Saturday, 15 December 2012

Football Art: Sir Bobby Robson and Newcastle United

"What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It's not the television contracts, get out clauses or the marketing departments or executive boxes. It's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love." Sir Bobby Robson (1933 -2009)

Behind the malapropisms and mispronunciations -  "What can I say about Peter Shilton? Peter Shilton is Peter Shilton and he's been Peter Shilton since the year dot," said the man who in his five years as manager of Newcastle gave pre-match instructions to Kevin Dyer, regularly confused Shola Ameobi with Carl Cort, and occasionally addressed French international winger Laurent Robert as Lauren Baccall - Sir Bobby Robson never lost his instinctive grasp of what really mattered in football.  "He's been a winner all his life because he could see the bigger picture," thought Jose Mourinho, who donated a FIFA Balon D'Or World Coach of the Year award to the charity founded by his mentor. "It was a privilege to spend a year with him," said Pep Guardiola. "In my 23 years working in England," Sir Alex Ferguson once observed, "there is not a person I would put an inch above him."

The Sir Bobby Robson statue at the foot of the Gallowgate End steps.

The self-effacing miner's son from Langley Park played for and coached England, managed Ipswich Town to the FA and UEFA Cups, and won trophies with some of the biggest club sides in Holland, Portugal and Spain before returning to north-east England, where he'd started out as an electrician's apprentice in the County Durham coalfields.  A Newcastle fan all his life - "My father went to the 1932 Cup final and nine months later I was born" - he inherited a club rooted to the bottom of the table and led it to fourth, third and fifth-placed finishes in the Premier League, undeservedly falling to Chelsea in the last FA Cup semi-final to be played at the old Wembley Stadium and losing out to Marseille at the same stage of the 2003-04 UEFA Cup.

Tom Maley's bust in the Milburn Stand foyer

Sir Bobby's links to Newcastle United are commemorated by a bust inside the main reception at St James' Park - the starting point for stadium tours - a memorial garden and a three-metre tall bronze statue, unveiled in May before an audience of thousands of fans and ex-players. "It's a lovely statue - Sir Bobby all over," said Paul Gascoigne. "He was a great man and I’m proud to have known him.”  Sculpted by Tom Maley, whose earlier likeness of Jackie Milburn stands at the opposite side of the Gallowgate End, the statue shows Robson with his hands in suit pockets, right leg resting on a leather football and head turned towards the site of the old Newcastle Breweries, now a Sandman Signature Hotel and a Shark Club gastro bar.  Sir Bobby Robson 1933-2009 England reads the accompanying plaque.  "This is where his love of football began," Lady Elsie Robson recalled. "It feels fitting that we should be standing on the hill that Bob used to walk up with his father and brothers on a Saturday afternoon to watch Albert Stubbins and his other boyhood heroes...My husband's career took him all over the world, but he was always a Newcastle fan at heart. He loved this club and was very proud to be its manager."

The feeling, then and now, was mutual.

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