England coaching legend Robson, dies

LONDON: Former England and Newcastle manager Bobby Robson died on Friday at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.

Robson, whose first brush with the disease that would ultimately claim him was in 1992, led England to the World Cup semi-finals in 1990 before leaving to manage a host of top European clubs including PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and finally his boyhood team Newcastle.

A statement issued on behalf of his family said: "It is with great sadness that it has been announced today that Sir Bobby Robson has lost his long and courageous battle with cancer.

"He died very peacefully this morning (Friday) at his home in County Durham with his wife and family beside him.

"Sir Bobby's funeral will be private and for family members only.

"A thanksgiving service in celebration of Sir Bobby's life will be held at a later date for his many friends and colleagues.

"Lady Robson and the family would very much appreciate it if their privacy could be respected at this difficult time."

Ipswich opened a book of remembrance for Robson ahead of Friday's friendly with Real Valladolid and a minute's silence was held during training at Newcastle, while the club's St James' Park stadium was opened for fans to lay tributes.

As a mark of respect, flags at the Civic Centre in Newcastle were lowered in tribute, while Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Ipswich all released statements expressing their sympathy to Robson's family and saluting his achievements with their teams.

As a youngster, Robson, born in County Durham, fell in love with football as he travelled with his father Philip and brother Ronnie 20 miles on the bus to watch the Newcastle team of the 1940s, which included the great Jackie Milburn.

Robson, whose father was a miner, had started to learn the same trade when he avoided a career underground by signing for Fulham, aged 17.

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

Robson 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.

His first managerial role came at Fulham, but he made his name during a successful reign at Ipswich from 1969 to 1982.

Under Robson's astute leadership, Ipswich - an unheralded provincial club - became one of the most feared teams in England and their boss earned a reputation as one of the gentleman of British sport.

Ipswich won the FA Cup in 1978, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the final, and enjoyed European glory for the first time in 1981 with victory over Dutch side AZ 67 Alkmaar in the UEFA Cup final.

A year later Robson was appointed England coach and, after missing out on qualification for the 1984 European Championships, he took England to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986.

England's run in Mexico ended in controversial circumstances when Diego Maradona's infamous 'hand of god' goal and a brilliant solo effort handed Robson's team a 2-1 defeat.

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

By the time England reached the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Robson had grown tired of the pressures of the job and revealed he would leave to take charge at PSV after the tournament.

He almost went out on a high as England, inspired by a young Paul Gascoigne, reached the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1966.

A heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany ended Robson's England reign, but he was to enjoy more success for the rest of his career.

With his reputation restored, Robson won the Dutch league twice with PSV, then went 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 Spanish Cup and Cup Winners' Cup success in Europe before he briefly became general manager.

In 1999 he made a romantic return to Newcastle at the age of 66 but was unable to end the club's long wait for silverware.

Robson was knighted in 2002 but two years later Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd sacked him despite a fifth place finish in the Premier League the previous season.

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

Robson was first diagnosed with cancer in 1992 while working in Holland and when he was 62 a malignant tumour was detected in his head.

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

He devoted his time to raising cash for the fight against cancer and launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

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.

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

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