George Robb: Footballer who played in England's historic defeat against Hungary in 1953
Saturday 31 December 2011
It was George Robb's cruel misfortune to be in at the twilight of England's footballing gods on the biggest day of his career.
The Tottenham Hotspur left-winger, a powerful, industrious and skilful performer in a top-level domestic context, earned his only full international cap on the dank Wembley afternoon in November 1953 when his country stumbled to its first defeat by foreign opposition on home soil.
In truth, it was not just a defeat. The 6-3 hammering by Hungary represented humiliation for the misguided patriots who maintained that the nation which gave football to the world still reigned supreme, and, for those with eyes to see, it signalled a forward path, a new way which involved quickfire passing allied to dazzling movement off the ball to a degree never witnessed previously within these shores.
For Robb, whose selection in the No 11 shirt ahead of the infinitely superior Tom Finney baffled just about everyone except the southern pressmen who had lobbied long and loud for the worthy Londoner to replace the magnificent "Preston Plumber", such gilded opportunity would never knock again.
However, he rendered noble service to Spurs at a time of transition from Arthur Rowe's masterful push-and-run unit which lifted the League championship in 1950-51 into the sublime combination which, under Bill Nicholson in 1960-61, became the first club in the 20th century to win the League and FA Cup double.
Robb, a young inside-forward before blossoming as a winger, first made his mark as a teenager with non-League Finchley, and his form was impressive enough to collect 18 England amateur caps. In 1944 he became associated with Spurs as an amateur, but when he was not offered full-time terms he trained as a teacher, then worked at a primary school in Crouch End.
However, it was clear that the dashing, dark-haired raider had the ability to make the grade in the Football League's top flight and in December 1951 he returned to White Hart Lane, still as an amateur. That Christmas Day he made his senior debut, scoring in Spurs' 3-0 victory over Charlton Athletic at the Valley, but it was not until he turned professional in June 1953 – by which time he had represented Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics – that he nailed down a regular first-team place.
During the campaign that followed, despite Rowe's declining side languishing in the bottom half of the First Division, Robb flourished, scoring 16 goals and missing only a handful of League games. An unfailingly vigorous and aggressive attacker, he was at his most effective when cutting inside from the flank to shoot at goal with either foot, and at his best he combined delightfully with the exuberantly loquacious and imaginative inside-left Eddie Baily.
That season, too, he played for the Football League and endured his traumatic experience at Hungarian hands, then made three appearances for England's "B" side. Thereafter Robb gave staunch service to Rowe and his successor Jimmy Anderson, and was particularly prominent in Spurs' run to the last four of the FA Cup in 1956. After scoring against Boston United, Middlesbrough and West Ham, he was on the point of pushing the ball into the net of Manchester City for a late equaliser in the semi-final at Villa Park when the great German 'keeper Bert Trautmann appeared to drag him down by grabbing his legs. However, no penalty was given, Spurs were out of the competition and Robb was never to win a major professional honour.
He came close again in 1956-57, when Spurs were runners-up to Manchester United in the title race, but then lost his place in the spring of 1958 to the brilliant young Welshman Cliff Jones, who had been signed from Swansea Town. Shortly after Anderson was replaced as White Hart Lane manager by Bill Nicholson the following autumn, Robb suffered a serious knee injury from which he never recovered, and he left the game in 1960.
Having taught at Christ's College, Finchley, throughout his time at Tottenham, he retained that post until 1964, then moved to Ardingley College, near Haywards Heath in Sussex, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. George Robb died on Christmas Day, exactly 60 years after making his first competitive appearance for his only professional club.
George Robb, footballer and teacher: born London 1 June 1926; played for Tottenham Hotspur 1951-59; capped once by England, 1953; married; died 25 December 2011.
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