TOMMY ROBSON: A personal tribute to a great player and a great man
They say you should never meet your heroes. I disagree.
The bandy-legged left-winger I loved to watch play for Posh in the early 1970s became a great contact when I took up journalism, and then a good friend.
I loved Tommy Robson the footballer. I adored ‘Sir’ Thomas Robson the man. Tommy was kind, generous, funny, charming, wise and inevitably happy. His stories fizzed with fun. His jokes less so, but everyone in his company laughed anyway. Obviously it was the way he told them and no-one wanted to disappoint Tommy.
Tommy remained active well into his 70s. He was 37 when he finished playing for Posh after 559 appearances - the most in the club’s history and a record never likely to be beaten - and 128 goals - only teammate Jim Hall managed more, many of them created by Tommy’s dazzling wingplay.
After Posh he helped Stamford Town to Wembley. He was still playing in the Peterborough League in his 50s and he would regularly turn out for Chris Turner’s fund-raising legends XI when no-one would dare try and tackle him and everyone would be disappointed if he didn’t take at least one theatrical tumble in the penalty area to try and win a penalty.
Tommy was still smiling when he told me he’d been diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year even though this naturally fit man must have been crying inside.
Typically he vowed to fight it for as long as he could. Only this degenerative illness was a much tougher opponent than the lower division right-backs he used to skip past in his playing pomp. Complications set in after a recent admission to hospital which led to tonight’s awful news.
He’ll get it, but Tommy won’t want mass mourning. He will want to remembered for the laughter he generated, that twinkle in his eye and the joy he delivered starring for the last Posh team to win a title, the 1973-74 Fourth Division champions when he played well enough to named player-of-the-season. We will all surely oblige.
Almost 50 years on Tommy’s popularity hasn’t waned. Just look at social media for the tributes from the plethora of players from a much different era tonight. Tommy was loved and revered. If a second statue to stand alongside the great Chris Turner outside the Posh stadium hasn’t already been discussed I’ll be amazed.
Tommy was born in Gateshead on July 31, 1944. He still spoke with a Geordie twang, but he considered Peterborough to be his home. He lived here for over 50 years after all and worked with dedication as a sales manager for a local newspaper, as a driver for a city garage, as a match summariser for local radio and, naturally, in various roles at Posh including youth team manager and as a tour guide for doubtless starstruck sponsors.
The award of the Freedom of Peterborough was a thrill for Tommy. It was bestowed earlier this year in a virtual ceremony and pride still pumped through Tommy’s body. It was as big a moment as becoming the first inductee to the Posh Hall of Fame in 2008.
Tommy left school at 15 to work as a garage mechanic. His beloved Newcastle United had already told him he would never make the grade as a professional footballer, but within a year he had joined Northampton Town and in 1961 the Cobblers took him on as a pro.
Tommy made his Football League debut the following year aged 17 at London Road against Posh and scored in a 2-0 Northampton win. After assisting Cobblers’ spectacular rise from Fourth Division to First Division he was sold to Chelsea with manager Tommy Docherty sanctioning a £35k transfer, a considerable sum back then.
Tommy’s top-flight career was interrupted first by a bad case of jaundice and then, after a dream move to Newcastle in 1966, a freak gardening accident which left him with a broken foot.
Tommy signed for a Posh team just demoted to the Fourth Division as he was convinced they would rise straight back up. It actually took six years with Tommy among many players galavanised by the arrival of charismatic Noel Cantwell as manager.
A second Posh player-of-the-year prize arrived in the 1977-78 Third Division season when Posh were denied promotion to the second tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history by goal difference despite Tommy’s personal best haul of 14 goals in a season.
Tommy was more than just a great footballer through. He was a great man, loved by all inside and outside the game.
Tommy raised two children, Ian and Anita, and leaves a widow, Helen, a great source of support throughout their marriage, not just in the last few months.
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