Sir Bobby's charity lives on
Posted: 17 Sep 2009
Robson's choice: the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation lives on to raise cash to battle cancer
At home with the first gentleman of football and the North East's favourite knight
Sir Bobby Robson. Three words that sum up everything any football fan ever felt was good about the game. Certainly, up to 2004 he gave his all to football. He spent 18 years as a player and 35 as a manager with leading European teams such as Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon and PSV Eindhoven under his wing as well as, latterly, Newcastle United. And there was the biggest job of all – England manager from 1982-1990. He devoted his seemingly bottomless energies towards raising money for a cancer charity named after him before succumbing to the disease himself in July. Before his death he talked to Anne Graham about his life, his work, his ambitions, his love for the North East – and his favourite comedian.
Pictures copyright Andrew Smith
AG: What are your plans for your charity?
BR: It’s called The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and it will help provide funds for a centre for the early detection of cancer and clinical trials of new cancer treatments at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to be named The Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre. It’s a brand new unit funded by the NHS which will run it but it urgently needs money to equip it with everything it needs from treatment rooms and a laboratory to beds and furnishings like sofas, chairs, lighting – the lot. It’s there for the benefit of everyone in the region – from Berwick to Middlesbrough.
AG: How will you go about raising the necessary money so quickly?
BR: To start with, I’ve used my contacts within football clubs in the region to secure their help and support. Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough are 100 per cent behind us. There will be branded merchandise to buy and we’ll be looking for donations from individuals and corporate donors and sponsors. There will also be a range of public events to raise money, and I will be hosting private lunches as well. It’s not just me – there’s a whole team behind this with masses of expertise and enthusiasm to make it happen.
AG: You have travelled the world and lived in some wonderful places, and now you’re back in the North East – presumably to stay?
BR: Yes, we’re back home now and it’s wonderful. We left the area 50 years ago and never thought we’d come back because of my job. But I came back to manage the club I had supported since I was a boy – Newcastle United – and we are here to stay. I liked living abroad, especially when we were in Sitges, just outside Barcelona. I saw the sea every day and it was a great place in every way. But there was always the pull of friends and family including our three sons in England. My wife Elsie would say: “When are we going to go back and smell the roses? When will we see the grandchildren?” Well, we did come back, we’re home and it’s the best thing we ever did.
AG: What do you love most about the North East?
BR: This is where I’m from, where I belong. Elsie and I grew up in Langley Park and the place still means so much to us. But it’s the people who make this region. When we have friends to stay they are always impressed by how straight, honest, friendly and warm the people are.
AG: What are your earliest memories?
BR: I remember my early schooldays when I would get back home and play football in the back streets. It was safe then: there were no cars around. When I say football it could be a tennis ball or a piece of coal or flint we would kick around – it didn’t matter to us.
AG: Did you have family holidays as a child?
BR: Yes – we used to go and stay in a guest-house in Whitley Bay. We loved it. And I remember one year – I don’t know how he managed to do this but my dad must have saved up – we all went to Blackpool. I still remember walking down the prom and seeing the tower.
AG: What about your leisure time now? What do you enjoy doing?
BR: I love going to concerts. I recently saw Barbara Dickson at the Sage in Gateshead and I have seen Elton John, Sting, Barry Manilow, Lionel Richie and Neil Diamond up here. A recent favourite is Kim Criswell who sings songs from films backed by a huge band. Absolutely terrific. I also love the theatre – straight plays as well as musicals.
AG: Who or what makes you laugh?
BR: I love anything that brings a smile to my face. I do like comedians. I think my favourite at the moment is Peter Kay. That advert where people dive beautifully into the swimming pool and he just bombs in splashing the judges always makes me laugh.
AG: Is there a skill you would like to have?
BR: Well, if you’re asking about what I would have liked to be if I hadn’t been in football, it would be a night-club singer. I’d love to get up on stage and perform. Frank Sinatra was one of my favourite performers – I’ve seen him several times – and I also saw Nat King Cole. Great stuff.
AG: What is your most treasured possession?
BR: A cut-glass award from the Professional Footballers’ Association. All the clubs I have managed are inscribed on it. I am also proud of the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award.
AG: What is your ‘must have’ luxury?
BR: I can’t think of anything. I have been to many places all over the world, largely because of football, so travel is something I enjoy. Elsie always says that, at least once a week, you should see the sea or a mountain or take a walk in a wood. That’s great therapy and it’s luxury enough for me. A trip to the coast to somewhere like Tynemouth is one of my favourite ways to spend a day.
AG: What is your favourite view in the North East?
BR: Everyone knows and loves the view of Durham Cathedral and Castle as you arrive by train, but my favourite is of Langley Park. If you stand at the top of the hill in Esh and look over the valley you can see everything that formed me. There’s what we used to call the ‘silly steps’ from the village up the hill. There are 109 of them, and I used to run up and down them as a way of training. You can see the house where I grew up, the house where Elsie grew up, my old school, the churchyard where my mother and father are buried. There’s the place where the colliery used to be – where my dad and I worked. There was a pit-heap at one time which seemed like a mountain in those days. Then there’s the building that was King’s Picture House, the cricket pitch where I used to play and the football pitch that got me to Fulham. I love it and I still go up there from time to time to enjoy the view.