He was coming home. Bobby Robson, who had loved Newcastle United since he was a young boy had never previously been able to call St James’ Park home in a professional capacity. But on Sunday 19 September 1999, his first day at the office of his dreams, the legendary manager led the Magpies to an 8-0 win in front of a roaring crowd. It was to be the start of something special.
Robson had attracted the interest of Newcastle when he was a schoolboy player, but having felt as though his hometown club were dragging their heels the 17-year-old Bobby headed to Fulham instead. What followed was a fabulous playing career which lasted 18 years and included 20 caps for England, but it would be in management that he would really make his name.
A sensational spell with little Ipswich Town saw them win both the FA Cup and Uefa Cup before England came knocking. He was eight years a national manager, taking the Three Lions to the 1990 World Cup semi-final in what is still their equal-greatest achievement in a major tournament away from home soil.
Spells with PSV, Sporting CP, Porto and the mighty Barcelona went onto his glittering CV, but there was a little something missing still until his Magpies came calling. A man who so loved the city of Newcastle was about to ensure that the locals loved him every bit as much in return.
Replacing Ruud Gullit after a controversial spell in charge for the Dutchman, Robson took over a team floundering at the foot of the table with only Sheffield Wednesday below them. After a 1-0 loss at Chelsea in his opening game and with just one point to his team’s credit after seven matches, it was Wednesday who arrived at St James’ for Bobby’s homecoming.
The events of that afternoon have become the stuff of legend.
Gary Speed headed home the opener before Alan Shearer got in front of his marker to poke home a second and then buried a penalty for Newcastle’s third. By half-time the England captain had his hat-trick, and at 4-0 Robson’s new side were already home and hosed.
But they weren’t about to let up as the party atmosphere only intensified after the interval. Kieron Dyer headed in from a sitting position as the ball ricocheted around hapless Wednesday’s area, then another Speed header found the net via the inside of the post. Shearer then netted a fourth after Kevin Pressman flapped at Nolberto Solano’s free-kick, and he had five – and Newcastle eight – upon firing home from the spot after Gerald Sibon had felled Paul Robinson.
Their previous home game had ended with a 2-1 defeat to neighbours Sunderland in the pouring rain, with Shearer benched by Gullit in what was to be the former Netherlands star’s final act as manager. But Robson had brought the feel-good factor back.
Newcastle would only lose one more home game in the remainder of the 1999-200 campaign, and they ended the season in a comfortable mid-table position as Shearer bagged 30 goals and Robson showed the people of the city what their club could truly be capable of.
After another 11th placed finish in 2001, they ended up fourth in 2002 and went on to beat the likes of Juventus, Dynamo Kiev and Feyenoord in a memorable Champions League tilt the following season. A Uefa Cup semi-final appearance in 2004 so nearly brought about more European silverware for Robson but after a slow start to the 2004-05 campaign Robson was relieved of his duties.
He might have achieved more much with Ipswich and had the privilege of a lifetime in leading his country, but it was with Newcastle that Robson looked at his most content, and it was fitting that his final public appearance five days before his death in 2009 was at St James’ Park for a charity match in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. The ovation he got that day was as emotional as they come.
Nobody of a Newcastle United persuasion will ever forget what Sir Bobby did for their club, and that homecoming parade 22 years ago is never far from the mind.