‘I’m black and white’, said Bobby on the day he walked into the job at St James’s Park. And he said it in that doughty fashion that made clear, even in his mid-sixties, he was not to be treated as anyone’s affable grey-haired uncle. Fact is, the stature and esteem in the game that Robson bore with him from his services at Ipswich, Barcelona, Porto, PSV, and for the English national team, were more than Newcastle could have hoped for from a boss at that particular low ebb in fortunes.
He was born in Sacriston and raised in Langley Park, and County Durham, town by town, village by village, can go either way when it comes to football loyalties and the rivalry of the region. But there you have it: black and white was Bobby, proven thus by years of boyhood terrace allegiance. His dad was black and white, and so Bob got on the bus to St James’s, every Saturday.
I recall rather more hope that expectation when Bobby took charge, but obviously I should have known better. Robson’s five more or less full seasons at Newcastle were, on the whole, wonderful. Twice he put NUFC in the frame for the title, right at the sharp end of the race. He saved the club from relegation in 1999-2000, largely by getting Alan Shearer to stop playing with his back to goal. 2000-2001 was a big letdown (though we’d take it now) and, for all that he could buy, Robson bought poorly. But 2001-2002 was in many ways a glory season, thanks to his acquisitions of Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert. Robson seemed rejuvenated that year, never more endearingly than when asked to comment on the somersaulting goal-celebrations of another of his smart purchases, Lomana Tresor Lua Lua. Quoth Bobby, ‘Yeah, he’s quite gymnastic. Very fantastic…’
Robson should never have been sacked by Newcastle, not even in August 2004, by which time the team he had built looked spent. Nevertheless, and without doubt IMHO, this was round about the time he was due a graceful retirement. In 2003-2004 I think we won about thirteen games in the course of sneaking a highly flattering fifth place on the last day. Craig Bellamy’s big mouth and execrable manners had become more conspicuous in NE1 than his (occasional) goals or assists, and as Robson told David Walsh of the Times, retrospectively but feelingly, ‘For how long do you put up with that sort of guy?’ Not too long when you’re pushing 70 and you’ve already been grievously ill, and there’s the considerable matter of your being a bloody cast-iron legend in the game. Robson had more than earned the right to spend his days in the company of a better class of person, i.e. free from the likes of Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer too.
Still, be it said, Robson’s Newcastle departure should have been a mutual matter, carefully negotiated, for the sake of strategy and continuity as well as dignity and just deserts. That it wasn’t tells you much of what you need to know about the rancid karma Newcastle United has stored up for itself in recent years and the payback they’ve rightly suffered.
As Alan Shearer is reported to have said of SBR this morning, ‘He was a great man, a winner and a battler...’ Many more tributes from greats of the game will surely follow.