Sir Bobby, the gentleman of sport

SIR Bobby Robson was known throughout the world for being a gentleman of British sport.

SIR Bobby Robson was known throughout the world for being a gentleman of British sport.

He was loved for his enthusiasm for the beautiful game and his willingness to share the knowledge he gained over a lifelong love affair with football.

Five times he fought cancer, and after his last diagnosis he devoted his time to raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which kitted out a state-of-the art centre in his beloved Newcastle to fight the disease.

Such was the public's regard for Sir Bobby that the �500,000 needed was raised in just seven weeks. Fans from around the world contributed to what Sir Bobby hoped would be his most lasting legacy. By his 76th birthday, the total was well over �1.2 million.

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His exploits as an England manager, whose 1990 side were the width of a post away from a place in the World Cup final, meant he was the country's most successful national boss since Sir Alf Ramsey.

Before that, his passion and expertise nurtured Ipswich Town into a European force, and after England, the 1990s saw him win trophies in Holland, Portugal and Spain, capturing the hearts of millions more devotees along the way.

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His comic slips of the tongue, and occasional inability to remember players' names correctly, endeared him even more to fans.

Robert William Robson, the son of a County Durham miner, was born in Sacriston on February 18 1933 and grew up in nearby Langley Park, a pit village on the outskirts of Durham City.

He came under football's spell as a youngster, travelling with his father Philip and brother Ronnie 20 miles on the bus to watch the Newcastle United team of the 1940s, which included the great Jackie Milburn.

His own skills with a ball meant he could give up a career underground. Robson, whose father was a miner, had taken an apprenticeship as a pit electrician, but signed forms with Fulham, aged 17.

Through the 1950s and early 1960s he was a top player with the London club and with West Bromwich Albion.

Robson, a goal-scoring midfielder, was the first player to negotiate an "image rights deal" and was paid a fee of three guineas for his photo to appear on cigarette cards.

He won 20 England caps, and took part in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, but eventually lost his place in the team to the young Bobby Moore.

It was as a manager that Robson truly excelled - after an early struggle.

His first job, at Fulham, lasted just 10 months, and in 1969 he took over unfancied Ipswich Town.

There he moulded a side which by the late 1970s was in the top echelons of English and European football, with some of Britain's - and Holland's - best players appearing in the Suffolk side's blue shirts.

They lifted the FA Cup in 1978 beating mighty Arsenal and followed it in 1981 by winning the Uefa Cup. The following year Robson could not resist the FA's call to become England boss.

He caused controversy - and a long-running dispute - with captain Kevin Keegan by promptly dropping him, a decision the player first heard about in the media.

At the Mexico World Cup in 1986, England were beaten by Argentina, and Maradona's infamous "Hand of God' goal.

An unimpressed Robson said: "It wasn't the hand of God, it was the hand of a rascal.'

Four years on and there was yet more heartache for the side which included the greats Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker, Terry Butcher, Chris Waddle and the emerging talent of Paul Gascoigne - dubbed "daft as a brush' by Robson.

He had already announced he would be leaving the job after the tournament, and in the run-up to it there was little expectation of the side doing well.

But a string of decent performances, largely orchestrated by Gascoigne, saw the side reach the semi-finals against arch-rivals West Germany, which England lost on penalties.

With his reputation restored, Robson moved on to PSV Eindhoven in Holland, winning the Dutch league, then on to Sporting Lisbon and Porto in Portugal, where he won more championships.

A move to Barcelona in 1996 was perhaps the biggest job in his club career, and he led them to Cup Winners' Cup success in Europe, before he became general manager in charge of scouring the world for talent.

In 1999 he made a romantic return to Newcastle at the age of 66, and brought the feel-good factor with him.

It was hard to overestimate the warmth which the fans felt for the proud North Easterner, who they knew shared their passion and understood their obsession.

They saw the clear distinction between him and the aloof figure of his predecessor Ruud Gullit, who appeared not to understand the fierce tribal rivalry with Sunderland.

By now he was a respected elder statesman who used his powerful voice within the game. But he was equally at home speaking to local supporters' clubs as the powerbrokers who ran football, and seemed to love nothing more than talking about soccer.

He never lost his enthusiasm, despite managing some of the Premier League's more wayward millionaires, who were considered by many fans to be getting too big for their boots.

He resisted the temptation to believe things were better in his day, graciously saying: "I know there are problems with the football industry but the game itself is better than it has been.

"Players are fitter, stronger, quicker and more skilful.'

Robson was knighted in 2002 - a career highlight for such a proud patriot.

In 2004, Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd said he did not want to be the man who "shot Bambi', but sacked his manager all the same.

The club finished fifth in the Premier League the previous season, and it was a crushing blow for Robson, who said it came second only to the World Cup semi-final defeat as a career low.

His last job in football came in 2006 when he was a consultant to the rookie Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton.

In 2007, during a night of high emotion, British stars gave Sir Bobby a rousing ovation after he was handed BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

It was a fitting tribute to an international footballer who also loved cricket and golf and was a regular visitor to the Wimbledon championship.

By then cancer had put an end to his career in the game - but not to his life in the spotlight.

In his autobiography Farewell But Not Goodbye, he thanked his wife Elsie for saving his life by insisting he had a check-up and described her as "an angel watching over me'.

He was first diagnosed in 1992, aged 59, while working in Holland, when a doctor urged him to have persistent bleeding checked out.

Typically, he was aghast at having to be out of the game for three months when colon cancer was found.

Then in Portugal, a more serious brush with the disease came when he was 62, when a malignant tumour inside his head was detected, despite him feeling in great shape.

A complex operation through the top of his mouth ensued, and he survived to battle on further.

A skiing accident in April 2006 led doctors to spot a shadow on his lung, and a tumour was removed.

Then in August that year, he collapsed during a match at Portland Road, shortly after he was made life president of Ipswich Town, and a brain tumour was found. The subsequent operation removed the growth but a bleed left him paralysed down the left side.

A routine check-up in February 2007 revealed more tumours on his lungs. This time they were inoperable.

He devoted his precious time to raising cash for the fight against cancer.

He launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, with the aim of fitting out a specialist cancer detection centre at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital.

The �500,000 target was quickly met, and two days after his 76th birthday, he officially opened the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Centre.

He used his contacts in football to raise large sums for the foundation, but it was the �5 notes that strangers thrust into his hands that moved him most.

He threw himself into public appearances, despite losing his independence due to his paralysis, and he surely came to realise just how much he was loved. The feeling was mutual, as he remained ever grateful to the public for their support.

He finally admitted cancer was going to kill him, saying: "I have accepted what they have told me and I am determined to make the most of what time I have left.

"I am going to die sooner rather than later.

"But then everyone has to go some time, and I have enjoyed every minute.'

Sir Bobby is survived by his wife Lady Elsie and their three children, Andrew, Paul and Mark.

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