‘TheHardTackle Relic’ is a semi-regular column which dusts off the pages of football history. It intends to walk you down memory lane and relive events, players and teams long forgotten. Today we revisit the inspiring journey of Sir Bobby Robson.
Revered in Newcastle and the North East, Sir Bobby Robson is a man who enjoys phenomenal popularity. He means so much to every generation of Englishmen: from his playing days with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion in the 1950s and 1960s, to his twenty England caps and his brilliant management career over the past 38 years, Bobby Robson has inspired generations of fans.
In his early adult years he grew-up in North East, and his working life before football in the mines of Langley Park, where he went underground for a year and a half at the age of fifteen. Regarded as the most successful living English manager of all-time, he has been witnessed to some of the most historic sporting moments throughout his incredible career, and epic incidents as the ‘Hand of God’ and the tears of Gazza, leading England through two World Cups, the agony of coming within a penalty-kick of the 1991 World Cup final and, his controversial sacking in 2004 by Newcastle United.
Bobby’s journey has taken him to many clubs, countries and many of the world’s most illustrious players. He inspires deep affection for the qualities that he has always embodied: passion, humor, hard-work and fair play. After Robson had won twenty caps for England he began his embarking managerial career with Ipswich Town, which lasted for thirteen years – Robson believes, he had his best time at Portman Road. He left the club in 1982 to take up the position of England Manager, and then coached in Holland, Portugal and Spain before taking over his “beloved” Newcastle United from 1999 to 2004.
Robson’s illustrious managerial career started with a luxury cruise to Canada and ended in a London labor exchange with him signing on the dole. Dave Sexton, in January 1969, saved Bobby from slipping off the edge of football. Otherwise he would’ve carried his Dad’s footsteps and become an electrician.
Bobby Robson started his managerial journey a Vancouver Royals in the North American Soccer League rather than Southend United. Robson earned experience with salutary. Brigadier Ted Aitkens was the owner of Vancouver Royals, then. Unfortunately Ted Aitkens couldn’t finance club’s new venture, so he got together with George Flaberry, who owned a franchise in San Francisco, to merge the clubs and their resources. George Flaberry hired Real Madrid legend Puskas to manage his half of the club – Robson took care of his contingent of players – Sounds unworkable, as it was. Problems soon started to mount, as they couldn’t work together. Puskas wasn’t a coach, not a tactician or team-builder – He was masqueraded as a coach.
In five-a-side training Puskas despite having a huge belly still had a trick and a turn and could even whack the ball with his left foot. Robson’s salary was due – Financial foundations weren’t brave enough in a new country. Later, when George Flaberry bought 51% of the shares – a controlling stake, it was evitable that Robson’s time in Vancouver was soon to end. His contract was terminated, and in January, Fulham rode to Robson’s rescue – Fulham failed attempts to rescue themselves from the drop resulted in Robson’s appointment as Fulham boss. They went down, and in November, when Fulham were 8th in the 2nd division of English, the Fulham board decided to sack Bobby Robson. Rough and doomed was Robson after his sack.
Fulham allowed Robson to keep the money and car, and gave him a cheque of 4,000 pounds. The Vancouver Royals episode had turned badly. Within a year, at Fulham, he was back on the street.Bobby Robson regards his managerial spell at Ipswich Town as his “best spell as a manager.” John Cobbold – one of the great eccentrics and Corinthians of English sporting life – would consume one bottle of champagne if the won a game and two if they lost. Mr. Cobbold’s civilized way of looking at a defeat. Food fights, fish fights, donkey’s wandering into the chairman’s beautiful house was what Robson saw in his thirteen glorious years in charge of Ipswich Town.
Both the brothers – Patrick and John had great love for animals, and their relationship never matured beyond childhood. At first, during Robson wasn’t handed a contract by the club but gave Robson the job. This was the last-time he ever bended on his knee to get a job. He built three great teams during his thirteen years at the club – in 1975, 1978 and 1981 – Winning the FA Cup in 1978 and UEFA Cup in 1981, of course. He went agonizingly close on several occasions to winning the League, especially very late in his tenure as the manager of Ipswich Town.
There was a special and pleasant atmosphere during match-days in the board room: The club was one-off. John Cobbold wouldn’t let anyone talk about the game they had just watched as they knew “nothing about the game.” Only the manager should discuss about the game only to the players. Can you wondering hearing such words at any other British football club? Once when Mr. John Cobbold forgot to wash his hands after peeing Robson reminded him to wash his hands to which he replied, “Bobby, where we were bought up we were taught not to piss on our hands in the first place.” He was a dream chairman to any football manager. While discussing about, contract extensions, he always talked about ten-year deals.
Another incident to support the chairman’s statement (the board doesn’t know “nothing about the game”): When Robson bought Paul Mariner in 1976 he thought Paul Mariner was a sailor and said, “He’s not in navy, is he?” Once, on a fine afternoon at Leicester City he patted Robson on the shoulder when they were 2-0 down. “The team’s playing well, Bobby. Have you been doing something special in training?” For a moment alike the readers who’re reading this even Robson was mystified only to realize, later that he was thinking Ipswich were winning two-nil. John Cobbold got confused as Ipswich wore their away kit (yellow) and Leicester City wore their home kit (blue), obviously. During European trips, Robson wrote John’s name on one of his cuffs of his shirt, and the name of the hotel on the other. He didn’t want to get lost in unfamiliar surroundings.
He couldn’t resist bringing back bottles of duty free wine. His speech to the youth team in 1875 was a real pearl Twice Ipswich Town had won the FA Youth Cup back-to-back (1974 and 1975). The highlight of the speech was when he addressed to the players’ parents who were present in the audience: “I want all of you to go home tonight and have a jolly good f***, so the boss can come back there again in eighteen years’ time and have another FA Youth Cup to celebrate.” Everyone in the audience stood up on their chairs and clapped and cheered. Mr. John Cobbold was a terrific human being.
