebrities”. After a round of drinks staff tried to get us to move to another table but we “politely” refused. One of the highlights of the night came when my brother got into a bidding war with TV Agony Aunt and celebrity mackem Denise Robertson, for a signed caser from SAFC. She ended up paying over £600 ha ha.
Anyhow, back to Bobby, and to be honest all he seemed to ramble on about was Gazza being as “daft as a brush” and England this and England that. The compere Alan Oliver had noticed the restlessness in the audience and tried to guide Bobby back onto Newcastle but seemingly to no avail.
A recess was called and each table was asked to submit a question for Bobby to answer. I grasped the pen and paper and wrote…”There is no one here tonight left in any doubt with regards your patriotism. Newcastle United, who you have often stated that you have supported from being a boy have just finished third. What would you prefer….for Newcastle to kick on next season and win their first title since 1927… or England to go on and win the next World Cup?”
It was the first question out of the pile and Alan Oliver was all over it like a rash. Bobby fell silent and after about 20-30 seconds Alan prompted him for an answer as the crowd went eerily quiet in anticipation. His exact words were “Come-on Bobby, it wouldn’t take that long for me to answer that.”
Anyhow, you know what I’m going to tell you. I knew I had him and l somewhat felt a bit cruel. Bobby said that he would have to take England over Newcastle and it went down like a lead balloon. The audience were astounded and there was even a couple of cries of “Resign” from the upper tier.
I was genuinely saddened when he passed away in 2009. He was a very brave man who fought his illness with courage and dignity.
However, for me there has only ever been one man who has truly got what Newcastle United fans want and deserve….and he would have never came back with an answer the same as Uncle Bobby’s.
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