Monday, 18 July 2011


As I was pounding the mean streets of Monkseaton today in my preparation for running the Great North Run in support of the Foundation, three questions came to mind:

1) Jeez, how on earth is my bionic knee going to manage 13 miles of this?

2) Am I really, NO REALLY, capable of cutting out all chocolate – as is necessary - between now and the race?

3) When, prior to him becoming the permanent personification of gentlemanly gracefulness and steely-eyed determination to me, did Sir Bobby Robson first enter my life?

Questions one and two were answered swiftly (“it quite possibly won’t” and “no, of course I’m not capable of that”, in case anyone was asking), but the third sent me on a wonderful trip - through time, my childhood and the football landscape as some like to call it, all during the course of a 30 minute run.

Of course, my first “meeting” with Sir Bobby wasn’t in 1999 when he took over as manager of Newcastle United, though his unique strength of character during that time sprung immediately to mind as the ‘sixty clicks’ generation of Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy tested his every skill, as must the backbiting and classless behaviour of the club’s board.

Neither was it, obviously, the time I stood high in the Gallowgate end of St. James’ Park with my son on one side and father on the other as I clapped until my arms were numb, with tears running unashamedly done my face, as Sir Bobby said one last goodbye before a charity match not long before his death. Beautifully sad times.

But then, the run now in full swing (ish), my memory finally kicked into gear as I effortlessly rolled back the Sir Bobby years – the spritely, tanned, relaxed Englishman abroad at Barcelona with the youthful Ronaldo in tow, the tactician supreme in Holland and that little jig at Italia 90. My mind raced – did I know of him when he took the England job in 1982? Nope, I was six. The Euros in ‘84? I have no idea! But then Mexico ‘86…. he must connect somewhere in my brain with the World Cup Finals in Mexico 1986, right? Er, no again. How is this possible I asked myself? But then for me – as a ten year old – that World Cup was about Gary Lineker’s hat trick, Peter Beardsley’s class, that cheating cheater Maradona and matches on telly in the middle of the night. The manager just didn’t play a part in that for me I’m afraid.

So then I flash forward to time where Sir Bobby most definitely was there in my conscious. Italia 90. A wonderful summer of English flair and despair, of New Order featuring John Barnes, of Pavarotti and…. Gazza. That’s it. Paul Gascoigne. My ultimate ball-playing, showboating hero. He created the “Meet Sir Bobby” moment for me. Not at the finals, where Sir Bobby’s contract situation, sweeper system debates and a roller coaster of gusty draws, epic wins and penalties (as ever) meant Sir Bobby was on the mind of everyone in the country, not just football-obsessed me.

I can now pinpoint – with the help of Google and Youtube that I was first aware of Sir Bobby Robson on the night of April 29th 1989. He and I were at Wembley together that night. I say together in perhaps the loosest possible sense of word, in that he was there as the manager of England, while I was on a school trip. We sat in the old Wembley on those bench-like seats beside the dog track from where no one could ever see any of the action. They were cheap - school trip friendly – seats. It was a World Cup qualifier with Albania. In the dying moments Sir Bobby brought Gazza on to see what he could do in an England shirt. The press, as always, had been on Sir Bobby’s back - this time clamouring for Gascoigne, believing he was the answer to England’s problems, though in reality he was far from a dead cert even as squad player for the World Cup. As it turned out, moments later Gazza picked up the ball in midfield, barged his way into the box with a trademark turn of pace and guided the ball into the far corner of the Albanian net. England 4, Albania 1. Gazza’s fate, tears and all, was sealed.

After the goal the TV cameras picked out a joyous Sir Bobby cheering the goal with that finger waggle of his. He can be seen mouthing the words “that’s the one” – widely believed to be the moment Sir Bobby realised he might just be able to rely on the combustible but brilliant Geordie lad. Looking back, that moment (and his relationship with Gazza that followed) was vintage Sir Bobby. Professional but passionate. Fiercely determined to be his own man. Compassionate and proud. Father-figure and leader. A winner, in sport and in life.

That was the night I met Sir Bobby. Maybe, this little jog of ours to South Shields in September isn’t going to be so hard after all.

If you would like to support my run, your donation would be very gratefully received at: