I was born into a country whose football supporting population were smarting from heartbreaking defeat to Germany in Rome with the sound of Nessun Dorma still ringing in their ears. The man who led England to what is still their most successful international finish since Wembley in 1966 was Bobby Robson. Sir Bobby shared many things with Sir Alf Ramsey, the mastermind of England’s one and only World Cup triumph, and one is the fact that immediately prior to accepting his country’s call he brought trophies to Portman Road as manager of Ipswich Town Football Club.
Despite the fact that I am far too young to remember Sir Bobby’s time in Suffolk, I grew up as a football fan with his legacy all around me. When my Dad used to take me to games when I was young he would point out to me the statue of Sir Bobby standing, finger in the air in touchline instruction, pointing to the stadium where he enjoyed unprecedented, and unrepeated, success. I would be regaled with stories of famous victories over Europe’s football elite, of a team which matched the best in England and of league near-misses and spectacular cup victories. Despite being born nearly ten years later, I can still reel off a good proportion of the names of the cup winning sides of ’78 and ’81 and ‘Osbourne, one-nil’ is burned into my mind as if I was there. At the centre of all this, of all the international superstars to wear the blue and white of Ipswich Town, is the influence of Bobby Robson. His style, his ethos are what won European trophies for a small provincial team and are what our club still strives to today.
The day after he passed away in the summer of 2009 he truly passed into legend. With my family at Portman Road the next day I walked around the car park behind Bobby’s imposing statue which was flooded with shirts and scarves and flags. Rivalry was cast aside for something bigger and the blue and white of Ipswich Town was joined by flags and tributes of all colours, from fellow East Anglians Norwich City to Barcelona to the black and white of Tyneside via the team over whom Ipswich triumphed in the UEFA Cup final in 1981, AZ Alkmaar. Every shirt, flag and scarf was a memory and a thank you to football’s truest gentleman.
With his unmatched work ethic, sense of humour and sense of humanity, groundedness and tenacity, he won success as a player and manager. He applied the same tenacious fight to beat cancer and set up a charitable foundation before, without taking an ounce of his dignity, the illness finally took a hero to so many.
The trophy cabinet and statue at Portman Road, the stands that bear his name in Ipswich and his native Tyneside and memories of jubilant successes and the most agonising failures mean that Sir Bobby Robson will always be remembered. True greats never really leave us. Today, on what would have been Sir Bobby’s eightieth birthday, the team with which he enjoyed so many years of success are languishing perilously close to the drop-zone of the second tier of English football. Perhaps the good times will return to Portman Road, perhaps they won’t, but thanks to Sir Bobby Robson my team will always have that glorious bit of history.