IT was the biggest night of his professional career. His team were a penalty shoot-out away from their first World Cup final on foreign soil, vindicating a manager told before the tournament his contract would not be renewed.
Yet that famous night in Turin, Bobby Robson’s mind was elsewhere. Rather than thinking of proving a point, or carving out his place in history, he was thinking of others. It was an attitude he kept throughout a life which ended a year ago today.
“The semi-final for me was really special,” recalls Peter Beardsley, a penalty-taker when England played West Germany at the 1990 World Cup. “When you came to take a penalty he was brilliant, everything about him. He was walking around and talking to Gary (Lineker) and I. He told us, ‘There’s 55m back home watching, don’t let them down’.
“It went straight over my head but that’s the way he was. I never thought about the people back home, I was always thinking about the moment. But he was really concerned about the people back home and wanted to do it for them.” It was Robson – later Sir Bobby – all over. He spent his last days working to help others fight cancer, a disease he beat four times before it finally got the better of him. The anniversary of his death will be marked today with a football match between “his” club and one of the many where he enjoyed success, PSV Eindhoven, at the St James’ Park ground where he spent much time in the stands at the beginning and end of his life, but only five years as an employee.
The outpouring of grief which extended way beyond this region’s football supporters last August demonstrated the effect Sir Bobby’s caring and charisma had. Reserve team coach Beardsley, one of the few remaining football staff members at Newcastle United to have worked with Robson, regrets his old boss never saw it.
“He was a very special person in my life,” says Beardsley, who earned the first 45 of his 59 England caps under Robson. “I had two World Cups playing for him (the other in 1986) and I was a coach under him here at Newcastle at the academy.
“The saddest thing of all for me is I don’t think he realised how popular he was. When you look at the way people have been since he died it’s incredible, the money raised for his charity and the support Lady Elsie (Robson’s widow) has had. It’s hard to measure but he was a special, special person.”
Sir Bobby at least witnessed last year’s England-West Germany game featuring many of the 1990 cast in aid of his cancer charity, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and watched by 33,000 fans on his last weekend alive. “The emotion in the stadium was incredible,” recalls Beardsley, who played that day. “When you look at some of the games myself, Gazza and Peter Shilton have played in, that was an emotional game. It’s very special he made it although he probably couldn’t enjoy it as much as he would have liked.
“It was brilliant to be a part of it and for Alan (Shearer) to score the winner just seemed fitting.
“We were lucky. It was almost as if he kept himself alive to see that game. On the Friday I remember training with the academy and Paul Tully walked over and told us he had sadly passed away. To know the man was special, to play in that game was special, but there’s always a sadness when somebody special goes.”
Robson won Dutch and Portuguese league titles and European trophies in England and Spain, proving there was more to him than a child-like enthusiasm for football.
“He knew players, he understood players,” Beardsley explains.
“He understood in many ways the players are more important than anything.
“You always knew he was the boss but when the time was right he could have a bit of fun as well.
“He was always a top man in terms of personality.
“His popularity went the length and breadth of the country as England manager and there were probably none more popular.
“A lot of people probably won’t realise it’s a year, it’s come round so quickly. He’s been in the news almost weekly in a positive way.”
Two World Cups which started badly showed a determination needed when cancer came calling.
“In 86 England failed in the first game, struggled in the second,” Beardsley recalls.
“We knew we had to win a game, a bit like England in the group stage this year.
“Luckily we managed to do that, beating Poland, then Paraguay quite comfortably in terms of the scoreline.
“In 1990 every game in the knockout stages was almost his last England game. It must have been hard for him to keep going but he never thought about himself.”
PSV’s presence is a reminder of the subsequent spell when Robson made his name overseas, a career that peaked in Barcelona. European Manager of the Year in 1997, he rejected the chance to take his dream job at Newcastle and was rewarded by being pushed upstairs into a job he did not want. “All over the world people loved Bobby,” says Beardsley. “When Inter Milan played Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, (Jose) Mourinho (Robson’s interpreter at Sporting Lisbon and assistant with Porto and Barcelona) said, ‘This is for Sir Bobby Robson’, which was fantastic really. Mourinho always remembers what Bobby Robson did for him.
“Jonny Carver would say the same. He gave Jonny the chance to be (Newcastle’s) first-team coach and he’s gone from strength to strength. Bobby Robson believed in people and gave them their chance.
“What probably sums him up more than anything is he remained loyal to Barcelona initially and only came two years later when they probably did the dirty on him.
“That’s the kind of man he was, he tried to be loyal and fair.
“In an ideal world he would have come two years earlier and if he had I think the club would have gone from strength to strength and probably won the league.”