Final farewell for Sir Bobby Robson, a man who embodied English game

Yesterday's service at Durham Cathedral was fitting tribute to one of Newcastle's greatest sons, writes David Miller

After acclaimed service, in Suffolk and then around the globe with England and foreign clubs, Sir Bobby Robson came home. The testimonial service yesterday at Durham Cathedral, attended by many from home and across Europe as famous as he, was a fitting final tribute to an internationally noted player and manager. As Martin Wharton, Bishop of Newcastle, said: "He was a football colossus. A life begun in darkness – as an electrician down the pit – which became bathed in light. A story of black and white."

Yet it was more so a tribute, simply, for a notable man, who had fought the repetitive invasions of cancer with a dogged, largely unobserved fortitude, that earned a heartfelt affection and admiration.

Sir Alex Ferguson, speaking off the cuff, was glowing in his tribute. "Bob knew his roots ... I cannot fully express the enthusiasm that he always showed for the game. With him there were no secrets: he took me to an Ipswich coaching session two weeks before we [Aberdeen] played them in the Uefa Cup."

Robson's 60-year career in football was distinguished not just by an array of achievements, but by his never permitting his celebrity to become devalued by affectation or insincerity. He remained to the last, indelibly, one of us – a humble, generous guy, grateful for life's gifts, conscious that he afforded his first car only at the age of 34; that he juggled a ball to master his touch on the 20-minute daily walk to West Bromwich Albion's training ground, thus avoiding the bus fare; that on occasion at Ipswich he would hitch-hike on scouting trips to save the train fare.

Above all, yesterday's congregation of more than 1,000 recognised that Robson personified England's love of the game. His energy and ambition were as fervent the day he took charge of his beloved Newcastle, already aged 66, as when he first arrived as a novice at Ipswich, and 14 years later began fashioning the national team's fluctuating fortunes.

Mick Mills, Ipswich's FA Cup- winning captain, recalls: "Bobby was England through and through. He had a thirst for hard work which won the hearts of the nation. He loved to learn from foreign teams, he was a worldly manager."

Gary Lineker, who Robson had summoned as an untried youngster from Leicester, recalled that the England manager "made me feel seven feet tall with his enthusiasm. But he knocked me down to size when he turned to me on the bench, with 20 minutes to go, to say, 'Get warmed up, Garth'," – an example of Robson's regular confusion with names. Lineker added: "He was everything that was good about the game."

This son of a miner, born in 1933, a few dozen goal kicks up the road in Co Durham, at Sacriston, who in boyhood would kick a lump of coal around with his mates when they had no ball, would have found such a memorable parade as this among his own people deeply touching. During his England reign, he once observed: "They're playing for the country, I believe in the country. As manager of England you need two hearts."

It is no exaggeration to suggest that his passion for the game or for his playing colleagues never dimmed, whatever the tribulations, on or off the field, whatever his harshest critics might say.

He might have had a wry smile – though he was never vindictive – at his life being celebrated in Durham. It was in this cathedral, founded by the Saxons, rebuilt by the Normans in 1093, that Parliament forces incarcerated Scottish prisoners during the Civil War. Robson had starred in the 9-3 destruction of Scotland in 1961, part of Walter Winterbottom's accomplished side – including Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves and Johnny Haynes – that scored 56 goals in 16 matches prior to the World Cup in 1962, in which Robson gave way to another Bobby, the legendary, unknighted, Moore.

Sir Bobby Charlton, among the mourners, vividly remembers Robson sitting next to him to give reassurance on the flight to Sweden for the World Cup in 1958, a few months after the Munich crash. "What I most remember is that he was always helping others, almost to a fault."

Robson's displays for West Brom as an attacking midfielder under the direction of Vic Buckingham, a managerial inspiration, were among the most spectacular I ever witnessed. This imbued him with the belief that the game is essentially about attack.

As England manager, he was torn between the beautiful game and functionalism, prevalent throughout the domestic league – which was why he oscillated in selection over such gems as John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. In his parallel position as national director of coaching, he mused during the World Cup in 1990: "Do you think what I say to First Division managers will change their idea of how they want to play? The FA run courses for coaches, but very few managers attend."

After the service anecdotes and memories came thick and fast. Sven Goran Eriksson recalled arriving at Ipswich, unknown, and Robson taking him through two hours of a training session and inviting him to sit on the bench for a match the following day. Joe Royle, Everton and England striker, remembers Robson taking him to one side as a 16-year-old and spending two hours giving advice. At Ipswich, they remember him as much for his off-duty dedication as for winning the Cup – attending the supporters club on a Monday evening, the Women's Institute on Tuesday. Malcolm Macdonald recalls begging for Robson's autograph as a six-year-old down a Fulham backstreet and then, years later, when Robson signed him from Tonbridge, being asked, to his astonishment: "Weren't you that knee-high nipper wanting my autograph?"

The service, like Robson's life, was one of both dignity and joy; the eloquence of the music of Elgar, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Tippett, Puccini's "Nessun Dorma", the joy of so many people recollecting the privilege of sharing a special life. Robson's maxim is there for anyone. At a party at my house for Sir Stanley Rous's 90th birthday, Robson reflected: "You're only as old as you feel." He followed that to the full.

'They all admired his courage and dignity': How the great & good paid their respects

"He was everything that was good about the game. He made me feel seven feet tall with his enthusiasm. He loved the game and the game loved him." - Gary Lineker

"He was always helping others, almost to a fault." - Sir Bobby Charlton

"I cannot fully express the enthusiasm he always showed for the game. What made him so special was that he influenced people who had never met him. They admired his courage, his dignity and his enthusiasm." - Sir Alex Ferguson

"He had a thirst for hard work which won the hearts of the nation." - Mick Mills, former Ipswich and England captain

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried