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

News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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 Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all