Day the FA hunted 'Wor Bobby'

Scott Barnes is caught up in the helter-skelter drama at St James'
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The Independent Online

After the final whistle sounded on Newcastle's 1-0 defeat by Everton, Paul Gascoigne hung around the St James' Park pitch applauding the empty up-turned seats, milking in the memories and the what-might-have-beens. It had been his deft touch which had helped create the goal which had won his first competitive match back in his native Newcastle in 12 years.

After the final whistle sounded on Newcastle's 1-0 defeat by Everton, Paul Gascoigne hung around the St James' Park pitch applauding the empty up-turned seats, milking in the memories and the what-might-have-beens. It had been his deft touch which had helped create the goal which had won his first competitive match back in his native Newcastle in 12 years.

Yet while Gascoigne was slowly leaving the pitch and the fans were away home, the drama that the game lacked was unfolding in the back rooms of the concrete palace that towers over the Toon.

Mick Wadsworth, the chief coach at Newcastle, was the first to hint that something was afoot when he stood in for Bobby Robson at the post-match press conference. That Robson, who is sometimes so keen to talk about football that he has been known to ask questions of himself when the media have run out of avenues of exploration, should miss the conference was itself revealing.

"The reason [for his absence] is simple and open," said Wadsworth. "The chairman, Freddy Shepherd, sent a message down that he needed to spend some time with the boss. I can honestly say that Mr Robson has had no contact with the Football Association and he said that categorically to me today, yesterday and the day before."

That seemed in accordance with Robson's own notes in the programme where he said: "I would never let my country down. It's as simple as that - I would always try to help. But I've not been asked. So it's the same position and that's all it amounts to.

"It's happened to me several times before when things haven't gone right, and they have changed the England manager's job, because they see me as a bit of a Steady Eddie who had the job for eight years. This time the FA, if they pick the right guy, want somebody to try and get them into the World Cup.

"And I am not the long-term view of an England manager am I? I am 67 years of age and I need to find, somewhere in my life, a bit of time for myself."

But now it appears that even as Wadsworth was speaking, the FA were making theirformal approaches to Robson via Shepherd. Those approaches were rumoured to have come directly and in person from the FA's chief executive Adam Crozier, yet Crozier was definitely not in town. Apparently.

The meeting between Robson and Shepherd was brief and just as Wadsworth was wrapping up his ponderings about how the club would cope without the boss full-time, Robson's car was seen to leave the ground without him.

The press immediately scattered to cover the three exits of St James's Park, but the wily 67-year-old veteran somehow managed to outpace them, disappearing by a hitherto undiscovered gate.

Their quarry gone, Her Majesty's Media promptly fell upon themselves, feeding voraciously on an off-the-record snippet fed from Leicester that Peter Taylor and Robson would combine in tandem to take on the management of England's national team. But it wasn't as simple as that. Ten minutes later Shepherd affably wafted his way through a small gaggle of young fans to a red taxi and drove off into the night, his press secretary promising a statement shortly.

From out of a mobile phone poured another rumour. Shepherd had refused the FA's approaches. Robson was reportedly "grim-faced".

The extent of the FA's approaches only became clear when Hazel Greener, Newcastle's press secretary, breathlessly returned to the ground at 7.45pm and read out a hurriedly drafted statement from the board.

The FA had wanted Robson for seven games in a part-time capacity - enough to horrify the local journalists who were deeply offended at the thought of "Wor Bobby" caretaking the Italy game as it came three days before, for them, the clash of the season with arch-rivals Sunderland.

"The Board have unanimously rejected the FA's request for the release of Mr Robson," said the statement tersely. "He has been informed and has accepted the Board's decision."

Outside, the streets were deserted - apart from the shadowy figure of a tearful, Evertonian-exiled Geordie who knew, no matter how hard he had worked on the pitch, his England days were over.

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