Yesterday came the sad news of the passing of Sir Bobby Robson, following a long battle against cancer. When I was growing up, my first memories of the England team were the 1982 World Cup, after which Ron Greenwood was replaced by Robson. The following years were a bit up and down for the national side, as we did poorly in the European Cup, but reached the quarter finals and semi finals of the World Cup – both times losing to the eventual winners in tight matches.
Before England came a long and successful period managing Ipswich Town, who I have a soft spot for because my Aunt lives up the road near Stowmarket. Robson joined Ipswich in 1969, after having been sacked by Fulham.
Robson had been a player at Fulham for most of his professional days. As a lad, he turned down an offer from Middlesbrough and interest from his beloved Newcastle Utd to sign for the Cottagers in 1950. At first, he was working as an electrician full time during the week as well as training and playing for the club – his father had insisted that he maintain a trade.
He stayed at the club for six years while they slipped down to Division 2, and then moved back up to top-flight football when he transferred to West Bromwich Albion. It was while he was at Albion that he broke into the England team, and he was in the squad for the 1958 and 1962 World Cups. At West Brom he played under Vic Buckingham, who developed the tactical ideas were later taken to Ajax and became ‘total football’. Robson took coaching courses in the late 1950s, and was clearly looking to move into management himself later on.
A dispute over pay with WBA in 1962 saw him leave them and return to Fulham, who had by then risen to the First Division. He stayed for a further five years, and he ended up working under Vic Buckingham again from 1965. Robson left Fulham in 1967 to take up a role as player-manager at the Vancouver Royals in Canada.
He didn’t stay in Canada for long – he was frustrated by a job share with Ferenc Puskas, the Hungarian genius, and Fulham managed to convince him to come back in January 1968 to try and save the club from relegation.
Fulham had been on the slide for some time, and had lost or sold many of their best players over the 60s, and a young manager could not save them. He was sacked shortly into the next season when Fulham lay in 8th place in the Second Division – that didn’t work, because the team slumped and were relegated again the following season.
Looking back, no-one could have stopped Fulham from going down in 1967-8, and there’s no way that Robson could be held to blame. I’m sure that this baptism of fire taught him an awful lot, and while the manner of his departure was harsh (he apparently found out from reading a newspaper billboard, rather than being contacted by the club directly), he doesn’t appear to have borne Fulham much ill will.
A great footballer, an even greater manager, and more importantly he came across as a genuine and pleasant person, with a wry sense of humour and a tolerance for a lot of unwarranted criticism. My thoughts are with his family this weekend. As much as his death is a sad occasion for football supporters, it must be a far greater loss to the people who really knew him.
Rest in Peace.