Sir Bobby Robson
Bobby Robson will always be known for his managerial ability, lovable personality and fantastic sense of humour. His success across Europe is testament to his outstanding talent and natural aptitude for coaching. He is a friend to many, a hero to thousands and respected by all.
Robert William Robson was born on the 18th February 1933 in Sacriston, County Durham. He was the fourth of five sons to parents Phillip and Lillian Robson. Only a few months after he was born, Robson and his family moved to Langley Park where his father was a coal miner.
As a child, Robson was taken to St. James’ Park by his father to watch his beloved Newcastle United play. This is where his love affair with ‘The Toon’ began. Legends such as Len Shackleton and Jackie Milburn were Robson’s heroes on the pitch, and the reason he played as an inside-forward.
Robson played for his local side, Langley Park Juniors, from the age of eleven, and before he turned sixteen he was playing for the clubs U-18 side. Here, he caught the attention of Fulham Football Club.
Becoming a Professional
In May 1950, Fulham manager, Bill Dodgin, made a personal visit to the Robson household to discuss a contract for young Bobby. He accepted the contract offer, turning down local club Middlesbrough.
At the time Robson was working as an electrician for the National Coal Board, and despite his move to the capital, Robson’s father insisted on him continuing to work as an electrician as a fall back. Before long, however, with football training and working long hours, Robson made the choice to have a solo career as a footballer.
In his first year with the Cottagers, Robson made his debut as a 17 year old against Sheffield Wednesday. Before long, already struggling in the top flight, Fulham suffered relegation to the Second Division in the 1951-52 season.
During his time at Fulham, Robson had caught the eye of many, including Vic Buckingham, the manager of West Bromwich Albion (WBA). Robson signed for Albion in March 1956 for a fee of £25,000, which at the time was a club record.
Robson made his debut on the 10th of March 1956 in a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City. He was made club captain in 1960 and remained in the post until he left the club. Robson made 257 appearances at Albion, scoring 61 goals in the process.
During his spell at WBA, Robson graduated to the full England squad. He went on to get 20 caps for his country, making his debut in a 4-0 win over France, scoring twice in the process. Robson appeared in the 1958 World Cup and following the tournament, became an established member of the side.
An injury before the 1962 World Cup in Chile ended his international playing career.
Robson’s departure from the club was acrimonious. The on-going dispute regarding the minimum and maximum wage budgets, started by his team mate Jimmy Hill, coincided with the birth of Robson’s second son. This prompted him to demand a higher salary. WBA vice-chairman, Jim Gaunt, refused and Robson was sold back to Fulham at a loss of £5,000.
Back at Fulham once more, Robson had managed to double his salary. However, his desire to win silverware took a major blow when star players, Rodney Marsh and Alan Mullery, were sold. When Robson left England in 1967, he had won no trophies as a player.
Despite rumoured interest from Arsenal, and the apparent offer of a player-manager role at Southend, Robson moved to Canada and to the Vancouver Royals. It was the Royals’ first season in the North American Soccer League and was seen by Robson to be a fresh challenge. However, pressures were too much and before long Robson accepted an offer to go back to Fulham as the manager in January 1968.
First steps into Management
Robson’s stay at Craven Cottage was somewhat short lived. They were struggling upon Robson’s arrival and were relegated. The following season Robson failed to achieve the expected results and he was sacked in November. He discovered he had been sacked by reading a placard of the Evening Standard in a newsagent outside Putney Tube station.
The following year Robson was appointed as the manager of Ipswich Town. It was at Portman Road that he would establish his reputation as a successful manager. He got the job following a chance encounter with Ipswich chairman, Dave Sexton, whilst on a scouting assignment for Chelsea.
Robson’s first seasons at the helm were largely uneventful, but in the 1972-73 season Ipswich finished 4th in the First Division and also won the Texaco Cup. In the nine seasons that followed, Ipswich finished lower than 6th place only once, in the 1977-78 season. The disappointment in the league that season was rapidly followed with success in the FA Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the final.
Robson’s biggest success with the Tractor Boys came in 1981 when he captured the UEFA Cup with a 5-4 aggregate victory over AZ Alkmaar.
During his 13-year stay at the club, Town finished league runners-up twice and Robson became a fan’s favourite. In all that time at the club, he only signed 14 players, relying on the club’s youth programmes instead.
England come knocking
Robson’s exploits at Ipswich earned him a chance to manage his country and he took up the post on the 7th of July 1982, only two days after Ron Greenwood had left the job. Robson brought with him Don Howe as chief coach, his former WBA team-mate.
