DCSIMG

Well done Sir Bobby

I'VE not often been moved to tears by a public speech but Sir Bobby Robson's heart-rending appearance at the BBC Sports Personality evening had me reaching for the handkerchief.

Here, as he received a lifetime achievement award, was the lie given to the notion that nice guys finish last.

And the only wonder in this richly-deserved tribute was why it has taken so damned long.

Everybody likes Sir Bobby.

If his achievements were not enough – and they are many and several – they have given him something on his sideboard to polish in a sport in which he operates that is over-populated by people to whom you would not give house room.

He's one of the really good guys in a parcel of rogues.

"If my dad had been around he would not have caught the bus to be here – he'd have cart-wheeled all the way down from Durham," said this very proud man.

Sir Bobby has been involved in the game for six decades as player and manager since starting out as an inside forward with Fulham in 1950.

He was capped 20 times by England and as manager led them to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1990.

Sir Alex Ferguson presented the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to football and the former Barcelona and Newcastle boss was given the most remarkably extended standing ovation before receiving his gong.

Football does a lot of people a disservice and you wonder how much self-harm the English game inflicted when it dispensed with his services after an eight-year reign in 1990. Certainly we have had no better manager since.

Yet here he stood – humble, mild-mannered and gracious – paying such glowing tributes to all the backroom staffs, chairmen and players he has rubbed shoulders with down the years that you would have thought he had played no part at all in all those achievements.

His early managerial career saw him win the FA Cup in 1978 with Ipswich Town who, three years later, he steered to an unlikely success in the UEFA Cup.

After England let him go he won consecutive Dutch championships with PSV Eindhoven in 1991 and 1992, the Cup of Portugal with Porto in 1994, the Portuguese championship with Porto in 1995 and 1996 and both the Copa del Rey and the European Cup Winners' Cup with Barcelona in 1997.

He was moved upstairs to the position of general manager by Barcelona, with Louis van Gaal taking over the managerial reins, but he stayed in this position for only one season before returning to manage PSV Eindhoven on a short-term deal for the 1998–99 season.

PSV missed out on the league title, finishing third behind Feynoord and Willem II, but Robson still led the club to qualification for the Champions League on the last day of the season.

He returned to England to take up a position in the Football Association's technical department but, following the resignation of Ruud Gullit at Newcastle United, Robson moved to St James' Park in September 1999.

In his first home match in charge, Newcastle beat Sheffield Wednesday 8–0.

On two occasions, following public criticism, Robson had offered his resignation from the England post and before the 1990 World Cup the FA told him that they would not be renewing his contract.

Notwithstanding this, England reached the semi-finals only to lose to West Germany on a penalty shoot-out and Robson has since said that not a day goes by when he does not think about the semi-final and other choices he might have made.

You wonder where English football might be now if the FA, too, had made a different choice and stuck by their man.

Some 15 years ago I was introduced over lunch in foreign climes to Sir Bobby by Howard Wilkinson and was immediately struck by his warmth, humour and companionship.

The chat for over an hour was about football and nothing else and I was left with the impression of a man more than content with his lot in life.

Years later, following a 2-1 defeat of Leeds by Newcastle at St James', I was desperate to find a positive spin on the visitors' efforts and, in a packed media conference, it seemed as though there were only the two of us in the room as Robson responded glowingly to my question regarding his thoughts on Harry Kewell.

He spoke for fully five minutes about his admiration for a player he said he would welcome into any of his teams, and in that instant came proof not only of his understanding of a journalist's work but also his willingness to help.

Oh that there were more like him.

As awards functions go, this was a rare golden nugget, made all the more memorable by such a heartfelt tribute from a man who rose from such humble beginnings in life to his wife of 52 years, Elsie.

From this quarter, too, congratulations Sir Bobby.

Richly deserved.

THEY'VE done it again!

So well done, Wetherby, for receiving the Racegoers Club vote as the best small racecourse in the north – for the seventh time in the last eight years.

Flushed with their success, the racecourse is now promising a real talent show over their two-day festive fixture.

Says chief executive James Sanderson: "This clearly demonstrates that we are consistently meeting the high expectations of the members of The Racegoers Club, and reflects great credit on the whole team here at Wetherby who work tremendously hard during the year to ensure the racing public enjoy both the racing and the facilities.

"We've had an excellent start to our current jumping season, with good attendances and notable winners, such as Ollie Magern's second success in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase in November.

"We are looking forward to and gearing up for the very popular two-day Sky Bet Christmas Meeting on Boxing Day Wednesday and Thursday, when some of the best horses in the jumping game will be in action."

 
 
 

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