Today, Wednesday 31st July 2019, is exactly ten years since the passing of football’s ultimate gentleman – Sir Bobby Robson. As both a manager and a player, Sir Bobby did more than represent a club, he was the reason people fell in love with it.
Whether he was managing in Portugal, Spain, Holland or England – he had a monumental impact on and off the field. As well as being the incredible manager he was, he forged the managerial careers of some of the world’s best, including that of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
It wasn’t just his ability as a manager that made him who he was, it was his incredible demeanour as a man. He touched the lives of every man, woman and child who were ever lucky enough to meet him. As manager of Ipswich Town, he turned a struggling club into a footballing institution in East Anglia – but his off the field presence was just as important in that as his managerial expertise was on it.
On a personal level, Sir Bobby means a lot to me too. As a young man, I was never able to meet him – but by God I would’ve loved to. As I mentioned earlier, he was the reason why so many people fell in love, not just with their club, but with football – I was no exception.
I grew up watching Newcastle United and my earliest memories of the club are the days of Sir Bobby’s reign as manager. I still remember sitting at home watching a VHS tape of Sir Bobby’s first game at the helm – we hammered Sheffield Wednesday 8-0 as Alan Shearer bagged five. I wasn’t old enough to catch the game live, but despite that, I remember every goal. As a six/seven year old lad, I must’ve watched that video about 50 times – just wishing I’d been there.
I remember those European nights. Listening to the radio, eager for updates as Sir Bobby led Newcastle out at some of the worlds foremost footballing cathedrals. From the Nou Camp to the San Siro, Newcastle played in them all under Sir Bobby. I sit here, looking at the club in the state it is now, just reminiscing on those days – thinking about the impact the great man could have now.
Unfortunately though, my memories of Sir Bobby aren’t all good. As well as the good times, I remember the bad times too. I remember when he was fired unfairly by the Newcastle board, I remember when he contracted lung cancer and most devastatingly, I remember the day he died. I remember hearing my Mother shout up the stairs, a croak in her voice as she fought back the tears, “KIERAN! It’s Sir Bobby – he’s died!”
I remember the feeling that coursed through my body all-too-well. Despite my juvenile mind, I knew that feeling, and most notably, I knew I never wanted to feel that way again. Unfortunately, I have felt that feeling since, on the day each of my grandparents passed. That alone shows how much it meant – it really was like a death in the family.
We went to the memorial at St James’ Park, walking out into the ground from the tunnel underneath the fabled Leazes corner. We laid out our flowers on a seat mid-way up the Leazes stand itself, alongside thousands of others from those feeling exactly how I was feeling across the city. After that, we went to the player’s reception and filled out a memorial book – I don’t remember what I wrote – I just remember feeling like there were no words to describe the awful way I was feeling.
It’s ten years since that day, and I still get a tear in my eye when I think about it. Getting to watch Sir Bobby manage my team, as I was growing up, is the single greatest honour of my life. Sir Bobby is my hero, he is my idol and he is the person I aspire to be the most like.
If, when my time comes, I can look back and say I’ve lived even half the life he did, and been even a fraction of the man he was, I’ll know that it’s been one hell of a life.
RIP Sir Bobby. I will never forget you, Newcastle will never forget you, Football will never forget you.