A Tribute To...Sir Bobby Robson

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2009

Feb 1997:  Bobby Robson from Great Britain showing the strain of being  manager of Barcelona. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport

Barney Corkhill's "A Tribute To..." series returns with a very special tribute on a sad day for football. This morning, July 31, 2009, the legendary manager Sir Bobby Robson passed away after a long battle with cancer at age 76.

Here, I will reflect on the illustrious career of the great man.

Born on Feb. 18, 1933, Robert William Robson grew up as a Newcastle fan, adoring the skills of the likes of Jackie Milburn from the stands.

While he is most famous for being a legendary coach, Bobby Robson was also a very talented player. At 17, he was signed by Fulham, and he made his debut for the club later that year against Sheffield Wednesday.

The young Robson showed plenty of promise and potential, being touted as one of the brightest prospects in English football, but he couldn't prevent Fulham slipping into the Second Division in 1952.

After seeing little progress in the four years that followed, Robson moved to West Bromwich Albion for a club-record transfer fee of £25,000 in 1956. It was here that he started to fulfill his potential.

In the 1957-58 season, Robson finished as West Brom's top league goalscorer with 24 goals, including four in one match against Burnley.

This form earned Robson a place in the England squad, making his debut against France in 1957, scoring twice in a 4-0 win.

Despite a short run of matches in 1960 and 1961, Robson never became a regular in the England set-up, largely due to the competition from Bobby Charlton and, early in his career, Stanley Matthews and Nat Lofthouse.

He went on to make 20 caps for the national team, scoring four times.

Things weren't running entirely smoothly back at West Brom either. His good form and leadership qualities made him a favourite at the club, but his team-mate, Jimmy Hill, was beginning a revolution to abolish the maximum wage.

Therefore, despite captaining the side in both the 1960-61 season and the 1961-62 season, Robson was sold back to Fulham in 1962 after a wage dispute with West Brom's vice-chairman.

Fulham, at the time, were a club on the rise, with players the calibre of Rodney Marsh and Alan Mullery. Those two, however, were soon sold, and Robson once again found himself at a club lacking ambition and championship credentials.

He stayed there for another five years before moving for a short and unsuccessful spell as the player-manager of Vancouver Royals.

He eventually retired as a player after this stint, but he wasn't out of the game for long as, in 1968, he returned to Craven Cottage as manager.

Once again, however, it wasn't the most successful of times for Robson, as his first season in management led to relegation, and him being sacked just 10 months after taking the job.

In 1969, Robson bounced back into management with Ipswich Town, a struggling provincial club side still yearning for a return of the glory days they experienced under World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey.

The legend of Sir Bobby Robson had begun.

His first few seasons were unremarkable but steady, bringing some much needed stability to the club.

Once he had established that stability, however, the following seasons were anything but average.

Ipswich began challenging the country's top teams, finishing in an impressive fourth place in 1973, behind only Bill Shankly's Liverpool, Bertie Mee's Arsenal, and Don Revie's Leeds.

A period of remarkable consistency followed. Over the next nine years, Ipswich only finished outside the top six once, in 1978. Ironically, this was the season in which they experienced their greatest achievement under Bobby Robson thus far: an FA Cup final win over Arsenal.

The improvement shown was summed up by back-to-back second place finishes in the league and, in 1981, the crowning glory of Ipswich Town's history.

It was inconceivable that a small club like Ipswich could make major steps into Europe before Robson took charge but, much like Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, Robson did the seemingly impossible, leading Ipswich to success in the UEFA Cup.

Unsurprisingly, the accolades growing for Bobby Robson attracted interest from numerous clubs. To try and fend them off, the Ipswich director offered Robson a ten-year contract extension, but there was one job offered that Robson could, and would never turn down: the England job.

He left Ipswich a hero, and remains one of the shrewdest managers to grace the game. In his 13 years as Ipswich manager, he bought just 14 players. The bulk of his trophy-winning teams came from the youth programmes already at the club.

