Farewell Sir Bobby
Tell you what. In an age of petty pre-season sniping and angsty footballers slagging off their employers for not loving them enough it's good to be reminded that football is at heart a simple and passionate game. I just wish that Bobby Robson didn't have to pass on for us to get that reminder.
In days of yore the Robsons were a famously violent bunch, carrying out raids across the Scottish border as part of the notorious Border Reivers. Horrible we were. There must've been a happy fork in the family tree though but for us to end up with Sir Bob. (I probably stayed on the dark side).
The first time any of us noticed Bobby really was at Ipswich with that blissful team of Beattie, Wark, Muhren, Thijssen and, somehow, the Adlington-nosed Mariner. Them bony Dutchmen looked about as likely to last an English winter as a couple of especially fey daddy-long-legs but Bobby knew how to pick tough lads as well as good ones. The BBC tribute on Saturday night reminded you what a top team that was, and also what a desperate time it was for hair. Bobby consoling supersub Clive Woods was touching, but judging by the lad's barnet Clive could've done without climbing up them electricity pylons for a hobby.
Of course Sir Bobby's compassion and enthusiasm was no match for the tabloid tigers. It's hard to believe the kind of bile poured out at Robson during his time as England manager. I think part of the problem for any manager post-Ramsey was that he wasn't Cloughie. Mind you, Ron Greenwood was a lovely fella too and he never got the same flak. When it was announced by another follically-challenged character, the damp-voiced Graham Kelly, that Robson was off to PSV after 1990, the accusations of traitor were just ridiculous. I remember some plank repeating it down the Blue Bell after reading some bog-roll of a newspaper and the whole pub turned on him. Bobby may have been doing a crap job, but he was a good man through and through.
Turned out that Robson was doing a fine job, as it happened. When you look at it, Robson's teams were a handball and a penalty-kick away from a semi and a final in two successive World Cups. All right, the 1988 Euros weren't great, but van Basten's torturing of Tony Adams will live longer in the memory than any managerial failings.
Some say he got lucky but his career post-1990 suggests he was Dame Fortune's chosen son. Loads of gongs in Holland, Portugal and at Barca.
The reason the tears flowed so copiously in the Blue Bell (so that the whole place looked like an Edgbaston outfield) had less to do with the man's achievements and more to do with who the bloke was.
I can't think of a current manager who is so highly regarded as a human being. We can admire Fergie for his undoubted brilliance, but his attitude leaves a bit to be desired. He's not the most generous of blokes. Wenger's dedication to his principles, and the brightness of his young teams, is sometimes offset by the total eclipses that cross his eyes but no one else's, and the odd tantrum about the nasty Bolton bully-boys. Most of us like old 'Arry, but it's similar to the affection that we have for Arfur Daley, I reckon. Moyes and O'Neill may mellow in their later years, but I don't reckon on them ever being quite so treasured as Sir Bob.
And that was what was striking about the tribute programme. Everywhere he went, whoever you spoke to, everyone smiled when he spoke to or about the bloke. I mean stuff the trophy cabinets with as much shiny metal as you like, earn more money than Midas could imagine, drive more fancy cars than the parking attendant at that a seven-star Dubai hotel, but if you come up in conversation and everyone says 'great career, bit of a pratt, though' then I'd be wanting to hand a lot of them back.
Bobby got both: fondness and rewards.
I've yet to meet a Toon Army regular who can understand why Bobby was sacked. At the time the impatient wing on the Gallowgate were chuntering stupidly but by and large everyone understood it to be a blip. Just finished 4th, then 3rd, in the Prem, your manager's got an outstanding track record but we'll sack him anyway and bring in... Graeme Souness. Like replacing a tube of strong adhesive with a bag of rusty nails. If a single decision in NUFC's recent history justifies their current position it's that one. The shrine at St. James's just re-emphasises it.
But the Blue Bell's abiding memory of him is on that balcony, pasty English beer belly on full display with his face squeezed so tightly between his palms that he looked like he'd got stuck in the lift doors. He looked more down than a bloodhound with a cold in the nose but it turns out the man was listening to Frank Sinatra on his headphones at the time (and probably pressing down as hard as he could on the earpieces to block out the sound of Gazza desperately trying to cheer his boss up with a quirky tune and some joke-shop boobs.)
They say behind every great man, there's a great woman (which means, according to me Blue Bell pals, that my missus must be downright mediocre) and clearly a man like Bobby needs a patient and very supportive wife to put up with his utter dedication to the game he loved, and to help him through the battles with illness too. I'm sure she's comforted by all the lovely tributes.
I think there's an unspoken feeling in them tributes that we won't see his like again in footy. He was a fine, fine man and, importantly in today's climate, he knew the value of fellowship - and of a quid. Farewell Sir Bobby. Top man.