Sir Bobby Robson died this morning, having suffered many years from cancer.
Of course, he’s condemned to an afterlife as a kind of footballing Betjeman. A cross between teddy bear and moral exemplar, the outstanding memorial to the days when football had values (and passion and commitment and all of that). “They don’t make them like Sir Bobby anymore”. He deserves rather better, but it’s what he’ll get. One day, his ghost will be merged with the eventual shade of his Charlton namesake into a sort of Cow & Gate schmaltz. Or a union-jacked flavour for Ben and Jerrys, sold to children at Wembley pre-season nonsense tournaments.
Much will be made elsewhere of his gallant England years, so cruel and ultimately, so nearly successful. But everyone over 35 will remember another Bobby Robson, a younger, more dynamic and less cuddly individual who had turned Ipswich Town into a source of enduring fear and admiration.
After England, Robson went on to become one of that handful of English managers to achieve genuine success with proper European clubs. But I won’t remember him for that. I’ll remember instead two long, long nights beside my £1 auction battery radio listening to that at times agonizing home-and-away UEFA Cup Final victory. And I’ll remember a Saturday when I’d just started secondary school, and his Ipswich did this to Manchester United and no one was surprised. Robson then, alongside Taylor and Pleat, was a real kind of father figure to southern kids stuck in rugby schools who’d meet after school with a round ball and at lunchtimes with Subbuteo.
The commentator notes that United ‘keeper Gary Bailey was the son of the former Town keeper Roy. “Unfortunate that his father couldn’t make it from South Africa for this game.” Not really…