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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 11:16 GMT
Hill praises 'old cloth ears'
Sir Bobby Robson
Robson is still going strong at 70

Sir Bobby Robson celebrates his 70th birthday on Tuesday - with over half of those years spent in football management.

Since his unprecedented success with Ipswich in the 1970s and 80s Robson has established himself as one of the great English managers.

But for Robson's former team-mate Jimmy Hill it is amazing that he opted to go down that road.

He has dedicated his whole life to the game of football

Jimmy Hill

"I would have bet 1m he would never be a football manager," Hill told the BBC Sport website.

Hill arrived at Fulham in the early 1950s and would play in the same side as a young Robson.

"He was exceedingly quiet," added Hill.

"I can remember when managers were talking to us, Bobby's attention would be on anything else but what the manager was saying. His eyes would be up at the ceiling.

"He was a popular guy with the players. And a brilliant goalscorer - quick, a strong right foot, an eye for a chance. He was a pretty difficult striker to hold.

Former team-mate Jimmy Hill
Hill was a team-mate of Robson's in the 1950s

"But the last thing you would have thought he would become would be a coach, never mind a great manager."

Robson's taste for management came when he was sold to West Brom and came under the influence of Don Howe.

"He was the guy who persuaded him to go on a coaching course and think about how the game was played and how to make other players enjoy the game," added Hill.

"He got there accidentally, but he has the personality, the total belief and has dedicated his whole life to the game of football.

"If you said to me what else does Bobby do in his life that he enjoys I wouldn't be able to tell you."

Robson factfile
Born: February 18, 1933
Clubs: Fulham (twice), West Brom
Appearances: 584
Goals: 133
England caps: 20

It has not always been an easy ride in management for the once-shy north-easterner, who was nicknamed cloth ears by his Fulham team-mates due to his hearing problems.

He was sacked by Fulham and experienced some tormenting times as England coach, while also facing a battle against life-threatening cancer.

"It's delightful how his career has survived when you see how managers' reputations are destroyed when things don't go right," added Hill. "Bobby survived a few downs before a long period at Ipswich making the club and then very nearly achieving miracles as England manager.

"I'm 74 and I wouldn't want to be managing now. But Bobby is still there and managing to convey whatever it is that helps teams win to much younger people from many different nations.

"He has that magic bit of personality that gets them to play for him."

After leaving England in 1990 Robson achieved success on the continent to a level that no other English manager has come close to.

"I went over to see him in Holland. We went out for a meal one evening and I sensed the respect that was there for him at PSV Eindhoven," said Hill.

He is creating the foundations for a third team in England

Jimmy Hill

"It was quite amazing that Bobby was accepted as a god and a king there."

Even at 70 Hill believes there is plenty of life in the "old dog" yet.

He likens the job he is doing at St James' Park to the one Sir Alex Ferguson performed at Manchester United.

"Bobby is on the threshold of doing the same with Newcastle, but the difference is it would be unfair to ask him to maintain it until he's 85," he said.

"He is creating the foundations for a third team in England to challenge Arsenal and Manchester United."

And that would be the icing on the cake.

Sir Bobby Robson is still going strong at the grand old age of 70

Sir Bobby's big day

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