For three years we have witnessed him at St. James’ Park, elbow resting almost jauntily against the dugout roof, history and passion at one with dignity. This is the demeanour of a man, searching for the football moment of pure joy and liberation, when heaven smiles and the gods of football shine down upon St. James Park.
But on a sombre Saturday, after an untimely Champions League elimination, the knight’s hair looked whiter, the wrinkles etched more deeply, the Robson sparkle absent.
For the hero, bleeding black and white blood, the sight of some of his expensive acquisitions refusing to accept responsibility in the crucial penalty shootout against Partizan Belgrade, leaving him in no doubt that that they would not carry the can for failure, was almost too much for him to bear.
Failure Was Not An Option
It had become clear on that European Wednesday, that failure was not an option. Which brings with it pressure. Positive and negative. The positive liberates the best to demonstrate their greatness. The negative shackles talent and creates a destructive blame culture. Classic sports psychology.
How else can you explain Shearer’s penalty soaring yards over the cross bar. Not even close. This from the one man you would expect to shoulder the burden. If the leader of the cause couldn’t handle the pressure then what price the others?
Yet it is simply another saga in the Newcastle history of self-sabotage. Will the Magpies ever dine at football’s top table? Will it always be thus?
The Golden Triangle
Newcastle. The city where football is religion. The Golden Triangle between the city, the team and the crowd. It’s the relationship that Shankly created at Liverpool where the team represents the dreams of the crowd, who embody the spirit of the city. Working class heroes have plenty to lose.
Shankly and his boot room kept the dream pure and attracted sustained success. But at Newcastle there lurks a cocktail of unsettlement that is antagonistic to this level of achievement.
Whether it be Hall and Shepherd transgressing; loyal fans forced to take the profiteering club to court; after-midnight misdemeanours from over-monied callow young players: ghosts forever stirring in the Tyneside corridors.
For Robson the trauma of Black Wednesday is no new experience. World Cup 1990 will be seared in his memory. Why can’t his teams translate their stylish excellence into tangible success at the game’s pivotal moments? Can it be traced in any way to his emotional assembly?
Robson, fuelled by passion and enthusiasm absorbs the dreams, the needs and desire of the crowd and transmits them to his players. He wants them to be connected to him like a child to a mother’s umbilical cord and to feel what he feels.
When the pressure gets to him he wants to absorb it, but also to allow some of it to get to them. It is this paradox which he cannot quite come to terms with.
He finds some of the attitudes of wealth laden modern players incomprehensible. Being asked to drive the team coach, setting off for an away match, back to the ground so that one of his stars could pick up his earring; seeing them arrive in their Ferraris and Porches; dealing with bloodsucking agents.
Sports Psychology Summation
It is as if he is riddled by a sense of insecurity that will always prevent him from landing the game’s biggest prizes. When the pressure builds the doubt manifests itself.
Alex Ferguson and the real managerial galacticos surf this emotional pressure wave. Robson seems to become engulfed in it.
He has given much to the game, but will the game reward him with its biggest prizes. Unless he can overcome some supreme obstacles, age and the odds are firmly against it.