Sir Bobby Robson's legacy continues to live on at Newcastle United

FOOTBALL moves so fast these days that today’s back page might be buried under a mountain of conjecture by the time most of the North East is sitting down for its first coffee break of the morning.

FOOTBALL moves so fast these days that today’s back page might be buried under a mountain of conjecture by the time most of the North East is sitting down for its first coffee break of the morning.

Social media crackles with the latest Premier League controversy with machine-gun intensity – a churn-rate that even leaves rolling news channels unable to keep up on occasion.

The transfer window is when it’s at its worst, but throughout the calendar year the thirst for fresh information rarely subsides.

It can be dizzying at times, not least for those with their hand on the tiller at Sunderland, Middlesbrough and especially Newcastle – where the owners at the club now paint “stability” as some sort of revolutionary philosophy.

Eight years – the length of Alan Pardew’s latest contract – seems like an eternity, but it is still only the blink of the eye in United’s 221-year history.

It is nice to know, then, that among the maelstrom there is one constant at Newcastle’s Benton training base: Sir Bobby Robson. Through Steve Harper, Shola Ameobi and John Carver his presence continues to be felt every day; his continuing influence proof of the genius of the man.

From the portrait that hangs over the manager’s office – first commissioned by Chris Hughton but retained by Alan Pardew as a vital part of keeping the club connected to its history – to the presence of Carver on the touchline, his legacy remains.

On the day that would have been his 80th birthday, United’s long-serving goalkeeper reflected that even as recently as last week he was casting a shadow over Newcastle’s work.

Against the beautiful steel backdrop of the Sage, the colossal structure that hugs the banks of the Tyne and prompted such admiration for Sir Bobby, he reflected on the most recent instance.

Harper explained: “John Carver did a shooting drill on Friday which was Sir Bobby’s, which I pulled him up on and did my dreadful impression of him! It is the legacy he has left behind. It is fantastic for us and it goes to show what a great man he is.”

Move inside the training ground and into the cocoon that Pardew occupies when taking his most difficult decisions and that influence continues.

The canvas is a huge one; Sir Bobby stands in a crumpled club jacket clenching his bottom lip and wearing a look of fixed concentration. Pardew would never have dreamt of removing such an important link with a man who is inexorably linked to his boyhood club.

“I came and it was there,” Pardew explains.

“It is an iconic picture of him after the game contemplating what looked like victory but it could have been defeat: you never know with Bobby!

“I think it’s important you understand how important this role is as manager of this football club and therefore I thought it was always good to have his presence in and around the training ground.” Not that his legacy remains centred solely on the black-and-white half of the North East.

It is sad that we talk of a unifying figure like Sir Bobby as so remarkable, but it is a mark of the development of football rivalries that there are fewer icons like him who bridge the divide between Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Sir Bobby was just one of those figures.

He spent the final day of the 2008/09 season at the Stadium of Light as a guest of Sunderland while Newcastle and Boro were also battling relegation.

His name was sung by visiting Sunderland supporters at Celtic during a pre-season friendly. This is the reason why his Foundation, which drew so many of the arts’ great and good to the Sage on Monday for his 80th birthday celebrations, remains so successful.

Martin O’Neill and Boro chairman Steve Gibson were both there on Monday. The former reflected on his enduring appeal.

“The very fact is that he’s universally accepted as being a fantastic manager and not only popular with everyone but he was appreciated by everyone and that is quite rare in football,” said O’Neill.

“He’s got universal appreciation and I think that goes for his wife as well, who comes over to quite a number of our matches and is made very welcome and enjoys it, so I hope that isn’t upsetting anyone over at Newcastle.

“It is remarkable really that he seems to transcend everything, but I think that’s been Bobby all of his life.

“Other than the harsh treatment he got as England manager for a little while when results were supposedly not going brilliantly, they ended up in a semi-final of a World Cup. Other than that time he was held in great esteem.”

Another guest – one of the youngest managers in the game – summed it up brilliantly.

Andre Villas-Boas might manage a team from North London rather than the North East, but he first came into contact with the black-and-white knight when the pair lived next door to each other in Porto. “Sir Bobby is one of the great managers of the game and without him I probably would not be where I am now,” said the Tottenham boss.

“He offered me a unique opportunity to get involved in football, taking me under his wing when I was still a teenager. His enthusiasm and passion for management certainly rubbed off on me.”

FOR more information about the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, visit www.sirbobby robsonfoundation. org.uk/

 
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