His first game in charge came against Denmark and already Robson was making waves. Newcastle United star Kevin Keegan, was dropped for the match, which led to him being spat on by the Geordie fans. Just over a year later, Denmark would yet again prove to be a thorn in Robson’s side as he suffered his only loss in 28 qualifying matches. This defeat meant that England failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships.
At one point, Robson offered his resignation to the FA. It was rejected out of hand and England went on to qualify for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
With his captain, Bryan Robson, out injured for the tournament, Sir Bobby was forced into tactical changes, and they paid off as England reached the quarter-finals. It was here that Diego Maradona scored two of the most famous goals of all time: one was the wonderful, mazy, dribbling run and the other was the “hand of God” incident. Robson himself said that the Argentinean was forever diminished in his eyes because of this.
More disappointment followed when England were swiftly knocked out of Euro 1988 at the group stage, and were welcomed home with heavy criticism. Robson once again offered his resignation, and once again it was rejected.
England qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, without conceding a single goal and as with the previous World Cup, Bryan Robson was ruled out with another injury. Having topped their group, England went on to reach the semi-finals, where they faced West Germany and as the cliché goes "so near, and yet so far". England lost the match on penalties and Robson left the job.
A move to Europe
Having not had his contract with England renewed, Robson accepted the offer to become manager of PSV Eindhoven, a move that was described by himself as a “culture shock”.
One of his biggest challenges at PSV was how to handle Brazilian superstar Romario. Robson disliked his work ethic, lifestyle and attitude, although he did admit that on occasion, Romario would be scintillating. At the Dutch club, Robson had a young Frank Arnesen as his assistant, who would go on to become the Director of Football at Chelsea.
Under Robson, PSV won the Dutch league in 1991 and 1992. However, failings in European competitions were met with disapproval by the board and Robson was sacked after the title win in ’92.
Before long, Robson returned to management in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon, where his interpreter was no other than Jose Mourinho. Sporting finished third in Robson’s first season in charge.
His relationship with the President of the club, Jose Sousa Cintra, was unstable at the best of times and Robson was sacked from the post in December 1994 with Lisbon sitting at the top of the league for the first time in 15 years.
Robson’s next club were Sporting’s fiercest rivals, FC Porto. Upon appointment, he quickly made Mourinho his assistant. Under the guidance of the pairing, Porto went on to win the Portuguese Cup and League double in 1995.
The next season, Robson suffered from a malignant melanoma, and due to being treated for the illness, missed the first months of the 1995-96 season. However, Robson still managed to guide the club to a successful defence of their League title upon his return.
Robson’s next stop on his European tour, was Barcelona, another job he was offered by chance. During a phone call to the Barca President over a possible move for Luis Figo, he was offered the job. He became manager in July 1996, and once again, took Mourinho with him.
One of Robson’s biggest gambles in his managerial career was the big money signing of Ronaldo, but it was a gamble that paid off. Barcelona won the Spanish Cup, Super Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in his first, and only year, in charge.
The following season saw Robson moved to the position of General Manager, whilst Louis Van Gaal took the managerial reins. This was a short-lived move, as Robson quickly returned to PSV for the 1998-99 season. PSV narrowly missed out on the League title, but managed to qualify for the Champions League.
The move back home
When Robson’s short-term contract at PSV expired, he moved back home and took over Newcastle United, his hometown club, in September 1999. In his first home match in charge, the Magpies defeated Sheffield Wednesday 8-0. A rebuilding season followed as Robson made his mark on the club.
At one point the FA asked for Robson to manage the national side once again in a caretaker role, only to be knocked back by Newcastle Chairman, Freddie Shepherd. In the 2001-02 season, Robson guided Newcastle to a 4th place finish, showing why the FA wanted him back. The following year, they finished one place better in 3rd, and achieved Champions League football for successive years.
Robson’s success soon wavered after rumours that he had lost the dressing room and fell out with players. The side’s form suffered and he was sacked on the 30th of August 2004.
After he was dismissed by Newcastle, Robson was offered the job as Football Consultant to the Republic of Ireland boss, Steve Staunton. Despite the departure of the manager in October 2007, Robson remains in this position.
Robson was given a CBE in 1990 and a Knighthood in 2002, both awards being for services to football. Also in 2002 he received the freedom of Ipswich and the UEFA President’s award for ‘services to football’.
He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and was made an Honorary Freeman of Newcastle.
- 1977-1978 – FA Cup winners
- 1980-1981 – UEFA Cup winners, Division One runners-up
- 1981-1982 – Division One runners-up
- 1990-91, 1991-92 – Dutch League champions
- 1993-1994 – Portuguese Cup winners.
- 1994-1995, 1995-1996 – Portuguese League champions.
1996-1997 – European Cup Winners Cup winners, Spanish League runners-up, Spanish Cup winners.