Sir Bobby - Gone but never forgotten - Part 1
In amongst pulling the mother of all shifts at work, the sad passing of Sir Bobby came on the tv screen in the canteen, revealing the news that the great man had finally slipped away following his 5th battle against cancer.
Despite working in Leeds, what immediately struck me was how people who had showed no interest or acknowledgement of football, especially not with Newcastle, England or Ipswich, reacted. To a man / woman there was a genuine sense of sadness which was particularly surprising. I guess that was what made SBR so special, the fact he transcended the normal interest in football, through his character and his special qualities as a human being.
Trailing back to the 1999-2000 season and we were in one of our usual start of the season messes. Ruud Gullit had spent a lot of money on faceless, nameless foreign mercenaries, isolated our twin towers of Shearer and Ferguson up front and was clearing out stalwarts like Warren Barton and Rob Lee.
Losses to Spurs, Southampton, Villa and then, above all, Sunderland, led to Shearer and co beating a hasty passage to Gullit's door and taking it off it's hinges. Shepherd promptly sacked the Dutchman and two days later, through lovely retrospective glasses, on August 28th 1999 I got the best 18th birthday present I could have wished for. We appointed Sir Bobby following a long road that trailed back to the departure of Keegan in 97.
Originally Hall and Shepherd tried to get Bobby then but, as was the measure of his man, he wouldn't break a contract he had only just signed with Barcelona as he had given them his word. Barca promptly shafted him by giving him a different position but he didn't complain and did a quality job at the Camp Nou. So missed an opporunity to win the title with Keegan's team and Bobby's nous, something I thought would have come eventually.
Having Bobby in was a soother, a comfort. Gone were the surly, charisma-less interviews of Dalglish and the arrogant pronouncements of Gullit. Instead we had understanding of our mentality by one of our own, honesty, warmth and humour. Not only that but results improved dramatically. 8-0 v Sheffield Wednesday in his first home game, 6-1 v Spurs in the cup, 5-0 v Southampton and a famous 3-0 v Man Utd.
Of course Poyet killed us off in the cup semi final which was heartbreaking as Rob Lee's goal saw us score at Wembley for the first time since the 70s, to a noise level you'd be difficult to ever equal. By the end SBR had led us from 2nd bottom to 11th.
Season 2000/01 saw us in the expanded 52,000 seater SJP under the great man. We again flattered to deceive, with the likes of Carl Cort failing to live up to his billing following a serious of injuries. Alan Shearer also suffered badly and missed the season bulk with tendonitus. Highlights were the 2-1 against Liverpool, the double against Leeds. However we were never in trouble and had a period of rebuilding, under which Bobby established which lads he could take into the trenches with him. This was to be crucial to the next two seasons.
Continued in part 2.