I’ve played five, six and seven-a-side football on my local ‘goals’ pitches, along with eleven-a-side football at most locations in and around Essex and I have to say I’ve had some bloody shocking referees. We’ve all been there on a week night or a Saturday/Sunday morning questioning a refs’ ability to see past his nose; threatening to nick his white stick (or dog). However I can honestly say (hand on heart, dib-dib dob-dob, like a good scout) I have never, before, during or after a match had an urge to head-butt a referee; that was the unfortunate retribution handed out to a referee recently by an idiotically irritated moron.
I thought long and hard about what to write about this subject, there is no doubt that events like this are all too regular at amateur level across the country; if not the world. There is a distinct lack of respect for referees, other players, team mates and managers; we have to face the solemn fact that most of the gentlemen of yesteryear are gone.
I could sit here and type about the problems of football for hours, line after line about idiots who can’t put bibs on throwing darts at youth team players, players shooting youth team players for crying out loud (and let’s not forget the head-butting six-a-side offender). But the moans and groans can wait for another day. Today I’d much rather pay tribute to one of the true gentlemen of football and ask what they’d make of these recent events. When I think of true gentlemen in the world of football my mind springs back to one man; the late, great Sir Bobby Robson.
Born on the 18th February 1933 in Sacriston, County Durham, Sir Bobby was the son of a coal miner. As a young man he often accompanied his father to watch his beloved Newcastle United at St James” Park; a journey that required either a bus ride or a walk of several miles from his family home in the village of Langley Park. In May 1950 at the age of seventeen Sir Bobby was visited at his family home by then Fulham manager Bill Dodgin; who promptly offered him a contract. Rejecting another offer from nearby Middlesbrough the young Sir Bobby quickly signed his first professional contract with Fulham; and so begun a football legacy.
Despite the insistence of his father that he kept his electrician trade along with his football commitments the young Sir Bobby soon ditched the tools and focused on his football, a wise decision.
Between 1950 and 1967 Sir Bobby played five hundred and eighty three professional games for Fulham and West Bromwich Albion; during this period he scored one hundred and thirty three club goals.
In 1957 whilst playing his club football with West Brom, Sir Bobby got the call to pull the three lions on and earned his first of twenty England Caps; his last coming in 1962. During this time he scored four England goals.
It was however as a manager that Sir Bobby will most fondly be remembered. In 1968 Sir Bobby took over as manager of Fulham. He didn’t enjoy the best of starts to his managerial career, winning just six of his thirty-six games in charge and after ten months he was gone. It only took Sir Bobby two months to get another job and in January 1969 he was named manager of Ipswich; and he didn’t look back. He remained there until 1982 winning honors both at home and in Europe before accepting an offer to become manager of England. His reign lasted until 1990, coming to an end after the devastating World Cup penalty loss against West Germany.
Following his exit as England manager Sir Bobby took his trade to European club teams where between 1990 and 1999 he managed in Holland, Portugal and Spain. During these nine years he won domestic honours in all three countries along with further European honours during a spell with Barcelona.
In 1999 Sir Bobby’s journey came full circle and he returned home to Newcastle, taking control of his beloved Newcastle United. Sir Bobby managed his hometown club until 2004 and despite being loved by its passionate fans he failed to win an honour for the club. In some ways the fact that he failed to win a trophy with Newcastle is immaterial because for all his trophies he won throughout an illustrious career this wasn’t why he was loved by fans; he was loved because he was a true gentleman. Sir Bobby had time for anyone, fans, players and other managers alike; you certainly wouldn’t have seen him involved in the sort of scenes Neil Lennon has been involved in since taking over as manager of Celtic.
In March 2009 Sir Bobby was awarded the Emerald Order of Merit award by UEFA. This is awarded to ‘individuals who have dedicated their talents to the good of the game’. He collected the award at St James’ Park on 26th July 2009 prior to the Sir Bobby Robson Trophy match. Five days later following a long and arduous fight with cancer Sir Bobby succumbed to the disease on 31st July 2009; dying at his home in Country Durham aged 76.
Fans at all of the clubs he had managed paid tribute to Sir Bobby and none more so than the Newcastle fans; their show of love for Sir Bobby brought his wife to tears when she attended St James’ Park soon after his death. Verbal tributes from the worlds of football and politics left no one in doubt as to how many people the man had touched.
Sir Alex Ferguson, “in my twenty three years working in England there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson. I mourn the passing of a great friend, a wonderful individual, a tremendous football man and somebody with passion and knowledge of the game that was unsurpassed”.
Fabio Capello, “Sir Bobby was a wonderful man, a real gentleman. I remember very well the times I managed my teams against him. The first time being when Bobby was manager of Barcelona and I was in my first season with Real Madrid. Later, when he was Newcastle manager and I was with Roma we faced each other – as opponents, but always friends”.
Gordon Brown (then prime minister), “His passion, patriotism, dedication and professionalism knew no equal during his time both as a player and a manager”.
Prince William, “His contribution to English football as a player, manager and superb ambassador for our national game has been immense”.
Jose Mourinho, “Bobby Robson is one of those people who never die, not so much for what he did in his career, for one victory more or less, but for what he knew to give to those who had, like me, the good fortune to know him and walk by his side”.
Michel Platini, “He will be remembered not only for his playing career and his outstanding managerial career at both club and international level, but also because he was a truly warm and passionate human being”.
The verbal tributes go on and on and all not only talk about the man as a footballer and football manager but of their love for the man as a gentleman.
Returning to the start of this article and the acts of barbarism pervading football today, my query was what a gentleman of yesteryear would make of these problems. I’m going to finish this with a quote from one of Sir Bobby’s many friends who sums up the colossal divide between him and the modern footballer/manager today a thousand times better than I ever could.
Sir Michael Parkinson, “Robson will be remembered long after the present lot are old bones. By his decency, his humor, his love of the games’ traditions and origins and confusion at what it had become, he made present day football look what it is – shabby by comparison”.