A WHO’S Who of football came together yesterday to give thanks for the life of one of the game’s best-loved figures.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, England coach Fabio Capello and football legend Bobby Charlton were among the 1,000 guests who filled Durham’s magnificent Norman cathedral to pay tribute to Bobby Robson.
Former England players including Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce also attended the memorial service, held seven weeks after Robson died aged 76 at home in nearby Langley Park.
Lineker, who played in Bobby’s Italia 90 England World Cup side, praised his “hugely supportive and fiercely loyal” former coach, telling the congregation: “Sir Bobby Robson, we will miss you but we will never, ever forget you.”
One of Robson’s other great triumphs away from football – helping to raise about £1.8 million (€2m) for his foundation which funds research into the early detection of cancer – was represented by his oncologist, Dr Ruth Plummer, who recruited him to raise money.
The service, broadcast live on television, was beamed to the grounds of Ipswich Town, where Robson brought incredible European and FA Cup success, and Newcastle United, where he restored belief and Geordie pride when he returned in 1999.
Fans gathered to watch the service on big screens at the grounds, while entry to Durham Cathedral was restricted to guests only.
Locals thronged the winding medieval approach to the cathedral before the event, hoping for a glimpse of some of football’s biggest names.
Before the event, Lineker admitted he would be nervous speaking about his mentor’s time as England boss.
He said: “I will be nervous because I won’t want to let him or his family down. I could probably do with one of his famous pep talks beforehand.”
Robson fought cancer five times and devoted his final years to helping others with the disease.
Such was the affection felt for a genuine football man, his target of raising £500,000 was met in just eight weeks.
In February, he was proud to officially open a cancer trials centre at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, and he said then that he wanted that to be his legacy.
Other guests included managers Sam Allardyce, Mick McCarthy and Terry Venables, and Geordie showbusiness duo Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly.
England and Newcastle star Peter Beardsley said as he arrived for the service: “Sir Bobby was one of the greatest football men of all time.”
Ipswich manager Roy Keane walked alone into the cathedral before the service.
Alex Ferguson said Robson never forgot his roots in the north-east.
He told the congregation: “He never forgot that. He always knew his roots.
“Fantastic that he would do that, not to change his entire life. It’s a great talent that, not to change, to be the same person.”
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