Bryan Robson OBE (born 11 January 1957) is an English former football manager and a former player. He is best known for playing in midfield for Manchester United, where he was the longest serving captain in club history. He is the former manager of Sheffield United after being relieved of his first team duties on 14 February. In March 2008, Robson returned to Manchester United as an ambassador for the club.
Robson began his playing career at West Bromwich Albion, before moving on to Manchester United, whom he captained to three FA Cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup. He also won two FA Premiership winners medals.
Towards the end of his playing career he moved into management as player-manager with Middlesbrough. Robson had a good goal-scoring record, tackled and passed well and was also a good header of the ball.He represented England on 90 occasions, making him the sixth most capped England player of all-time, and has the eleventh highest goalscoring tally with 26. Robson captained his country 65 times; only Bobby Moore and Billy Wright have captained England on more occasions. Robson is also known by the nicknames 'Robbo' and 'Captain Marvel'.
Robson began his management career with Middlesbrough in 1994, although he did not retire from playing until 1997. In seven years as Middlesbrough manager, he guided them to three Wembley finals, which they all lost, and earned them promotion to the Premier League on two occasions. He later returned to West Bromwich Albion for two years as manager, helping them become the first top division team in 14 years to avoid relegation after being bottom of the league table on Christmas Day. Less successful have been his short-lived spells as manager of Bradford City and Sheffield United, the former lasting barely six months and ending in relegation from what is now the Football League Championship, and the latter lasting less than a year and seeing his expensively-assembled side fail to challenge for promotion to the Premier League.
Robson was born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, the son of Brian Robson, a long distance lorry-driver, and Maureen Robson. He was the second of four children, after sister Susan and ahead of younger brothers Justin and Gary (also footballers). Robson was brought up in Witton Gilbert until he was six, when the family moved to nearby Chester-le-Street, the town where he was born. As a boy, he supported Newcastle United; his childhood hero was Newcastle forward Wyn Davies. A keen footballer from a young age, he joined the local Cub Scout group purely so that he could play for their football team. Robson attended Birtley South Secondary Modern School, and later, Lord Lawson of Beamish comprehensive school, where he competed for the school in athletics and football. He was captain of both his school football team and the Washington and District team. As a teenager he had trials with Burnley, Coventry City, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.
Robson was in the final academic year of pupils who still had the option of finishing education at the age of 15, and in the summer of 1972, he accepted Albion manager Don Howe's offer of a two-year apprenticeship, worth a wage of £5 per week in the first year and £8 per week in the second year.
Club playing career
West Bromwich Albion
Towards the end of 1973–74, his second season as an apprentice, Robson made his reserve team debut, against Everton reserves at Goodison Park. He signed a professional contract in the summer of 1974, earning £28 per week plus a £250 signing on fee. During 1974–75 he was a regular in Albion's reserve team, but was not selected by Don Howe for the first team. Following Howe's departure with three matches of the season remaining, Robson was called up to the senior team for the first time by caretaker manager Brian Whitehouse. He made his first team debut away at York City on 12 April 1975, helping Albion to a 3–1 victory. In the following game, his home debut, he scored his first goal for the club, in a 2–0 win over Cardiff City, and also scored in the final match of the season away at Nottingham Forest.
During the following season, 1975–76, Robson played only sporadically. He faced stiff competition for midfield places, not least from player-manager Johnny Giles, and was utilised by Giles in various positions, including centre-half, left-back and midfield. Albion finished third in Division Two to win promotion back to the top-flight.
Robson experienced top-flight football for the first time during the 1976–77 season, and began to appear more regularly in the side, although he was still alternating between the positions of left back and his preferred central midfield role. His rapid progress was halted however, when he received the first serious injury of his career. Playing at left back, he broke his left leg in a tackle with Tottenham Hotspur striker Chris Jones. Two months later Robson made his comeback in a reserve game at The Hawthorns, but the original break was refractured in a challenge with Stoke City's Denis Smith. Again he recovered, and returned to the first team in late December. He went on to enjoy a run in the side and scored his first professional hat-trick, in a 4–0 win against Ipswich Town on 16 March 1977. One month later however, he broke his right ankle in a challenge with Manchester City's Dennis Tueart, causing him to pull out of the England under-23 squad following his call-up.
