FOR Newcastle United, it is a game that could have a major impact on their attempts to secure an immediate return to the Premier League. For their opponents, Ipswich Town, it is an opportunity to mathematically guarantee their continued presence in the Championship next season.
For the family of a man intrinsically associated with both clubs, however, it is a reminder of a life that helped shape English football.
Today’s game at Portman Road has been designated as ‘Sir Bobby Robson Day’ to honour the memory of a footballing legend whose heart was always focused on Newcastle, but whose greatest achievements came at the helm of Ipswich.
Both sets of players will wear T-shirts which will be auctioned in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Ipswich’s Academy Association, there will be a signing session before the game featuring former players from both clubs, and Sir Bobby’s wife, Lady Elsie Robson, will be the guest of honour along with other members of the Robson family.
Rafael Benitez and his players will understandably be focused on events on the pitch, with Newcastle needing seven points from their final four matches to guarantee a top-two finish. Away from the field of play, though, it promises to be an emotional occasion no matter what the result.
“It’s a lovely idea, and we are all looking forward to it,” said Sir Bobby’s son, Mark. “There is obviously a close affinity between dad and the two clubs, and as many members of the family that can get to Ipswich on the day, will be there.”
From a Newcastle perspective, it is easy to monopolise Robson’s memory because of his North-East roots. He is every bit as cherished in Suffolk though, as evidenced by the statue that stands outside Portman Road.
Robson’s achievements as Ipswich boss do not get the credit they deserve, perhaps because he is better remembered for his subsequent achievements in charge of England. Yet his spell at Portman Road deserves to be regarded alongside Brian Clough’s time at Derby and Nottingham Forest, Don Revie’s spell in charge of Leeds or Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United.
After taking over at Ipswich in 1969, Robson’s 13-year reign saw him claim two runner-up finishes in the First Division and also win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, achievements that were previously regarded as impossible achievements for such a provincial club.
“What he did in the game stands up to anybody, with the players he had and the size of the club at Ipswich,” said former striker Trevor Whymark, who spent a decade playing under Robson at Portman Road, and was part of the squad that won the FA Cup in 1978. “Look at what he achieved – winning the FA Cup final and getting us into Europe three years running, all on a very tight budget.
“The one thing that has always stood out for me was how he was very astute in the transfer market. He signed me up on my 19th birthday in 1969, along with Clive Woods, and there were several of us from the youth system who went on to play in the first team.
“He had that aura about him, and an intelligence where he could talk to anybody and hit it off with them. He was a great football man, a great family man and very affectionate.”
After leaving Ipswich in 1982, Robson went on to manage England, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona before finally taking over at his beloved Newcastle in 1999.
His time on Tyneside might not have been laden with trophies, but it is fondly remembered by all who experienced it, including one player who will be involved in the Ipswich ranks this afternoon.
Steven Taylor will not feature in today’s game because of a hamstring injury, but he made his senior Newcastle debut under Robson and feels fortunate to have spent some time playing under such an iconic figure.
“There’s really only one word to describe the man – legend,” said Taylor. “He was a father figure, and it was amazing for me to work with such a legend.
“He is respected all over the world – he had that bit about him. There were times you could be fuming and you’d go into his office, you’d come out and he has his arm around you, and you don’t know how he has done it.
“The way he dealt with his players, it was a unique tool that he had. You don’t really see that much (now) in management, it was old-school. There was something special, a great talent.”