Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 16:48 UK

Tributes to gentleman of football

By Phil Mawson
BBC News, St James' Park

Sir Bobby Robson tributes
Hundreds of tributes were left at St James' Park

Newcastle United's on and off-the-pitch woes were dwarfed by the grief of fans who gathered at St James' Park to mark the death of Sir Bobby Robson.

"We're here for Sir Bobby, not the club," said one fan, who laid a single flower on the lush turf that was bathed in late morning sunshine.

A steady stream of mourners, many in family groups, lined up patiently to pay their respects at the pitchside.

Club officials opened up the stadium so fans and friends could leave tributes.

An array of flowers, banners, scarves and a selection of the team's familiar black and white shirts were laid at the foot of the Sir John Hall stand.

As a pair of black and white balloons was released into the stadium, a spontaneous round of applause rang out.

Kevin Bates and Shaun Devlin took an early lunch break from a nearby building site to pay their respects.

Mr Devlin said: "Everyone's gutted, he was a wonderful man and a great manager."

Mr Bates added: "Everyone's sick and can't believe he's gone. He was great for the city and the club."

Cancer patient Marie McShane wore a red and white Sunderland top to pay tribute to a man she called her "inspiration."

The Sunderland supporter had attended a charity match which raised cash for Sir Bobby's cancer charity a few days earlier.

The 53-year-old grandmother from Jarrow, South Tyneside, who brought a single red rose, said: "I was at the match on Sunday and to see him come out on the pitch was really something. He was my inspiration."

Sam Davies
Sam Davies brought a shirt with a written tribute to the ground

Flags at St James' Park, Newcastle civic centre, Durham County Hall and at rival Sunderland AFC were at half mast.

A few club stewards were on hand to ensure everyone who came to the stadium was able to lay what tributes they had. But none of the club's management or directors could be seen.

Diane Kelly, from Benton in Newcastle, came to to the ground with her sister Pauline. She said: "It's devastating. We've been crying all morning."

Colin McNally, 37 and Nina Werber, 28, from Newcastle, said: "He was a true Geordie gent - one of the best, if not the best.

"He'll never be replaced. I got the biggest bouquet I could - it's the least I could do, I just hope people donate to his cancer fund."

Student Hannah Marshall, 19, said: "Today is really sad but it is nice to see everyone coming to pay their respects which shows just how much people really respected him."

Her friend, Ian Robson, 19, wore a black and white replica shirt with "Sir Bobby 33 09" on the back.

He said: "I have had a season ticket for many years and the best days were when Sir Bobby was manager.

"The club would not be in this state if he was still in charge."

Stephen Shiel and Kevin Graham
Stephen Shiel and Kevin Graham brought a floral tribute

Christine Kelly, from Jarrow, said her and her partner were at home when they heard the news of Sir Bobby's death.

"We just had to come up and pay our respects to a truly great man," she said.

Most mourners left the stadium after laying their tributes. But others took time to sit in the stands and reflect on their memories of the former Newcastle and England manager.

Civil servant Henry Gallagher, 49, from Newcastle, said: "He was one of a rare breed in today's football - he gave more to the game than he took out.

"He showed loyalty in an age of money-grabbing opportunism."

Fellow season ticket-holder Graeme Carr, 45, from Washington, near Sunderland, added: "This is a sad day for everyone. Sir Bobby was one of the last real gentlemen in the game."

Kevin Graham, 52, from Newcastle, arrived at the ground with friend Stephen Shiel.

Mr Graham said: "It's so sad. There will be more people here today and tomorrow than at the start of the season - that's the impact he had.

"It's so sad he's passed away now when the club's in such a state, it would've been so much better if the club was winning."

Diane and Pauline Kelly
Diane and Pauline Kelly said Sir Bobby's death had left them in tears

Sunderland supporter Paul Armstrong, 38, of Cramlington, Northumberland, added: "A true gent. Rest in peace."

Colin Whittle, of the Newcastle United Supporters Club, said: "Today we've lost a Geordie who lived and breathed his twin passions - his region and football.

"Sir Bobby was the epitome of what is good about this region and our city."

Fans chanted Sir Bobby's name as Newcastle United players held a minute's silence.

Goalkeeper Steve Harper, striker Shola Ameobi and defender Steven Taylor carried a wreath of white lilies on to the pitch.

Fans applauded as the Newcastle squad walked out to the centre circle.

Newcastle's Lord Mayor Mike Cookson added: "Sir Bobby Robson was a football genius and a true gentleman.

"I had the pleasure of being in his company on Sunday at his charity match and was overawed by his resilience and dignity.

"He was made a Freeman of the City in 2005 and was probably the region's most loved famous son."

St James' Park will be open to fans on Saturday and Sunday between 0900 and 1700 BST.

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St James' Park was the scene of emotional tributes to Sir Bobby Robson



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SEE ALSO
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