Johnny Giles left Albion at the end of 1976–77. His successor, the club's chief scout and former player Ronnie Allen, picked Robson to replace Giles in central midfield. However Allen himself left mid-way through the season and defender John Wile was put in temporary charge. Results worsened and Robson was dropped from the team. He returned to the side under new boss Ron Atkinson, whom Robson described as "a down-to-earth, fair-minded, regular bloke". Atkinson did leave Robson out of the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Ipswich Town, but recalled him for the latter stages of the league campaign as Albion qualified for the UEFA Cup. In 1978–79 Robson was a key player, starting 41 out of 42 league games and wearing the number 7 shirt on each occasion. He played a major part in Albion finishing third in Division One, their highest league placing for more than 20 years, and reaching the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. The following season was a disappointing one by comparison, with the club finishing only 10th in the league, but Robson's performances in midfield helped to earn him his first full England cap in February 1980. In 1980–81 he scored ten goals in 40 league games to help Albion to a 4th place finish in the First Division.
Ron Atkinson left to take over at Manchester United in June 1981, and speculation mounted that Robson would either follow him to United or join Bob Paisley's Liverpool. Albion offered Robson a new contract worth £1000 per week, but he turned it down and put in a transfer request. His teammate Remi Moses signed for United in September 1981 and Robson followed soon afterwards.
Robson moved to United for a British record transfer fee of £1.5 million on 1 October 1981 and signed the contract on the Old Trafford pitch two days later. The record was not broken for six years, when Liverpool paid £1.9 million for Newcastle striker Peter Beardsley in the summer of 1987. Robson made his United debut on 7 October 1981 in a 1–0 defeat away at Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup. His league debut for his new club came three days later, in a goalless draw against Manchester City at Maine Road. This was his first appearance in the Manchester United number 7 shirt, which he went on to make his own. Robson scored his first goal for United on 7 November 1981 in a 5–1 win over Sunderland at Roker Park. He ended his first season at United with 32 games and five goals. Meanwhile, his England career was flourishing as the World Cup neared; he scored in a 4–0 thrashing of Northern Ireland at Wembley and added a brace in the last warm-up game in Helsinki against Finland.
Robson tore his ankle ligaments during the 1983 League Cup semi-final victory over Arsenal, meaning that he missed the final, which United lost to Liverpool. He regained his fitness in time for the FA Cup semi-final, again against Arsenal, and scored in a 2–1 win. The final against Brighton ended in a 2–2 draw. Robson scored twice in the replay, but declined the chance to complete his hat trick, instead allowing regular penalty taker Arnold Muhren to convert a spot-kick to seal a 4–0 victory and enable Robson to lift his first trophy as United captain. The following season he helped the club enjoy a great run in the Cup Winners Cup. Robson scored twice in the 3–0 quarter-final second leg victory over FC Barcelona at Old Trafford, overturning a 2–0 first leg deficit to progress 3–2 on aggregate. He missed both legs of the semi-final defeat by Juventus due to a hamstring injury, but whilst in Turin for the second leg was given permission by United to speak to Juve regarding a proposed transfer. The move never took place as neither Juventus nor any other club were prepared to meet United's £3 million asking price. Robson instead extended his contract with United in 1984, signing a seven-year deal worth around £1 million. In 1985 he captained the club to another FA Cup triumph, this time over Everton where a Norman Whiteside goal denied their opponents the chance of a unique championship/FA Cup/Cup Winners Cup treble. Robson and United began the following season in fine form with ten successive victories which suggested the championship could be on its way back to Old Trafford for the first time since 1967. But their form slipped after Christmas and they finished the season trophyless in fourth place behind champions Liverpool, runners-up Everton and third-placed West Ham.
Robson remained in favour with his employers after Ron Atkinson was sacked as United manager in November 1986 and replaced by Alex Ferguson. But it was not until 1990 that Robson was to lift another trophy. He scored United's first goal in the FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace in the first match which ended in a 3–3 draw. United won the replay 1–0 and Robson thus became the first United captain to lift the cup three times. Robson's testimonial match took place on 20 November 1990 and saw United lose 3–1 to Celtic at Old Trafford. During 1990–91, he was restricted to 17 league appearances due to injury, but was fit for the European Cup Winners Cup final in which United beat Barcelona 2–1.
