Sir Bobby Robson and Vancouver
Two weekends ago, on October 22nd, Ipswich Town made the trip to St. James’ Park to play Newcastle United in a Championship match. Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2015-2016 season while Ipswich were last in the top flight for the 2001-2002 season. Ipswich Town haven’t qualified for the promotion playoffs in 11 seasons and of late have been fighting to remain mid-table at the end of the season. Newcastle, at this stage and on paper, are the best side in the Championship this year with a top class manager at the helm in Rafa Benitez. The club look for a quick return to the top flight with loyal support, a solid squad and part of the parachute payment for being relegated on top of the almost £73 million from the Premier League from TV revenue and other payments.
The money from relegation gives Newcastle, and the other recently relegated clubs, either an advantage in their quest to regain a spot in the Premier League or a cushion for a slide into mediocrity. Clubs trying to reach the top level for the first time as well as those, like Ipswich or Leeds, that have been out of the top flight for an extended period have to find resources to compete on the pitch and it isn’t easy. The disparity between spending power is a fact of life at the professional levels and while it doesn’t determine the result it has an impact as was seen in the 3-0 Newcastle win over Ipswich on October 22nd.
I didn’t see the game, I saw a highlight package, but what got me thinking about Newcastle was a piece by Louise Taylor in The Guardian about the manager who links the two clubs: the later Sir Bobby Robson. Sir Bobby had a long and distinguished managerial that included managing Ipswich Town from 1969-1982 before taking the England job from 1982-1990. He spent time managing in the Netherlands at PSV Eindhoven, Portugal with Sporting CP and Porto and Spain with a season at Barcelona. Sir Bobby’s final managerial post was at Newcastle United from 1999-2004.
There is another managerial job for which Sir Bobby was hired but thanks to the vagaries of the league he never actually managed a match and the team was the Vancouver Royals of the fledgling North American Soccer League in 1968. The NASL was the product of a merger between two new, and failing, professional soccer leagues in North America: the United Soccer Association, of which the Vancouver Royal Canadians were a member, and the National Professional Soccer League. The leagues had competed head to head the previous season and it was clear that two soccer leagues couldn’t survive so they merged.
When the merger took place Bobby Robson had been hired to manage the Vancouver Royals but the club’s owner sold a controlling interest to the owners of the San Francisco Golden Gales, a club that folded when the leagues merged. The new owner already had a manager for the Royals and he was a well known icon of the game by the name of Ferenc Puskas. Bobby Robson was given the option of becoming assistant manager to the Hungarian great but turned down the offer and returned to England to manage Fulham. Robson didn’t have much success at Fulham but neither did the Vancouver Royals under Puskas and the club folded after the 1968 season.