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Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 12:48 UK

Sir Bobby gone but never forgotten

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

Tears seeped from reddened eyes as the great and the good came to pay their final respects to Sir Bobby Robson under the vaulted roof of Durham Cathedral. But there were smiles too.

Gary Lineker's eulogy had the sort of humour, deep knowledge and warmth that mirrored Sir Bobby himself. He knew the man so well.

Sir Bobby Robson
The players and journalists managed to break out on secret drinking trips thinking he'd never know. He always found out though

But now it's the turn of those who revered the former England manager from a distance. The supporters of the two clubs he loved so much will give football's favourite grandad one last rousing send-off as Ipswich and Newcastle meet on a special and emotional Portman Road Saturday.

He made his name as a manager there. He created a football club that was respected throughout Europe. How fitting it was that he ended his managerial career at the club of his boyhood dreams. How shabbily Newcastle United treated him.

Not the fans though. Never the fans. They may have grumbled at results but they worshipped the County Durham coalminer's son. We all did.

I couldn't be there for the memorial service. I had a prior engagement at the annual Lily Foundation golf day. But as the day shone out over the course the day was further warmed by people asking me if I knew Sir Bobby and the stories I could tell.

We first worked closely at the 1988 European Championship finals. The competition proved atrocious for England. On the field they were humbled by Ireland, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union. On the streets of Germany beer-bellied bruisers shamed the nation with acts of thuggery.

Lineker pays tribute to Sir Bobby

The press savagely turned on the manager but not once did he duck a radio interview or briefing. When he spoke into the microphone he tried to explain the way the games had gone or what he planned to do. The answers weren't terse. They were rich in insight and passion.

There were verbal blunders. Ahead of the opener against Ireland he announced that Viv Anderson was in the team. A nudge from an aide reminded him that he'd actually picked Gary Stevens! He frequently mixed up Stevens and Trevor Steven. I once heard him call Bryan Robson 'Bobby'. The mix-ups made me laugh out loud. You couldn't help warm to the man.

In 1990 I was one of half a dozen journalists allowed to stay in the England team hotel. With the pressure mounting day-by-day he remained scrupulously polite and welcoming. We weren't made to feel like interlopers. We were allowed to witness close up the deep affection the players felt for him.

He'd commissioned an Italian tank to be positioned outside the gates of the hotel on Sardinia for added security. The players and journalists still managed to break out on secret drinking trips thinking he'd never know. He always found out though. His tongue would give a lash, but there was a mischievous glint in his own eyes at the telling-off. His affection for the players knew no bounds. He loved football people.

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Mick Lowes of BBC Newcastle and I got terribly drunk on the eve of the pre-World Cup friendly in Tunisia and nearly missed the plane. We hurtled into the airport lounge sweaty and hungover. Bobby glanced, raised an eyebrow, wagged a finger and told us we'd be out of the camp if it ever happened again. There was no rampaging lecture, but I never crossed him again.

After the epic quarter-final win over Cameroon, in the England hotel perched high on dizzying cliffs, we were halfway through an interview when he suddenly disappeared in mid-answer. He literally ran off. We stood puzzled for several minutes until we heard the pitter-patter of onrushing feet. There he was reappearing down a dim corridor. He resumed the answer as if he hadn't even paused for thought. We never asked him why he'd done a runner. He never told us. It was Tommy Cooper-esque. It was typical Bobby.

Years later he asked if we could work together to help garner funds for one of his old Fulham team-mates Bedford Jezzard who'd hit illness and hard times. He'd phone every day to gauge the progress. He wouldn't let it lie until we'd organised something with Fulham. He was dogged, unstinting and generous with his affection.

Ferguson remembers Sir Bobby

So the fans will be on Saturday at Ipswich. The Portman Road North Stand is to be renamed the Sir Bobby Robson Stand in a special ceremony. Lady Elsie and two of their sons will be there to mark the occasion. The players will wear unique Sir Bobby Robson Foundation shirts, to the auctioned off after the game for his charity. There will be dear moments to treasure.

But then he was a dear man. He was a good man. He was a football man.

I last saw him at a Football Writers' Association dinner. I'm very proud to be a member of the Association and he knew it. As he came past our table he whispered into my ear: "I've listened and watched you closely on the radio and TV since 1988. I'm so proud of what you've achieved."

My career could end tomorrow, but I would still have that moment to cherish forever. It will never leave me.

Neither will he. In Durham Cathedral the Bishop of Newcastle explained that "the glory of God is a human being fully alive". Sir Bobby will always be alive for me because I'll constantly compare other managers and situations to him and how he would have reacted. "What would Sir Bobby have said there?" I will ask myself.

He won't be able to answer. That's our loss. But I know what he would do. He'd do the right thing. That knowledge is our gain.



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see also
Football greats honour Sir Bobby
21 Sep 09 |  England
Obituary - Sir Bobby Robson 1933-2009
31 Jul 09 |  Football
Donations in memory of Sir Bobby
03 Aug 09 |  England
Robson in his own words
31 Jul 09 |  Football
Legend Sir Bobby Robson, 76, dies
31 Jul 09 |  Football
Robson was gentleman of game
31 Jul 09 |  Football
Football honours Sir Bobby Robson
01 Aug 09 |  Football
Sir Bobby Robson's life in photos
31 Jul 09 |  Football
The disease that stalked Sir Bobby
31 Jul 09 |  Health


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