Despite his success at Ipswich, however, his England career didn't get off to the best start. Dropping Kevin Keegan immediately made him a scapegoat should anything go wrong.

And things did go wrong. Despite only losing once in qualifying, England failed to win through to the 1984 European Championships.

Bobby Robson was under pressure, and even offered his resignation in favour of Brian Clough taking charge. Whether it was his belief in Robson or his dislike for Clough, FA Chairman Bert Millichap refused the resignation.

Robson went on to lead England to the 1986 World Cup, for which the nation was cautiously optimistic. England had talent in their ranks, with the likes of Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley, and Peter Shilton, but so did others, notably Argentina and Diego Maradona.

Ultimately, it was the two sides of Maradona that disposed of England with arguably the two most famous goals of all time.

The first, known now as the 'Hand of God', showed the dark side of Maradona, while the second, the 'Goal of the Century', showed his genius, and why he is the only player continually and reasonably compared with Pele.

Following England's failure at the '86 World Cup, Robson set about building a side to compete for honours at the 1988 European Championships. The qualifying stages looked promising.

England dropped just one point in their campaign, causing England fans to dare to dream once again. These dreams were dashed at the tournament itself, however, as they finished bottom of a group containing Ireland, USSR, and Marco Van Basten's Holland.

The qualifying for the 1990 World Cup was again encouraging, with England not conceding a single goal. This time, however, England actually performed in the tournament itself as well.

They finished top of their group, which again included Ireland and Holland, and went on to beat Belgium and Cameroon to progress to the semi-final.

In a career eerily similar to that of Alf Ramsey, Robson knew he was on the verge of something similar. All he had to do to get through to the World Cup final was beat West Germany.

The rest is history. Andreas Brehme's deflected free-kick gave Germany a fortuitous lead, before Gary Lineker levelled the sides ten minutes from time.

There were no goals in extra-time, but Paul Gascoigne's yellow card and subsequent tears are an enduring image of that World Cup.

The first three penalties for both teams were faultless, but Stuart Pearce, and then crucially Chris Waddle missed their spot-kicks to hand the match to Germany.

It was to be Robson's last match in charge of England, after which he embarked upon a series of jobs abroad.

He went to PSV Eindhoven first, winning back-to-back league titles before being sacked at the end of his second season.

He then moved to Sporting Lisbon, taking the underachieving team to third place, before he was again sacked with the club sitting top of the table for the first time in 15 years.

He stayed in Portugal with FC Porto, where Jose Mourinho, whom he met at Sporting Lisbon, became his assistant manager. Again, he took an underachieving club to success in the Portuguese Cup, and consecutive league titles.

After this, Robson and Mourinho moved to the Nou Camp for a short spell in charge. Despite managing Barcelona for less than two seasons, he guided them to a Spanish Cup and a Cup Winners' Cup, as well as capturing the signature of a young Ronaldo.

Another brief spell at PSV brought his European management experience to an end as he returned to England to eventually become manager of his beloved Newcastle.

His time at Newcastle was very successful under the circumstances. He led them to consecutive Champions League qualification, firmly establishing them as a top five club.

After a poor start to the 2004-05 season, however, Robson was rashly sacked by Freddie Shepherd, a decision many Newcastle fans regret to this day.

His last role in football was an adviser to Steve Staunton as Republic of Ireland manager, which he left in 2007, bringing the curtain down on an incredible 57-year footballing career.

Last Sunday, Bobby Robson made his final public appearance as legends and celebrities from England and Germany faced off in a charity match for the Bobby Robson Foundation.

After successfully defeating cancer four times, this fifth bout of the disease proved to be terminal, and too much for Robson.

The game of football is certainly going to be a darker place without him, but Sir Bobby Robson will always be remembered as one of the greatest managers in the history of the game.

R.I.P Sir Bobby Robson (Feb. 18, 1933 - July 31, 2009).


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