The worlds of sport and politics came together yesterday to pay tribute to football legend Sir Bobby Robson who died after a long battle with cancer. He was 76.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sir Bobby would be “sorely missed”, while tributes poured in from across the footballing world.
Former England and Newcastle United skipper Alan Shearer said Sir Bobby was a “great man” — and praised him for saving his career.
The Prime Minister said: “His passion, patriotism, dedication and professionalism knew no equal during his time both as a player and a manager.
“Over the past few years he fought cancer with his characteristic tenacity and good humour.
“He will be sorely missed — not only in Newcastle and Ipswich, both of whom he served with such devotion, but by all sports fans in our country.”
Sir Bobby's last public appearance was just five days ago when he was given a rapturous welcome from 33,000 fans at St James' Park to pay tribute to the legend and raise funds for his cancer charity.
Before the kick-off a guard of honour gave fans and players a chance to show him their appreciation. He then shook the hand of every player.
Proceeds from the match went towards The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, launched in March 2008.
The foundation has raised more than £1.3m to fight cancer.
“Sunday was a fitting tribute to him and he will be sadly missed by everyone, not just by people in the football world but from all walks of life,” Alan Shearer said.
“Bobby was a people's man. He could get on with anybody no matter what age they were and that says a lot about the kind of man he was and why he was so highly thought of.
“He was a winner, a battler and a fighter and he fought until the very last.” Newcastle United managing director Derek Llambias said: “Sir Bobby was one of the game's true footballing legends, a unique, passionate man who gave so much to the game.”
The club said that St James' Park would be opened up over the weekend for supporters to lay tributes to Sir Bobby.
United players and staff — upon hearing the news — held a minute's silence at the training ground yesterday morning.
As a mark of respect, flags at the Civic Centre in Newcastle were lowered in tribute.
Mike Cookson, lord mayor of Newcastle, said: “He was the North East's foremost ambassador who never missed an opportunity to promote the region and his beloved Newcastle United, which he took to new heights in Europe.
“He was made a freeman of the city in 2005 and was probably the region's most loved famous son. In footballing terms, he was a giant and a thoroughly nice man who always had time for everyone he met.
“His memory will live on through his Foundation, which will continue to save lives.”
Scotland manager George Burley, who played under Sir Bobby at Ipswich, described him as “an extraordinary man and an incredible football manager”.
He said: “Not only did he manage my career from the age of 15 when I signed for him at Ipswich, he also had a huge influence on my life.
“He brought me up as a person and I have always considered him to be a second father.
“Wherever he went he took with him a passion and enthusiasm for the game and was renowned the world over as a wonderful ambassador for football.
“He was a huge inspiration to me as a player and he continued to be a mentor to me throughout my managerial career.”
Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers’ Association, of which Sir Bobby was a life vice-president, said: “I know not one person who, having met and worked with him, did not come to like, admire, even love him.”
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson revealed his admiration for Sir Bobby.
He said: “In my 23 years working in England, there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson.
“I mourn the passing of a great friend, a wonderful individual, a tremendous football man and somebody with passion and knowledge of the game that was unsurpassed.
“His parents instilled in him the discipline and standards which forged the character of a genuinely colossal human being.”
Jose Mourinho, who worked with Sir Bobby for five years at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona, said the man who helped his career in the footballing world would never be forgotten.
He admitted he had found it too hard to speak to his mentor in the last stages of his illness and said: “It is difficult to accept such a person is no longer with us, but he is immortal because he leaves in everybody who knows him a mark of his personality — a great coach but, more than that, a great person.”