When Sir Bobby Robson passed away on 31 July 2009 at the age of 76, radio stations across the land opened up their switchboards and invited people to call in with their memories of the managerial legend - and it’s safe to say, after hearing endless heartwarming stories about his character and kindness, that there was not a single person out there who didn’t hold him in high esteem.
Yet, as the superb new documentary Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager shows, things were not always easy for him. Treated shabbily by Barcelona and Newcastle during his tenures as manager, and even worse by the press as the England boss between 1982 and 1990, he often had to fight against the odds, and against public opinion.
However, there was one set of people who never stopped believing in him - and that was his players, assistants and fellow managers.
The likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Terry Butcher, Paul Gascoigne and Sir Alex Ferguson all give their thoughts during the course of the doc, but some of the most touching words come from legendary England striker Gary Lineker, who describes just how much he owed to Sir Bobby.
Talking about the final group game in 1986 World Cup, when England had to beat Poland to avoid elimination following a defeat to Portugal and a draw against Morocco - without scoring a goal in either - Lineker says:
“I was convinced that I would be left out, because I’d not had a great start to the World Cup.
“Bobby made my career what it was. For some reason he stuck with me and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that, because my life would have been nowhere near as good without that.”
Of course, in that match, where Robson kept faith, Lineker netted a hat-trick, going on to win the golden boot - an achievement which landed him a dream move to Barcelona.
Expanding on the story, he says:
“I don’t think there’s any question if we hadn’t beaten Poland in the third game of the ‘86 World Cup, Bobby Robson would have lost his job. Ray Wilkins got sent off for rolling the ball at the ref, Bryan Robson did his shoulder again… We were on the brink of going out, Bobby was on the brink of losing his job.
“He made a few changes for the game against Poland, I was convinced I would be left out because I had not had a great start to the World Cup and he stuck with me, and left Mark Hateley out, brought in Peter Beardsley and it was the start of a partnership that worked from day one.
“He turned it round.
“If he’d kept Mark Hateley in - which he had every right to do - my life would have been substantially different… There is no question Bobby made my career what it was. Without him I would no way have achieved as much. He saw something in me, he had a trust in me, even when it started to go wrong. I went five games without a goal before Poland; for some reason he stuck with me and I will be eternally grateful to him for that, because my life would have been nowhere near as good without that.”
Talking about both that World Cup, and the following tournament in Italy, when England again started slowly, Lineker says:
“Just when it all seemed it was gonna fall apart, Bobby would find something; a change of system, a change of formula, a change of personnel… whatever it may be - [he would] find a way.”
In further comments, however, which come from the full transcripts from the interviews conducted for the film, Lineker also explains why Bobby Robson’s legend was built not simply on his successes, but also on his character and his willingness to admit his own flaws and mistakes.
Lineker says, describing his time at Euro ‘88, when England went out in the first round:
“The one time I fell out with Bobby Robson, in my whole career… I didn’t feel great in the Ireland game, in the Holland game I felt awful - I had no energy, I felt drained. We were already knocked out of the tournament and I remember saying to Bobby, ‘I just feel weak’ - and I think he thought I was trying to get out of the last game because we were already out.
“We played Russia and I could not put one foot in front of the other I felt so ill. He took me off at half-time and we lost that game as well. The next day… there was this back page of Bobby having a go at some of the players including me, and I remember I walked on the bus, I had the paper and I threw it at him and I went: ‘You are out of order.’
“I got home and I was diagnosed with Hepatitis and I was in hospital for a few days, and about three days later Bobby Robson came to visit me - and he said I’ve come to see you to say sorry. You were right, I was out of order.
“That’s the kind of man he was. I appreciated it, it made me cry actually.”
After that tournament, there was pressure for him to be sacked but, luckily, he was retained, leading England to the semi-finals of Italia ‘90, where he and his players became national heroes.
“His job was really on the line after ‘88 - three games, three losses. We all thought he would probably go, but I am so glad he didn’t.
“Players aren’t daft, we know that he was under pressure, but he would never complain about it. You could never tell that it was affecting him in any shape or form.
“Managers have to have belief, they have to have belief not just in their team, but themselves as well. Bobby never lacked that, he was a fighter, he just stuck in there, and his loyalty towards the good players helped as well and that is really, really important.”
Bobby Robson: More Than A Manager coming to select theatres 1st June
Now available to pre-order, Digital Download 1st June & Blu-Ray/DVD 4th June