Robson was still a regular choice for United during the 1991–92 season despite competition from likes of Paul Ince, Neil Webb and Andrei Kanchelskis. During that season he made his 90th and final appearance for the England team, who by this stage were being managed by Graham Taylor. But the 1991–92 season ended in disappointment for Robson as United were overhauled in the First Division championship race by Leeds. He missed their League Cup final victory over Nottingham Forest through injury and his first-team chances were starting to look increasingly numbered as he faced competition from other players within the United squad and the press reported that Alex Ferguson was hoping to sign a new, younger midfielder.
Robson still captained the club in most of his first-team appearances, but Steve Bruce was captaining the side when Robson was absent.
Robson made just 14 league appearances during the 1992–93 season, which was the first season of the new Premier League. He scored on the final day of the season against Wimbledon - it was his only senior goal of that campaign. By that game United were Premiership champions and Robson finally won the league championship medal that he had been trying to gain since his days at West Bromwich Albion some 15 years earlier. It was not just injuries that were restricting the 36-year-old Robson's first-team chances. Eric Cantona had been signed during the 1992–93 campaign and played up front with Mark Hughes, while Hughes's former strike-partner Brian McClair had been converted into a midfielder. This counted against Robson and the biggest blow came in the summer of 1993 when United signed Nottingham Forest's Roy Keane.
But Robson was still able to make enough appearances for another Premiership champions medal in 1993–94, and scored one of their four goals in the FA Cup semi-final replay victory over Oldham at Maine Road. Unfortunately, he was dropped from the squad for the FA Cup final, a decision which manager Alex Ferguson later admitted was one of the hardest of his career.
Bryan Robson's 13-year spell at Manchester United came to an end after nearly 500 appearances and 99 goals in May 1994 when he accepted the role of player-manager at Middlesbrough. From 1994 to 1996 he combined the role with that of England assistant manager (under Terry Venables), and was linked with the manager's job when Venables announced his intention to quit after Euro 96, only to rule himself out of the running due to his limited experience. He was not included in new manager Glenn Hoddle's coaching staff.
International playing career
In the summer of 1975 Robson was called up to the England youth team for the "mini World Cup". He played as a centre-half during the tournament, which England won, beating Finland 1–0 in the final. He was selected for the England Under-21s for the first time in March 1977, but was withdrawn from the squad by his club West Bromwich Albion, who needed him for a league match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Albion drew 2–2, with Robson scoring one of the goals. On 6 February 1979 he finally made his England under-21 debut, albeit as an overage player (he was 22 at the time) as England beat Wales Under-21s 1–0 at Swansea's Vetch Field. He made his England B debut on 12 June 1979, and scored after just five minutes to give England a 1–0 lead against Austria B in Klagenfurt, although the match was abandoned after 60 minutes. He appeared three times for England B in all, captaining the side on his third and final appearance as England drew 0–0 with Algeria's A team in Algiers on 11 December 1990.
On 6 February 1980 Robson made his full international debut, and his first appearance at Wembley, as England beat the Republic of Ireland 2–0 in a qualifier for that summer's European Championships. His second cap came in the final preparation game for the finals—a 2–1 win over Australia in Sydney—but he didn't feature in the tournament itself, from which England were eliminated in the first round. On 9 September 1981 he marked his 13th cap by scoring his first goal for England, in a 2–1 defeat to Norway in Oslo. The match is remembered mainly for Norwegian commentator Bjørge Lillelien's taunting of England following the final whistle.
England coach Ron Greenwood started to feature Robson regularly in his midfield, selecting him for the first dozen internationals after the European Championships finished, including all eight of the qualifying games for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, through which England earned a place in the finals. Robson was in the record books for 20 years thanks to a goal scored against France in England's opening game of the 1982 World Cup. It came after just 27 seconds of the match - the fastest in World Cup finals history until 2002 when Hakan Şükür scored after ten seconds in the third-place match against South Korea. For Robson's achievement, he received an inscribed gold watch, which he still occasionally wears.
