Great, Bobby, but just act your age

Hunter Davies
Sunday 05 September 1999 23:02

HURRAH FOR Bobby Robson. You've done it for us, Bob; now show them how to do it. When they shout "On me 'ead" I want you to shout "In me 'ead" - because that is where you keep your real strength and power and wisdom.

It surprised many people that he got the Newcastle United job at the age of 66, yet there are nine managers in the Premier League aged above 50. The Blessed Fergie is 57. Jim Smith of Derby, the Bald Eagle, is 58. If only Jim had kept his hair, he would probably be running a much bigger club than Derby. Note Bobby Robson's fine head of grey hair and Fergie's lack of a bald patch. If you are going to be so short-sighted as to grow old, it does pay not to look it.

It doesn't bother me, since I'm 63 now. I am amused to be bossed about by 13-year-old publishing editors, 10-year-old features editors and six-year-old BBC producers. I love to hear and see them thinking they know it all, when they are barely out of nappies!

I was the same when I was aged five and started my first job on The Sunday Times. I grew a moustache, to disguise the fact that I was still in short trousers. It was an idea that I'd got from Harold Wilson. He wore a moustache when he first became a cabinet minister, aged three, and they wouldn't let him bring in his high chair.

We have always had youngsters doing well. That is how it should be. But what upsets me about the world today is the prejudice people have against those who have passed 50.

I don't know any of my college contemporaries who are still in work - I mean proper, salaried, worthwhile work, not shifting words for a living. Those who went into teaching were on the scrap heap after 50. Many chose to go - and who can blame them? In industry, they were mostly paid off, with no chance again of working. End of job, end of life. The economic and human waste is appalling. Two of my contemporaries who went off to America after graduation, an economist and a scientist, are both still in work. They do not have these inane rules in the US. You can retire when you want to, without being forced out.

Age has experience, wisdom and knowledge on its side. It can also possess enthusiasm, which Bobby Robson clearly has. What age may not have is physical energy. Despite his operations for facial cancer, Bobby appears to have it.

At 66, he is at an age and stage where he is without long-term career goals, or financial or family liabilities. Someone aged 36 with wife, mortgage and three children, is going to be worrying about number one. Bobby is doing it because he really, really wants to do it. Could there be a better reason and motivation for the job?

In some jobs and professions, the physical element is vital. And very reassuring. When I see an elderly pilot poncing down the plane, his silver hair gleaming, I think, "Oh no, not someone my age; gerrimoff; what if he has a heart attack?" On a safari walk through the Okavango delta in Botswana I want a young, fit, muscular guide who will save me, or even carry me, or get eaten first, as he will be much tastier.

But when I walk into my GP's surgery, I don't want a young doctor or a medical student. I want someone mature and seasoned. He or she may not know this week's cures, but they are likely to have seen it all before, or make a good stab at pretending they have.

If I get a lawyer to give me advice, I do not want some callow youth. And I certainly do not want a young accountant trying out his bright ideas on me, schemes he has just dreamt up, which - well, no, he has not tried out yet.

And what I don't want, in a million years, whether I'm in need of help or apprehension, is a young policeman. They are terrifying.

If I were a professional footballer, which I am in my head, I'd want the gaffer to show us his medals, because being a professional footballer myself, that's how I think. But I wouldn't want him my age, just out of the dressing-room, just out of the club, just off the pub floor, just out of the hotel bedroom, with the rest of the lads.

I want him to have been around, picked up stuff from other clubs, here and abroad. It would not worry me if he were my dad's age, or, in Bobby's case, my grandad's age. Since the age of 13, footballers have been moulded and bossed by those who are much older.

My only worry about Bobby, aged 66, is that he will try to do too much. Be a track-suit manager, Bob, by all means, but stick to standing there shouting, not showing them how to do it. And, for God's sake, don't run.

Most of all, don't think you have to work round the clock, doing everything yourself to prove you can do it. That is what the silly young do. Be sensible. Be your age. Thank you.

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