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Sir Bobby Robson is the one man who can unite us all

THE first annual Sir Bobby Robson Foundation charity golf day illustrated the great man’s unique capacity to bring a fractured sporting region together.

WHEN John Carver reported for his first day as assistant manager of Newcastle United, something remarkable happened.

Deep in conversation with the rest of the coaching staff in Alan Pardew’s office after helping to oversee his first training session, a sudden sensation that he was being watched came over him – stopping him almost in his tracks.

Glancing up at the office wall, he clocked the giant canvas portrait of Sir Bobby Robson that dominates the brilliant white walls.

“I just went quiet,” the Newcastle number two explained. “I don’t think the rest of the staff understood why I wasn’t talking but it touched a place in my heart because of the relationship I had with him.

“It was a great gesture by Chris (Hughton) to put it up and its still there now. The manager has kept it up there – we see him every day, maybe that’s why we still talk about him every day. Some of the lads must think I’m his son because I talk about him every day. I get a bit of stick for it. But the type of guy he was, the type of figurehead he was – it would be sad not to talk about him every day.

“There are some funny moments that always crop up. Whenever we are feeling a little bit down or we’ve not had the right result, we start talking about Sir Bob and it puts a smile on everyone’s face.”

Eighteen months since his passing, Sir Bobby Robson – or his wonderful legacy, to be precise – is still doing incredible things. On a glorious afternoon at Steve Gibson’s sumptuous Rockliffe Hall resort there was confirmation of that with the first ever charity golf day in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

It takes something special to galvanise a North East divided along sporting lines. But then, as a roll call of superstars were only too happy to remind us, Sir Bobby was just that. A year and a half on, he remains a huge presence at all three of our most successful football clubs.

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Want proof? Well the roll call of attendees yesterday was remarkable, a real fillip for the Foundation’s twin aims of raising awareness and funds for research and treatment of the dreadful disease that ultimately claimed his life.

Quite simply anyone of any note in North East football was there, under an azure blue sky, to lend their support to a charity that has raised more than £3million in three years.

Carver was joined by boss Alan Pardew and most of the Newcastle United first-team squad for an afternoon that had clearly captured the imagination of the squad.

Vice-captain Joey Barton, who plays off an impressive handicap of six, was one of the most heavily fancied golfers taking part but Shola Ameobi, on whom Sir Bobby was such an influence, was another taking an impressive reputation into the tournament.

Unsurprisingly in their owner’s own back yard Middlesbrough’s representation was strong – although the presence of former winger Adam Johnson, now one of English football’s hottest properties, was proof of the enduring appeal of such a worthy cause.

Sunderland, too, sent a worthy contingent. Lee Cattermole, Michael Turner and Phil Bardsley represented the playing side while Steve Bruce, a close friend of Sir Bobby’s, led one of the teams.

Given the occasional difficulties that Bruce encounters with his Tyneside roots, it was fitting that he was one of the major draws on a day when regional was the theme.

Running through everything was the feeling that the region, for all its tribal sporting rivalries, is capable of uniquely uplifting unity when faced with adversity.

For Niall Quinn, a patron of the charity, the adversity had been getting there on time. A late plane from Dublin followed by a tortuous trek through a congested stretch of the A1 meant he was slightly tardy, but nothing would have kept him from it.

He said: “There is only one man who could get all of us together – Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland – and for us not to even think twice about it.

“It tells you how special he was and it is important that we keep that going. We’ve enough bad things that happen in sport that are put in the papers and talked about and in our minds but this is a good thing.

“No-one else could have united us like this in the last 100 years. Maybe I’m being hard on what it used to be like in the pre-colour television days. Lots of people will tell you that people used to have season tickets for both Sunderland and Newcastle in those days.

“But in my lifetime, it is incredible what his name and memory can do.

“What he brought to the region is just phenomenal. There’s been great people in our sport – you can think of a few names, Shankly and Revie were the big two in my time, but no-one has been bigger than Bobby Robson.

“When you realise what he has left behind, you think ‘We must keep that keeping.’

“It might have been a rush to the airport this morning, there might have been an accident on the A1 but it doesn’t matter – I’m here now, and that is what’s important.”

Like Quinn and Alan Shearer, Middlesbrough owner Gibson is a patron of the charity.

He spoke of maintaining the foundation’s momentum, of keeping Sir Bobby’s name alive as he spoke eloquently about Sir Bobby’s continuing legacy.

Importantly he provided a reminder that for all the star power on show at Rockliffe, real strength and heroism resides with those the foundation provides help for. “This is for the whole of the North East,” he said.

“A lot of the people who get involved in the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation have terminal illnesses. It’s last chance. We had one girl from Middlesbrough, who had three kids, and she died.

“Lady Elsie contacted me and she knew that I knew Sir Bobby quite well. She was a fan of all the North East clubs. He would often come here and I would see him once a month maybe for a chat.

“He was always there when I needed advice at the end of the phone. I don’t think you can go much higher than Sir Bobby Robson when you are talking about football.

“He was someone I could confide in, he would often come here and I got to know him. After his death I was approached and it had to be a yes to being a patron.

“He loved the training headquarters and thought the idea of the course and hotel was excellent but didn’t live to see it finished.

“It’s a phenomenal amount of money that has been raised so far. We must make sure we keep going and maintain that momentum. We have to make sure the money raised is used effectively by the people in the North East. We have to make sure we make big strides forward to find a cure for cancer.”

:: To make a donation, view messages of support, or for more information please visit www.sirbobbyrobsonfoundation.org.uk  or donate by sending a cheque to Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Room 203, Cheviot Court, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne NE7 7DN.

 

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