Robson captained England for the first time on 17 November 1982, leading the side to a 3–0 win over Greece in Salonika. He scored a hat-trick in England's 8–0 victory over Turkey in Istanbul on 14 November 1984. Captain Marvel, as he was nicknamed, helped England qualify for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. By now he was considered by England manager Bobby Robson to be the best player in England. However his hopes of glory were crushed by a 2–1 defeat against Argentina in the quarter final. Robson was injured and didn't play in that game; in fact England's improvement in the tournament was connected to the fact that he was injured in a warm-up game, and was never fully fit. Robson re-injured himself in a 0–0 draw in England's second game against Morocco and played no further part in the World Cup that year.
But Robson was faced with more adversity of his own - a shoulder injury which affected him for weeks after the competition. Two years later Robson played well for England at the 1988 European Championship in West Germany but was unable to prevent them from going out in the first phase of the competition, having lost all three of their group games.
Robson was a regular player for England throughout the 1980s and continued his international career until 1991, during which time he played a prominent role in helping England reach the World Cup second round in 1982, the World Cup Quarter Final in 1986, and the European Championship group stages in 1988. His role was limited during the 1990 World Cup because of injury and David Platt took his place during the knock-out stages as England came fourth.
Bryan Robson made a dream start to his managerial career as Middlesbrough won the Division One title and promotion to the Premier League in their final season at Ayresome Park before relocation to the new 35,000-seat Riverside Stadium on the banks of the River Tees. He was assisted by Viv Anderson, another former Manchester United player.
Middlesbrough made an ambitious return to the Premiership and attracted expensively-signed big names like Nick Barmby and the Brazilians Juninho and Branco. They went fourth in the Premiership in October 1995, sparking hopes of UEFA Cup qualification, but an injury crisis severely demoralised the side and they slid down the table to finish 12th.
In 1996–97, Robson led Boro to both domestic cup finals but they lost both, losing 1–0 in a replay to Leicester City in the League Cup Final and 2–0 in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea, while they suffered relegation in the Premier League—which would have been avoided if they had not been deducted three points in mid-season for cancelling a fixture at late notice.
Despite these set backs the board kept faith in Robson and he repaid their loyalty with automatic promotion back to the Premiership in 1997–98. Again the club missed out on cup success at the final hurdle with a 2–0 defeat against Chelsea in the League Cup final.
In November 2000, he criticised his players following a string of poor results which had dragged them into a relegation battle. A month later Middlesbrough brought in Terry Venables as head coach to assist Robson, who remained as manager. Robson left the club "by mutual consent" in June 2001, having failed to bring the club higher than ninth in the league, or to bring them any silverware. His successor was Steve McClaren, the Manchester United assistant manager.
Following the resignation of Mick McCarthy, Robson emerged in January 2003 as the bookmakers' favourite to become the new Republic of Ireland manager, but the job went instead to Brian Kerr. In November 2003 Robson was set to become Nigeria's national coach, but the appointment was blocked by the Nigerian sports minister due to doubts that Robson's wage demands could be met. Later that month, Robson did make his football comeback—more than two years after leaving Middlesbrough—when he accepted the manager's job with Division One strugglers Bradford City. Robson won his first game in charge as Bradford fought back from 2–0 down to beat Millwall 3–2. But he recorded just six more wins as Bradford took only 22 points from 27 games under Robson and were relegated in 23rd position. Robson's short-term contract was not renewed and he handed the reins over to his assistant Colin Todd.
West Bromwich Albion
Bryan Robson's third management job began on 9 November 2004, when he agreed to return to his old club West Bromwich Albion as manager – 23 years after his departure as a player. His first match in charge ended in a 2–1 home defeat to his former club Middlesbrough. A 4–0 loss away to local rivals Birmingham City on 18 December meant that Albion were bottom of the Premiership on Christmas Day, a position from which no team had previously escaped relegation from the Premiership. Robson was the subject of derisory chants from Albion supporters during the game. The team were also bottom going into the last game of the season. However Robson and his players defied all the odds to stay up thanks to a 2–0 home win over Portsmouth on the final day of the season, coupled with favourable results from elsewhere. Despite some significant new signings in the 2005 close season, his team failed to build on this achievement in 2005–06 though, and Albion were relegated with two matches left to play. They had failed to win any of their final 13 Premier League games. Robson left the club "by mutual consent" on 18 September 2006, following a disappointing start to the season with The Baggies in 9th place in the Coca Cola Championship with only three wins from their first eight games.
