Mark Wright: 'I'll miss the spirit of a truly wonderful man'

The former Liverpool and England defender – and key member of Robson's 1990 World Cup squad – remembers the man who gave him his international debut and then inspired him as a manager

He was an inspiration, a brilliant manager and above all he was a great man. Sir Bobby Robson was the most important person in my football career and like so many of the players who worked for him, yesterday's news of his passing causes me great sadness.

I count myself lucky, and very honoured, that I got to see Sir Bobby one more time. I was invited to play in the restaging of the 1990 World Cup semi-final against Germany for Sir Bobby's foundation at St James' Park on Sunday. There were 33,000 people in the stadium that day but they weren't there to see us oldies run around. They were there to honour Sir Bobby.

Yes, he looked old and frail but it was a special occasion. I looked towards him as "Nessun Dorma" played and thought about how much I owed him – and how much he has given football.

For the players who were there it was a chance to do something for a man for whom we have the greatest respect. Each of us owed him something in our careers, for me it was a great deal. He gave me my England debut when I was 20 years old in May 1984 and 43 of the 45 caps I got in my career were under him. When I was a player he would call me every couple of weeks to see how I was and it never really stopped after I moved into management.

This is a story that gives you the measure of the man. Last season, when I was managing Chester City we were down to 13 players, four of whom were 16-year-olds on £45-a-week. Our difficult situation was getting plenty of coverage in the newspapers and a couple of days later I got a call from Sir Bobby.

I asked him how he was doing. "I'm not so good son," he said, "but that's enough about me – what about you? How can I help?" That was typical of Sir Bobby. He was always desperate to do something for his players. He never forgot you. He said: "Stick with it and keep doing the right thing. It's not your fault, just do your best."

He was charismatic, he was dignified but he was also a very funny man. I loved joining up with the England squad when he was manager. When he spoke to us, the players sat still and listened and not every manager commands that kind of respect. He was under a lot of pressure at Italia '90 and he was brave to change the system and play me as a sweeper but it worked.

After draws against Ireland and the Netherlands we got through to the knockout round by beating Egypt in the last group game. After the match Sir Bobby asked me about my goal which I had headed in from Gazza's free-kick. "You were aiming for the other corner weren't you son?" he said. He was right. He knew us too well.

There was huge pressure on the England players going into that World Cup but it was testament to Sir Bobby's motivational skills and his assistant Don Howe that we stayed as such a tight group. For a lot of the tournament we weren't even speaking to the English press, and Sir Bobby was getting a lot of flack himself. But he was always more hurt if it was one of his players who was getting hammered.

He was a great tactician as well. He took a bold step by playing me as sweeper in the game against the Netherlands but by the end of the tournament I had established myself in the team. In fact, I had offers from Roma and Fiorentina to join them so I couldn't have done badly. He got the best out of so many of us.

But what I will always remember from Italia '90 was his reaction to our defeat on penalties in the semi-final against West Germany. "You could have done no more," he told us in the dressing room afterwards. "We all know that we should have won that game but penalties can go either way. I am so proud of what you have achieved and so is your country. We live to fight another day."

Of course, that was his last match in charge of England but he went on to have a great career at PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona and Newcastle. That moment in Turin will stay with me for ever. One example in many of the spirit of a wonderful man.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee