Once more to tread the fields of gold….
Now over to Middlesbrough!
That was the roughly the wording which led up to the announcement, that Villa were Champions on May 2nd 1981. Ipswich had lost, Villa had done it, and despite the anticlimax of getting stuffed at Highbury, joy knew no bounds as Villa cups ranneth over. But it was joy mixed with huge dollops of relief.
The source of that relief, was the knowledge that Ipswich were a bloody good side and on April 4th, they had come to Villa Park and with the aid of a nightmare blunder by big Ken McNaught, it looked, despite the Gary Shaw wonder-goal, like it was Ipswich’s Championship to lose.
All these thoughts drifted through my mind, as I heard the sad news, that Bobby Robson had died today, after an incredibly brave twenty-year fight with the big C.
Bobby was a great manager and a fantastic guy and although many fans will possibly remember, with a trace of resentment, the little mind-games between Robson and Ron Saunders, as they sought to test each other’s bottle, such childish games fade into insignificance, when viewed in the light of history.
Ipswich were terrific, to use a Mon expression, and in a year when Liverpool had a cigar on, and it was a case of now or never for either Villa of Ipswich, it was rather unnerving to tune in and watch the Tractor Boys bang in six every other week. They out-scored Villa; were the darlings of the media and the bookies’ favourites to pip our well-beloved legends.
Well, that is how it felt at the time, even if the league table tells a different story. It seems that Ipswich had a game in hand and as they had scored more goals could have pipped Villa on goal difference. But Villa’s sixty points proved to be enough, as Ipswich must have lost their game in-hand and in the final analysis, the four point difference makes it look more comfortable than it actually felt at the time. Four points, is not even close.
As grudging as a rival’s praise may tend to be, Robson’s Ipswich were obviously the neutral’s pick and the old Maestro’s introduction of Muhren and his Dutch pal Frans Thijssen into English football, seemed quite an innovation at the time.
To say that Ipswich were a footballing side, is not to say that Villa were not but it certainly looked like it was Saunders preference for power, which got them over the line, while Ipswich faded.
Robson was also at the heart of another fabulous claret and blue moment, when he was in charge of England, on that day when David Platt scored his wonder-goal in the last seconds, against Belgium in 1990 World Cup. Just as Robson gave John Barnes his first England cap back in 1983, so he gave Platt his first start when he played for an unfashionable club called Villa. Despite the hype surrounding ‘daft as a brush’ Gascoigne, many argue that Platt was the best England player in that World Cup. No one will forget that little dance Bobby did, after Platt’s swivelling volley hit the back of the net.
It was just pure England magic and moments like that will live with me for ever.
That tournament ended in typical Germanic tragic style, just as it did six years later in Euro 96, with penalties and English tears.
For his suffering at the hands of the Germans alone, Bobby deserved a knighthood. But he was also the second, all-time, most successful England manager after Sir Alf.
Not surprisingly, in the furnace of suffering which surrounds the England team, its hard to fully appreciate the manager because performance is always measured in degrees of failure. So it wasn’t until Bobby moved on after the 1990 World Cup that I really started to appreciate, just how good he was.
In his maturity he showed a tremendous amount of pragmatism and his much maligned game-plan of ‘give it to Ronaldo’ made the twenty-year-old the most valued striker in the world, as the kid notched 34 goals in 37 games, and Barcelona enjoyed a silverware bonanza, while Robson himself got awarded European Manager Of The Year.
His double-act with Jose Mourino is always impossible to imagine.
On his return to Newcastle, he showed his pragmatic side once again, as he surrounded Shearer with pace, which converted a player Gullit had more or less written-off, after his ankle injury in 1997, into a fine asset. The result of this pragmatism was 30 goals for Shearer in 1999-2000 and a few more England caps, than Shearer probably deserved.
Of course, his reward for transforming Newcastle was to be treated badly and as Shearer’s finding out right now, working for a club you love, always invites people to assume you’ll do it for less than the market-rate, or put up with shoddy treatment. And no one can have any doubt that the day Robson left Newcastle, their present decline began.
In the meantime, there will be a few ancient and creaking football monuments, who support West Brom, who might even remember Bobby as a player, where he first became mates with Don Howe. Back in the Fifties, when the Albion were a good side.
I make no apologies to Villa fans for dedicating this week’s waffle to Sir Bobby because his career in football represents the whole of my own football life, the highs, the lows, and the deaths. You never know what you’ve got until its gone.
Sir Bobby Robson 1933-2009, Ronaldo’s footballing Granddad and a hero for a whole generation.
Once more to tread the fields of gold.