After his departure from West Brom, Robson spent eight months out of the game. He was interested in becoming the England under-21 team's full-time manager, but the job went instead to Stuart Pearce on a part-time basis.
On 22 May 2007 it was announced at a press conference that Bryan Robson and Brian Kidd would be the new management team at Sheffield United following the resignation of long-serving manager Neil Warnock. His first match in charge was a home match against Colchester United on 11 August in a 2–2 draw. His first win was three days later in a 3–1 win against Chesterfield in the Carling Cup. United subsequently collected nine points in their first 10 league matches, leaving the Blades in 20th place in the Championship and prompting Robson to comment about the situation. After a string of inconsistent results and a 2–0 derby defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, Robson publicly stated that he had lost patience with his players. Following calls for Robson's resignation, Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe gave Robson his public backing and called for patience and unity. Robson has since expressed his disappointment at not having the funds he was expecting to help rebuild the team. After the 0–0 draw at home to Scunthorpe United on 9 February 2008 Robson came under increasing pressure from fans urging the board to sack the manager.  Consequently, Robson was summoned to a meeting in Brussels on 13 February 2008 with club PLC Chairman Kevin McCabe as the club considered its response to the scenes which followed Saturday's draw with Scunthorpe. In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield Robson stated that his team could have won the match with Scunthorpe if they had better support from the fans. After his meeting with McCabe on 14 February he was "relieved of his first-team duties" before later in the day leaving Sheffield United after turning down another role with the club.
Return to Manchester United
In March 2008, 14 years after he had last played for them, Robson returned to Manchester United to work as an ambassador, for an initial period of 12 months. He will work alongside Bobby Charlton to help United 'promote its commercial and charitable aims'.
- Premier League
- Winner (2): 1992–93, 1993–94
- Football League First Division
- Runner-up (2): 1987-88, 1991–92
- FA Cup
- Winner (4): 1983, 1985, 1990, 1994
- Football League Cup
- Winner (1): 1992
- Runner-up (3): 1983, 1991, 1994
- FA Charity Shield
- Winner (3): 1983, 1990, 1993
- Runner-up (1): 1985
- European Cup Winners' Cup
- Winner (1): 1991
- UEFA Super Cup
- Winner (1): 1991
- Football League First Division
- Winner (1): 1994–95
- Runner-up (1): 1997–98
- FA Cup
- Runner-up (1): 1997
- Football League Cup
- Runner-up (1): 1997
Robson was awarded the OBE in the January 1990 New Year's Honours. In 1998 he was named among the list of Football League 100 Legends, and was made an Inaugural Inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his impact on the English game as a player. He was named as one of West Bromwich Albion's 16 greatest players, in a 2004 poll organised as part of the club's 125th anniversary celebrations.
Life outside football
Robson married Denise Brindley on 2 June 1979. The couple have three children: Claire (born 17 September 1980), Charlotte (born 17 June 1982), and Ben (born 2 September 1988). In 2000 he was exposed as having an affair with Sky Sports reporter Claire Tomlinson.
As a player, Robson endorsed products by adidas, and later New Balance
football boots, as well as owning a stake in the Birthdays greeting card chain.
He was the subject of the television programme This Is Your Life in 1985.
Robson has appeared in a number of advertisements, including an appearance in
Carlsberg's 2006 "Best Pub Side" television commercial, where he starred
alongside other former England players.
In 2007 he formed a specialist sports company, Robson Lloyd Consultancy Ltd,
with an aim to build community sports academies with long-lasting benefits for
small Football clubs. His autobiography, entitled Robbo: My Autobiography
was released in May 2006.
References and Notes
Bryan Robson is a James Blunt. Blatant