Four years ago yesterday marked the day when a Fulham legend passed away. Sir Bobby Robson was a player at Fulham for 11 seasons in total and spent 10 months in charge as Manager before going on to find great success with Ipswich Town, Newcastle United and England. Sir Bobby sadly died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer – he will always remain a legend in SW6.
A 17-year-old Robson was first persuaded to join the Club in 1950 after a personal visit from the then-Fulham manager, Bill Dodgin, which made him sure that his future lay in London. In his book ‘Against The Odds’ in 1990, Robson wrote: “I had to make a decision and I became a full-time footballer with the happy-go-lucky London club, their kindly Manager and comedian Chairman Tommy Trinder... In terms of my England future, it was at Craven Cottage that I became interested in coaching.”
A reported offer of £7-a-week ensured that he was well cared for and killed off any remaining interest from Middlesbrough or Newcastle, but Robson’s father, Phillip, was unsure whether his fourth son would be able to make a wage in football so insisted that Bobby study electrical engineering whilst playing for the Club at the same time.
On Saturday 7th April 1951, after learning his trade in the reserves, inside-forward Robson, who was known for his powerful right foot and strong aerial ability, was given his big chance. “Fulham introduce Bobby Robson, 18, to First Division football for the first time in the match against Sheffield Wednesday,” read a report in the Daily Mirror. “Mr Bill Dodgin, Fulham’s Manager, said: ‘Robson’s form for the reserves had already more than repaid us for the struggle it took to get him. As [Johnny] Campbell is injured and [Bobby] Brennan wants a game in the reserves, we decided to give him a trial at inside-left at Hillsborough.”
Robson’s first game was a 2-2 draw, with goals from Bob Thomas and Jimmy Bowie, but he did not feature again for the First Team that season. When 1951/52 rolled around, he was made to wait for his chance again and was picked for the game away against Newcastle in September – a 1-0 win. That season he made 16 appearances and scored three goals, two of them coming in the final three games when, sadly, it was not enough to keep them from relegation.
Hopes for him were high, however. Just before the final, meaningless, game of the season, The Daily Mirror’s George Harley wrote: “Fulham can face the Second Division with greater confidence: they will meet few defences able to cope with such brilliant forwards as [Charlie] Mitten and the young Bobby Robson. They will, I think, emulate Sheffield Wednesday by sweeping to promotion in a single season.”
Alas it was not to be, as we finished eighth in 1952/53, although Robson was now a fully fledged First Team regular and scored 19 goals in 35 games alongside Bedford Jezzard (who bagged 35 in 42). The following season, 13 goals in 33 saw Robson continue where he left off but another eighth placed finish saw the end of Dodgin’s reign and the arrival of Frank Osborne.
Arguably Robson’s finest individual season in a Fulham shirt came in 1954/55 when his 23 goals in 42 appearances saw him play in every single game of the campaign. It was an odd year, however, as we started brilliantly with 10 wins from the first 15 games, but then inexplicably dropped to 14th place at the end of the season after failing to win more than two of our last 19. Robson was in fine form though, and, alongside Jezzard and Johnny Haynes, the trio netted 54 of the 76 league goals between them.
The following season proved to be Robson’s last in his first spell. His 10 goals in 25 games helped, but another change of Manager – as Osborne was replaced by Dugald Livingstone – showed that it was not a good time and we finished ninth. When West Bromwich Albion, and manager Vic Buckingham, came calling with an offer of £25,000 in March 1956, it was too good to refuse and he moved to the Midlands to challenge for trophies; converting to wing-half and making strides on the international scene with England.
In 1962/63, Robson returned to the Cottage for five more seasons where he would eventually move onto the path of management. But by then he had already made his mark on the Club he would forever hold close to his heart.