The final whistle: A biography of Sir Bobby Robson. Part Three – England Manager.

Posted on August 17th, 2009 | 6 Comments |

<< Part Two – Coming soon: Part Four >>

Bobby Robson: England Manager.

Sir Bobby: Always in the eye of the media.
Sir Bobby: Always in the eye of the media.
“Managing England was very different to managing a club. For one thing, it took me two years to adjust to the job. It was lonely. You didn’t see your players for months sometimes and then the chance you had for any coaching work with them was almost non-existent.” Sir Bobby Robson – ‘Farewell but not Goodbye’ 2005.

Robson’s long reign as England manager was an eventful one with many great moments, some great runs, a few disappointing patches (inevitably followed by huge vitriol from the press), often followed by inspirational tactical switches and salvation. But, alas, it always seemed to be bad lack that got Bobby in the end, whether it was ‘divine intervention’ on behalf of Diego Maradona, disallowed goals or Oscar winning acting performances (and slightly better penalty taking it must be said) from the Germans. Though Bobby himself was far too much of a gentleman to condemn the great Franz Beckenbauer’s supreme gamesmanship, he wasn’t above criticising Maradona when he questioned the role of God’s hand in that famous goal of 1986:

“It wasn’t the hand of God. It was the hand of a rascal. God had nothing to do with it… That day, Maradona was diminished in my eyes forever.”

Injuries played their role to a significant degree too, these were the days before league matches were postponed for Internationals. Bobby recalled later:

“What nobody remembers now is that I was manager of England in the days before league matches were postponed so we could have only three days to prepare for our matches. Some Mondays before a Wednesday match I had only eight fit players and most of them had knocks and bruises.”

Immediate controversy,

Robson at work with Don Howe, 1982.
Robson at work with Don Howe, 1982.
Back in the summer of 1982 though, it was said in many quarters that the FA didn’t select Brian Clough for the position as he was such a controversial character, however fearless Bobby proved that he was no slouch in this department either by dropping Kevin Keegan in his first match in charge against Denmark. It was a 2-2 draw European Championship preliminary rounds. Bobby was to experience rage at the decision, not least on Tyneside where Geordies were already completely mesmerised by the bubble permed ‘Mighty Mouse’, but this was only the start…

It wasn’t helped by the following game, a friendly defeat to West Germany at home. After that however, came a run of no less than 13 games unbeaten. But this was to count for little, as the Danes re-entered Robson’s life in a tragedy worthy of Hamlet, when they booted England out of the European Championship finals with a 1-0 victory at Wembley on 21st September 1983. The victory was the result of a highly dubious penalty, given agaist Phil Neal for an alleged handball. It turned out to be Robson’s only defeat in a total of 28 qualifting matches. The press’s vitriol factory was up to full production now, and Robson went so far as to tender his own resignation, however it was rejected by the then chairman of the FA, Bert Millichip. Many speculated that the FA’s fear of their ‘Prince of Darkness’, Brian Clough, was a big factor in keeping Bobby in what was now becoming a very hot seat indeed. One highlight later in this period though (in 1984) was a great victory, albeit a friendly, agains Brazil at the Maracana stadium. England played magnicently, showing glimpses of a very bright future. John Barnes scored one of the most spectular goals ever seen by an English player, which wowed even the Brazilian crowd with it’s dazzling skill.

Bobby Robson’s boys grow up in the Maracana >>

Mexico ’86 and the ‘Hand of God’

Hand of a rascal...
Hand of a rascal...
Bobby qualified for the ’86 World Cup in Mexico, with some spectactucular victories, including an 8-0 victory against Turkey in Istanbul, combined with a few less spectalular draws against teams he would have been expected to beat. Bobby later outlined another problem he faced at the time which could have made all the difference in some matches.

“Also, for five years when I was manager our best teams were all banned from Europe so the players weren’t getting international experience. It was a disaster for English football. Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal . . . not one of them could play in Europe which made it all the harder for their players when it came to England matches.

“In all that time only Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis and Mark Hateley had any international experience because they were actually playing abroad.

“Of course we had application and commitment and enthusiasm but you need something more if you’re going to compete with the best internationally.”

England struggled initially, and for a while the shoulder of Bobby’s captain, namesake and fellow County Durham man, Bryan, held the nation in it’s thrall. ‘Robson’s Shoulder’ was the Beckham metatarsal of it’s day. A one-nil defeat to Portugal was swiftly followed by a highly disappointing bore draw with Morocco, and things had to change. They did. In the next game against Poland, jug-eared hitman, Gary Lineker, cracked off three goals in the first half. England were through (just) with a mere three points, and the team were working as a unit again.

It was two more for Lineker in the next game, with his right hand man, the masterful Peter Beardsley chipping in as well.

Quarter Final with Argentina

Bobby waves to the England fans at the Azteca.
Bobby waves to the England fans at the Azteca.
But of course, it is the next game that is most remembered, the Quarter Final with Argentina. It was an incredibly difficult tie. Maradona was on a high, both literally and metaphorically as it turned out, and he was all over the place, striking black terror into the English defence. England held out well, until the 55th minute when Maradona openenly punched the ball past England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, into the net. Virtually everyone close to the pitch could see it, apart from the referee, who beleived that a 5′ 5″ Maradona could beat an over six foot goalkeeper (Peter Shilton) in the air without using his hands.

Maradona later wrote of that infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal in his modestly titled autobiography, ‘El Diego: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Footballer’:

“We blamed the English players for everything that happened, for all the suffering of the Argentine people … Before the match we said football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war. But we knew a lot of Argentine kids died, shot down like little birds. This was revenge.”

The second goal also passed into folklore too, as an Ephedrine fuelled Maradona whizzed through a selection of wilting English players baked half to death in the relentless Mexican sun. It was subsequently voted as FIFA’s ‘World Cup Goal of the Century.

A match report of the time, from the Times’s Stuart Jones describes it thus:

“Maradona, accelerating as swiftly as a bird on the wing, swayed and swerved his way past Sansom, Butcher, Fenwick and finally Shilton with effortless ease. With a nonchalant prod, he claimed not only the individual goal of the competition so far but he also ended England’s journey towards the last four. “

full match report >>

England rallied however. An inspired double subsitution, bringing on Barnes and Watford, led to an increased impetus, and Barnes helped the ever reliable Lineker to poke in an opportunistic goal. They almost added an equaliser in the dying moments too. It was not to be however. Argentina, the eventual winners, were simply too strong to overcome in the Mexican heat after the early handicap.

<< Part Two – Coming soon: Part Four >>

NUFCBlog Author: workyticket workyticket has written 1093 articles on this blog.

Related Posts:

6 Responses

  1. Is that Cornelius off planet of the apes?
    Wow a typing monkey how futuristic :lol:

  2. sirjasontoon says:
    March 25, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    “It’s Bobby Robson not Boris Yeltsin you Dong.”

    Just some Russkies who keep slipping through the spam net, Jason, and always on this post. All gone now until the next time.