The club always backed Robson in hard-times – May it is the Tommy Carroll-Bill Baxter story or when he nearly signed for Everton. It’s utterly essential for a manager to solidify his authority over his players and the club. During the 1970-1971 season the club encountered some turbulence with one of the most senior players, Tommy Carroll, who was a bit obstreperous about his contract. Back then, chairman never discussed individual deals with the players. The contract Carroll was offered was “not enough,” said Tom Carroll. Carroll wanted to see the chairman to address his case, personally, which was impossible. Later, when his moody and disobedient behavior started to mount over the chairman agreed to see the troublemaker. John Cobbold only said, “There’s the manager, over there. He runs the club, so talk to him. Now I’m sodding off.” Bill Baxter was the captain of the club and was there from a long time.
But, as-soon-as Baxter challenged Robson’s authority on the training field Robson was left with no option but to send him off – As he wasn’t interested in the manager’s training methods and neither tried to adopt them. Senior players were fatal to Robson’s prospects of establishing the respect of his squad. A fight between Carroll-Baxter and Cyril-Robson took place which proved to be the end of Carroll and Baxter’s careers at Ipswich Town – Cyril Lea was an old caretaker manager of Ipswich Town. The 2 players lost respect in the eyes of their fellow teammates, club and most importantly the fans. The club earned good money from Carroll’s and Baxter’s sale to Birmingham City for 20,000 pounds and to Hull City for 13,000 pounds respectively.
Ipswich had a very good scouting system and youth system which helped them to build 3 great squads over Robson’s thirteen years in-charge of the club. Robson built a strong relationship with the schools and local education authorities and often arranged special games at Portman Road. Building a stadium was also an important agenda; in those early years Ipswich played in front of crowds of 18,000. Over the years the club put a bit in the team and a bit into the stadium. There were 1,800 seats in the stadium – Which wasn’t enough to make decent money. Robson had the casting vote on whether to redevelop the stadium or not. “Build,” he said. Once the stand was finished there were 8,000 season-ticket-holders, with a waiting list.
Bobby Robson had the trust of the fans and the boards. He had plans to make Ipswich Town reach at the highest level. After imposing his authority, rightly Robson’s path was easier than before. He had a backing of an understanding chairman who understood losing was a part of the game: “Bobby, today it wasn’t our turn, but we’ve given the other team the pleasure of winning. That’s something.” He even understood the pride and the sense of responsibility which came with a win. He could lose and he could win.
Robson’s illustrious and glorifying career saw him win numerous tittles, and the FA Cup win in 1978 was the start to his outstanding managerial career. In modern times, the achievements in your CV don’t buy you any tangible asset but it buys you the most indispensible element: time. Well, that’s what Robson didn’t have when he wasn’t offered a contract at Ipswich: a good CV. Robson bought many influential players and sold others in the Transfer Window – Though, most of the stars cam e through the youth system. Robson’s finest player in the FA Cup winning side was Kevin Beattie – Whom Robson regards as the best player after George Best the islands produced in those 25 years. Kevin Beattie was a left-footed centre-back and was game changer – A very physical, accurate passer and header of the football and a big tackler. Later, when Hunter and Beattie’s time was up! There were replaced with another accomplished centre-back pairing of Russell Osman and Terry Butcher (yes, the player who had a V shaped cut on his head against Sweden).
In the FA Cup-winning year, 1978, was the worst season since 1971 under Robson’s guidance. They suffered constant injury problems, relegation was a threat all season and yet they finished the campaign in raptures, beating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley and returning to a huge heroes’ welcome in Suffolk. The choice on the day was between Colin and Roger Osborne, a whole-hearted worker who lacked Colin’s ability but was more popular with his teammates. Against Aston Villa a week before the final at Wembley Colin replaced Roger in midfield. Roger was to score the only goal of the game against Arsenal in the FA Cup a week later.
That Ipswich side was a team full of players who will run all day long and a bunch of them were very technically gifted. In the final Arsenal’s left-flank was stronger than the right-flank. On the left-flank they had Sammy Nelson, Liam Brady and Graham Rix. So, Robson decided to play David Geddis on the right-hand side to stop Nelson making runs rather than playing Clive Woods and Paul Mariner up-front in a 4-4-2 formation; a midfield of 3 to help defenders while also getting forward to support Mariner on crosses. Ipswich Town was better and dominant than Arsenal on the day – The winning goal that Roger scored for Ipswich Town drained him emotionally and suffocated him. It was greatest act of his career. Scoring the goal, the excitement, and the adrenalin were too much for him to take – He was substituted before the restart.
Ipswich Town were a good team in 1975 and a trophy-winning side in 1978, but its best team was of ’81, a mixture of continental talent and some really high-quality home-grown players.
On 16 July 2002, a statue of Robson was unveiled outside Portman Road. Alf Ramsey had been at Ipswich before Robson, of course, and he had his own memorial. The only World Cup winning manager for England and Robson won 2 trophies at Portman Road, so they were indelibly linked. Later, when Bobby Robson became England manager he was the 2nd Ipswich Town manager who went on to manage England in 19 years. He was appointed as England manager on July 7 1982 and managed England for 8 years.
The FA Cup win with Ipswich Town in 1978 was just the start to an extraordinary managerial career of his. He went on to win two league-titles with PSV in the Netherlands, one league-cup and two league-titles with FC Porto, one King’s Cup and Spanish Super Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup at Barcelona – His last silver-wear in football. He re-united with PSV, later and finally retired from management at Newcastle United.
~ THT’s Guest Author Balbir Aulakh is a Mass Media student from Mumbai, India. Follow him on Twitter here.