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Born: Saturday 18 February 1933, Sacriston, England
Died: Friday 31 July 2009, High Urpeth, England (aged 76)
Position: Inside Forward/Half-back/Manager
One of the most respected figures in the history of English football, Bobby Robson represented his country in the World Cup as a player before going on to have a hugely successful managerial career spanning more than 35 years. He led England in three major tournaments, including their best ever World Cup performance on foreign soil, as well as wining major domestic honours with clubs in four different countries.
The son of a miner, Robson was born in Sacriston, County Durham, on 18 February 1933. As a boy he supported Newcastle United, regularly travelling to matches with his father. During his teenage years he worked as an apprentice electrician but was also a promising footballer, playing at inside-right with youth team Langley Park Juniors and attracting the attention of several professional clubs. Eventually, he received an offer to join First Division Fulham in 1950.
Robson agreed to join the club, but his father was sceptical of the idea of football as a career and insisted that he also complete his training as an electrician. Eventually he became a regular first team player, but experienced great disappointment in 1952 when the club were relegated to Division Two. He developed a reputation as a solid and hard-working inside forward but grew frustrated at an apparent lack of ambition at Fulham.
In March 1956 he got the opportunity to move to First Division West Bromwich Albion, and jumped at the chance. A little over 18 months later, Robson was called up to the England team for the first team and scored twice on his debut, in a 4-0 win over France. He earned a place in the World Cup squad for the 1958 finals in Sweden, appearing in all three group games but missing the play-off defeat to the Soviet Union which cost England a quarter-final place.
At West Brom he was converted into a right-half, excelling in the deeper role due to his excellent ball control and accurate passing. After a spell away from the national team, Robson earned a call up to the 1962 World Cup squad although he did not appear in the finals in Chile and afterwards was not selected again. That summer he found himself in a dispute with West Brom over wages and left the club, returning to Fulham who by that time were back in the First Division.
Robson's second spell at Fulham lasted five years, during which time the club often had to fight against relegation. In 1967 he was offered the chance to begin a managerial career with Vancouver Royals in Canada, alongside Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás. The move was not a success and Robson was soon back in England. Fulham were struggling in the First Division and in January 1968 appointed him as manager, but he was unable to prevent relegation and after a poor start to the new season in the Second Division, was sacked.
His managerial career could not have got off to a worse start, but it was his appointment as manager of Ipswich Town in January 1969 which turned his fortunes around. Joining another struggling First Division team, Robson led Ipswich to mid-table safety that season. Despite relegation battles over the next two years, Ipswich allowed Robson time to build his team and he gradually established them as a fixture in the top half of the table.
In the 1974-75 season Robson's team put together a sustained title challenge for the first time, eventually falling just short and finishing third, two points behind champions Derby. Two years later Ipswich led the league with six games to go but again could only finish third, however a major trophy was not far away. Robson led his team to the FA Cup final in 1978 where they beat Arsenal 1-0 to give him his first honour as a player or manager.
Ipswich suffered further heartbreak in 1981, losing a tight championship race to Aston Villa, but their disappointment did not last long. A fantastic run had taken them into the UEFA Cup final against Dutch side AZ. Ipswich recorded a fantastic 3-0 win in the first leg and despite a few nervous moments, held on to win 5-4 on aggregate and claim a historic first European trophy.
When England found themselves needing a new manager after the 1982 World Cup, Robson was offered the job. He had turned down many offers to leave Ipswich but the national team was a bigger draw. He did not get off to the best start, missing out to Denmark in qualification for the 1984 European Championship. Robson found himself heavily criticised by the media, setting a pattern for an often difficult relationship for the rest of his time in charge.
He led England at a major tournament for the first time at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but seemed set for an early exit after losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco. Victory over Poland sparked England into life however, and they went on to reach the quarter-finals, where only Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal and later brilliant solo strike knocked them out. After impressively qualifying for the 1988 European Championship, all appeared to be going well.
Sadly for Robson, the European finals in West Germany were a disaster. England lost all three games and the media criticism grew ever stronger. After qualifying unconvincingly for the 1990 World Cup, Robson decided to leave after the finals in Italy. It seemed like the end might come quicker than hoped after England again failed to win either of their first two games, but they beat Egypt 1-0 to reach the knockout stages and just as in 1986, grew ever stronger.
After a somewhat fortunate win over Belgium in the last 16, England came from behind to beat Cameroon 3-2 and reach the semi-finals for the first time ever overseas. In perhaps the finest performance of Robson's tenure, England were the better side for long periods against West Germany but after a 1-1 draw, suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat. Defeat to Italy in the Third Place Play-Off marked Robson's final game in charge, as he moved back into club management with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
His time with PSV was a great success, as he won the Eredivisie title in both 1991 and 1992, but it was during that time that Robson was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. He would face regular fights against the disease for the remainder of his life. Having left PSV in 1992, he had a short and unhappy spell in Lisbon with Sporting CP before joining Porto in January 1994.
Robson's first season with Porto ended with an extremely satisfying cup final win over Sporting. Despite suffering further health problems, he saw his team storm to the league title in each of the next two seasons and in the summer of 1996, moved on to Barcelona. Having signed Brazilian star Ronaldo, Robson led his team to the Copa del Rey and then added the European Cup Winners' Cup as Ronaldo's goal beat Paris St Germain in the final.
For the 1997-98 season Barcelona brought in Dutchman Louis van Gaal as manager and Robson was moved 'upstairs', after which he returned to PSV Eindhoven for a year. In September 1999, Robson was offered the chance to take over at Newcastle United, the club he had supported as a boy. Taking over with the club at the bottom of the Premier League, he led them to safety before establishing them as regular contenders for the European places.
Twice Robson took Newcastle into the Champions' League, achieving a highest Premier League position of third in 2003. He was however unable to end the club's long wait for a major trophy, coming closest when reaching FA Cup and UEFA Cup semi-finals. After a poor start to the 2004-05 season he was sacked, bringing his managerial career to an end at the age of 71. He later worked as a consultant to the Republic of Ireland national team.
In 2007 Robson was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time, and this time was unable to overcome the disease. He died on 31 July 2009 at the age of 76, having set up a charity to raise money for cancer research which has raised millions of pounds in his memory. A statue of Robson stands outside Newcastle's St James' Park ground.
References (all accessed 16 October 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 02:00