Centre stage for six decades

SIR Bobby Robson's remarkable career saw him at the centre stage of football for six decades.

SIR Bobby Robson's remarkable career saw him at the centre stage of football for six decades.

He was a feted footballer in the 1950s and 60s who represented England in two World Cups, then took lowly Ipswich Town on the most remarkable run of their history as a manager before leading his country to their second most successful World Cup Campaign.

The 1990s saw him in charge at some of Europe's biggest clubs, before he came back to the club he supported as a boy - Newcastle United - and brought a smile back to the fiercely proud Geordie supporters who took him to their hearts.

His football education began playing on Saturday mornings for a junior side in Langley Park, the County Durham pit village where he grew up. Then he would catch the bus with his father and brother to Newcastle to watch his black and white heroes at St James's Park.

He was a goal-scoring midfielder whose promise was picked up by Fulham - a top flight side - who offered him an apprenticeship as a 17-year-old.

He went on to play 20 times for his country, and represented England in two World Cups.

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He also played for West Brom, before having a second spell at Craven Cottage. Crucially, he began to pick up experience as a coach while he was still playing.

His first spell as a manager went badly, lasting just 10 months as Fulham boss.

A job came up at Ipswich, who had seen league title success with Sir Alf Ramsey in charge years before, but by then were dawdling in the top division.

He took the club to the heights of the English First Division, but could not match Ramsey's league title.

He came desperately close, made brilliant signings and fashioned the unfancied club into a top name in 1970s football.

After winning the FA Cup in 1978 and the 1981 UEFA Cup, Robson was called upon by the FA to lead England.

He ruffled feathers by dropping captain Kevin Keegan, who only found out from the media.

A creditable performance at the 1986 World Cup, when Maradona's Hand of God goal knocked England out was followed by a poor European Championship two years later.

The pressure was on Robson in the build-up to the 1990 World Cup, when the FA made it known his contract would not be renewed after the tournament.

That decision was made to look rash after he led his team to the semi-finals, when England lost to eventual winners West Germany in a penalty shoot-out.

Robson said rarely a day went by after without him pondering how things could have been different.

Despite calls for him to stay on, he switched to PSV Eindhoven in Holland, where he won the Dutch League.

He fared less well at Sporting Lisbon, but won two successive titles at Porto in 1995 and 1996.

Barcelona called next, and he claimed the Cup Winner's Cup for the Catalan giants, where he nurtured the young Brazilian Ronaldo into the world's best player.

Controversially, Barcelona pushed Robson "upstairs" into the general manager's role, where he was in charge of finding new talent.

A sentimental football man like Robson could not resist when his boyhood heroes came calling to rescue them from a poor start to the season in 1999.

The Toon Army loved Robson, then 66, as one of their own, and he led them to creditable finishes in the Premiership and successful skirmishes in the Champions League.

In 2002 he was knighted after devoting his life to the game.

Question marks were raised about a man of more than 70 bossing some of the bad-boys of English football, but Robson insisted he could handle their egos.

It was a profound shock to him when he was sacked by Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd in August 2004 as the club had just finished fifth in the league the season before.

His final job came 17 months later - 56 years after his apprenticeship at Fulham - - when he was appointed as a consultant to help Steve Staunton manage the Republic of Ireland.

If that role was to end in disappointment, there was much worse to come off the pitch, when the cancer he battled five times came back worse than ever.

In 2007, he was told tumours on his lungs were inoperable, but he decided to fight on in a different way - by putting his heart and soul into fundraising to improve cancer detection.