The 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich squad featuring Mick Mills, John Wark, Kevin Beattie, David Geddis
Sir Bobby Robson will be missed by all who followed the game but never more so than fans of Ipswich Town, home of the Tractor Boys. Under Roy Keane, they are hoping to recreate the magic that Robson brought to them when he became their manager in 1969.
His exploits culminated in the Tractor Boys winning the 1981 UEFA Cup when Paul Mariner, Frans Thiessen, and John Wark, three of Robson’s stalwarts shone against AZ Alkmaar winning the match on a 5-4 aggregate. It also saw a young Terry Butcher who was to become part of Robson’s 1986 and 1990 World Cup squads.
Wark remembers his first match and the kindness of his manager that endeared so many generations of players to Robson.
“My debut was in the quarter-final of the FA Cup against the Leeds team of Giles and Bremner. He [Robson] said, ‘I wouldn’t put you in the team if I didn’t think you were good enough’. He was a father figure as well because I was homesick. If it hadn’t been for the boss I would have been straight back to Glasgow.”
It is easy to see why he commandeered such extraordinary loyalty. Terry Butcher captures that feeling in blunter words.
“You feel like you are going to go through a brick wall for him. You want to do things beyond the normal for Bobby Robson.”
Robson’s devotion to developing youth players through the club ranks became a template for Ipswich’s success.
Kevin Beattie was a teenager when Robson discovered the right back and his raw talent. Robson nurtured “The Diamond” as he was called and his influence on the successful Ipswich squads of the 1970s saw him being compared to Bobby Moore and Duncan Edwards before his career was cut short by injuries. In 1978, an underdog Ipswich team won the FA Cup beating Arsenal boasting the likes of Pat Jennings, Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, and Malcolm McDonald. The Tractor Boys played attacking and fluid football which saw them overrun the Gunners. It was a move orchestrated by David Geddis just when Ipswich were wondering what was needed to win the match that led to Roger Osborne’s 77′ winner. In a 2006 interview, David Geddis recalls the success of Robson’s youth policy.
“Most of the young players that were put through the youth programme at Ipswich were given opportunities very early in their career if they showed good progress and ability. For example, the reserve team striker would step in when the first team forward was injured. There was no shuffling of players. So you always knew if you were doing well then you’d be given a chance and that was important as a young player.”
Paul Wark in his tribute also mentions Robson’s role as a benefactor to the young.
“He also loved to see youth team players come through the ranks. It made him extremely proud and when we met at his home this year he rhymed off the names of all the kids he turned into proper footballers. There are a lot of us who owe him a great deal.”
Robson’s acumen with young players at Ipswich was a springboard to his successful stint with the national squad saw England achieve a semifinal position in the 1990 World Cup. A generation of players like Gary Lineker, Gary Stevens, Paul Parker, David Platt, Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes all flourished under him. In Europe, Robson was known as the manager who introduced O Fenômeno to the world. In 1996 a dazzling Ronaldo took Barca to the top and Robson himself was voted as European Manager of the year. Once again it was his personal touch that brought out the best in Ronaldo.
“To play for Barcelona at 20 is not easy. Winning and scoring goals bring their own pressures and Bobby Robson showed me how to deal with all of this in my career.”
Ronaldo acknowledged him “as a trainer without doubt [Robson] is one of the greatest in the world”.
Robson’s kindness and generosity as a friend and mentor to young players was an extraordinary quality. It will be sorely missed. I think this Kevin Beattie recollection captures the essence of the man:
“The club rules were that each player had to wear a collar and tie when we travelled to a match. Mr Robson realised I had a problem and that is why he and coach Cyril Lea each gave me a shirt and a couple of ties for good measure.”
Kevin Beattie on how Robson helped him out when he was a penniless youngster on his arrival at Ipswich (The Beat, published in 1998).