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"If You're 2-0 Down At Half Time, What Do You Do?" - Sir Bobby Robson, A North-Eastern King

As we are all more than aware, the Wear-Tyne Derby is hardly the most uniting of events in the footballing calendar. Nerves and animosity usually build up over the preceding week before reaching a shuddering climax; goodwill is not a prevalent feature throughout such times in the north-east.

Truth be told, relations between Sunderland and Newcastle United fans alike are rarely amicable when football rears its head. Daily conversations down the local alehouse can be fairly jovial between Mackems and Mags, until one foolish soul brings up the previous weekend's results, transfer dealings, or, that most famous of bugbears, attendance figures.

Yet, not all things regarding the beautiful game separate red and whites from their black and white counterparts. Over the years the likes of Bob Stokoe, Len Shackleton, Chris Waddle, Paul Bracewell, and many more besides, have successful crossed the divide of a footballing heartland.

But whilst those aforementioned all curried favour through having played for both Sunderland and Newcastle, there is one man who managed to elicit profound respect and admiration on Wearside despite never being associated with the Black Cats during his time in the game.

The end of last month marked two years since the passing of Sir Bobby Robson. Born Robert William Robson in Sacriston, County Durham, in February 1933, the man enjoyed a glittering managerial career before eventually departing peacefully at the age of 76, following a long battle with cancer.

From day one, Robson was, like so many others in the working-class north, an avid follower of football. Though he would ultimately become loved by all and sundry, it is no secret that the man who would eventually manage England had black and white blood running through his veins.

It was understandable, really. He merely followed in the footsteps of the figure who would take him to St James' Park whenever money earned down the coal mines allowed, "My father was a Newcastle supporter all his life. I grew up watching men like Jackie Milburn and Len Shackleton. They were my heroes."

Robson would go on to make it as a professional and, just like his heroes, he played as an inside-forward. Because of his achievements as a manager, his playing career is often overlooked, despite the fact he made well in excess of 600 appearances.

Perhaps his playing career is overlooked in these parts because it was preceded by a shun from his beloved Magpies. As a seventeen year-old, Robson signed professional terms with Fulham. He was seemingly bowled over by the exploits of Bill Dodgin, then manager of the Cottagers, who made a lengthy journey from London to Robson's home to offer the youngster a contract. Meanwhile, Newcastle, in Robson's own words, "made no appreciable effort" to acquire his services.

Almost half a century later, the story could not have been more different. In 1999, with his boyhood club almost begging for his services, Sir Bobby Robson returned home, both spiritually and physically. With an enigmatic Dutchman, Ruud Gullit, carted away from Tyneside following a demoralising loss at home to Sunderland, Robson finally found himself at St James' Park as more than a mere spectator.

He had truly come full circle. Having drawn the curtain on his playing days in 1968, Robson immediately returned to the club that had given him his first break back in 1950. His time as Fulham manager was a sad one though, and he left the club ignominiously following relegation to the Second Division.

From there, though, he made his name one that was synonymous with managerial greatness. Amassing a wealth of trophies in club football, he managed Ipswich Town, PSV Eindhoven (twice), Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona, as well as leading the England national side to two World Cups.

His time at Newcastle, though it would end on poor terms, was one of the club's most successful eras in recent years. He started as he meant to go on, crushing Sheffield Wednesday 8-0 in his opening game in charge. By the time he left his post at the end of August 2004, he had led the black and whites to 4th, 3rd and 5th-placed finishes in the Premier League, as well as two consecutive seasons in the much-lauded Champions League.

Thus, it seems strange that a man so attached to the Tyne became so well loved on the Wear too.

It is true, of course, that he suffered from the mocking Stadium of Light terraces during his time in charge of Sunderland's greatest rivals. But Robson, far from holding this against those in red and white, saw it as the harmless humour that it was. As George Caulkin of The Times wonderfully observed when detailing his own memories of Sir Bobby, 'hate withered inside him; it had no fertile ground on which to grow'.

And perhaps this is why he was so well received throughout the area. Robson was one of those few men who transcended the game of football; he was someone who people saw as far more than a player, or a manager. He was a good man. He was a man who cared deeply about the community in which he grew up in, and cared even more deeply for the people who inhabited it.

One need only look at the example of Paul Gascoigne for proof of Sir Bobby's good character.

'Gazza' as he is affectionately known, found himself burdened with the pressures of a nation in 1990, as Robson's England side sought to eclipse the World Cup winners of 1966.

It wasn't to be, as the Three Lions fell to West Germany in the semi-final stage. Gascoigne's most memorable contribution to the tournament were his famous tears in that match, but it was Robson's nurturing and caring management of his young star that brought out the best in him.

They would go their separate ways following the tournament and, not so coincidentally, Gascoigne's career embarked on a downward slope. The former England midfielder himself noted the impact Robson had had on him, stating "Bobby was like my second dad. I was like a son to him."

Furthermore, Robson was, at least in his later days, a welcome visitor on Wearside. He often found himself in the stands overseeing Sunderland games as a personal guest of chairman Niall Quinn. He became a truly regional man. Having survived a world war and witnessed countless economic hardships in the area, it is of little surprise that Sir Bobby reached a stage whereby he hoped both Black Cats and Magpies alike would experience success. Acknowledging that he was "born into a black-and-white world", he nevertheless became adored by a whole spectrum of footballing colours.

For the final seventeen years of his life, as many know, Sir Bobby was tragically plagued by cancer. It is testament to the man that it took almost two decades for the dreaded disease to finally take him from his family and friends.

When tumours were found in Sir Bobby's lungs in 2007, it was the fifth time this footballing great found himself afflicted with the disease. The first had been in 1992 when, as manager of PSV, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Unfazed by this, Robson defeated what would prove his most relentless foe, and would do so a further three times: in 1995, and then twice more in 2006.

Even following his death in 2009, his legacy lives on.

In March 2008, knowing full well that his disease was terminal this time around, he set up the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. Always humble, he was known to be somewhat embarrassed at having the organisation named in his honour. He questioned why others would wish to give money to him of all people, severely underestimating his profound popularity.

Within just eight months, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation passed the £1 million mark for donations; that figure continues to grow yet larger still.

His eventual passing was mourned not just in and around his home, but across the nation as a whole. The well wishes came from further afield too, with fans from continental Europe acknowledging the successes his efforts brought to their clubs and others. Meanwhile, at both St James' Park and the Stadium of Light, club flags flew at half-mast.

Football to the bone and not shy of a wonderful turn of phrase now and then, perhaps his best came when discussing his final battle in life.

Having boasted to his wife of over fifty years, Elsie, that he had been fit all of his living years, he then laughed at how she "looked at me as if I'm daft" before she reminded him that he'd had cancer on five separate occasions.

"She's right, of course", he said of the exchange. "But it rarely interrupted my work and never detracted from my enjoyment of living. If you're 2-0 down at half-time, what do you do? You look at where the game is going wrong and why and what you're going to do about it."

If you wish to donate to the very worthy Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, their donation webpage can be found here -

George Caulkin's fantastic piece on his own memories of Sir Bobby Robson can be found here.

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