Bryan Robson 1981-1994 461 Games 97 Goals
Written by: Robi Prosser
Bryan Robson was a leader of the highest calibre, he started his career at West Bromwich Albion in 1972, accepting an offer of a two-year apprenticeship, his weekly wage was just £5 per week in the first year and £8 per week for the second year, as Robson turned 17 he was starting to make a name for himself in the reserve team at West Brom and was subsequently offered a his first professional contract in 1974, the contract on offer included a significant pay rise to £28 per week and a £250 signing on fee. During the next season Robson was playing week in week out for the reserves but for some reason manager Don Howe would not give him his chance to play in the first team, however when Don Howe departed the managers position at West Brom Robson was called up to the first team squad immediately by caretaker manager Brian Whitehouse. He made is debut for with only 3 games remaining of the season and he impressed enough on his first games to play in all three also scoring two.
During the 1975-76 season Bryan struggled to get into the team and was forced to play out of position at left back or center back due to competition for places in the center of the park, his main challenger for the place in the central midfield spot was none other than player-manager and former Manchester United player Johnny Giles, Robson played 16 games during the season and West Brom gained promotion back to the First Division, the 1976-77 season proved to be an absolute nightmare for Robson although he was playing in the first team more he was still playing out of position at left back more often than he would have liked, it was while playing at left back his nightmare began when he broke his left leg which kept him out of the side for the best part of two months, worse was to come in his comeback game Robson fractured his leg in the same place he broke it two months earlier, again Robson made a comeback and after a good run in the side he scored his first professional hat-trick, but the joy was short-lived as the injury troubles struck again for the third time a month after his latest comeback he broke his ankle effectively ending his season. During the next season Robson was in and out of the team mainly due to there being three managerial changes during the season.
During the 1977-78 season Bryan became a key member of the West Brom side under new manager Ron Atkinson helping his team qualify for the UEFA Cup, he was playing at a higher level compared to some of his team mates and in the next season he helped West Brom reach their highest ever position on top flight football when they finished the season in third place, they also reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup, the 1979-80 season was not so good for West Brom but now Robson had established himself as a household name in the West Brom team and was starting to get the recognition for his displays with a call up to the England International Team, he gained his first of many England caps in February 1980. The 1980-81 season Robson played 40 games and scored 10 goals as West Brom achieved fourth place in the league, in June of 1981 though manager Ron Atkinson left West Brom after being offered the chance to manage Manchester United, West Brom knew that Robson had a great relationship with the manager and knew they would struggle to hold on to him, Albion offered Robson a new contract on £1000 per week which was a significant pay rise but Robson turned down the contract offer and put in a transfer request.
On October 1 1981, Robson followed Ron Atkinson by signing for Manchester United for a then British record transfer fee of £1.5m, at the time of his signing Ron Atkinson said: “It may seem like a lot of money, but it’s not a gamble, you know. you’re not even gambling with someone like him. This fella is solid gold. Atkinson asked legendary manager Bill Shankly how much he should bid for Robson and Shankly’s reply ws: “Every penny that it takes, Ron, Every penny. He signed his contract in front of the Old Trafford faithful in the middle of the pitch, he made his debut in front of 47,000 people at Old Trafford just 4 days later against Tottenham Hotspur, he finished the season playing in 32 games and scoring 5 goals as he helped United finish fourth place in the league. The next season Bryan Robson was appointed Captain of the United team and was wearing the famous number seven shirt which he would make his own in time, he was also made captain of England by manager Bobby Robson who referred to him as “captain marvel”. Robson was now becoming a star player and showed why he was made captain of club and country with great stamina, aggression, fearless tackling, shrewd distribution, powerful heading and a priceless goalscoring touch which made him unique, an example of the playing style is all in 20 seconds of play in a long-forgotten 1982 encounter against Notts County, the Red’s skipper scrapped for possession on he edge of his own box, won it, bamboozled two opponents with an immaculate turn and gave the ball top Remi Moses. he the sprinted to the Notts County goal area as the move continued through Mike Duxburry and Arnold Murhen, he arrived in time to nod the Dutchman’s cross in to the bottom corner from 8 yards out, it was the contribution which was to become expected from Robson and summed up to inspirational qualities of the player as forcefully as any of the famous, minutely documented incidents which bejeweled his glorious career.
In his first season has captain Robson gained his first major honour when he scored twice in a 4-0 FA Cup final win over Brighton and Hove Albion, he has also played 49 games scoring 15 goals helping United finish in third place, next season 1983-84 Robson regards has his finest for United even though he ended the season without a winner’s medal, he started the season in great form scoring twice in the Charity Shield in front of 92,000 fans at Wembley to beat fierce rivals Liverpool 2-0, United went on a succesful run in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and after he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Barcelona in the quarter-finals to win 3-2 on aggregate the world saw what is probably the most enduring image of Bryan Robson has he was pictured leaving the pitch held aloft the shoulders of his team mates draped in a Union Jack flag saluting the crowd, he looked the perfect sporting hero, Robson missed both legs of the semi-final against Juventus with a hamstring injury, but whilst in Italy Robson was given permission by United to talk to Juventus and Sampdoria about a proposed transfer there, thankfully the move never materialised as Juventus and other interested clubs were put of by United £3m asking price, Robson instead signed a new contract at Old Trafford in 1984 for seven years worth around £1m, he ended the season with 18 goals in 47 games as United finished 6 points of the Championship in fourth place. During the 1984-85 season Robson captained United to another FA Cup final this time against Everton, Robson again climbed the famous steps at Wembley a winner after United won 1-0 thanks to a goal from young Irish striker Norman Whiteside after Kevin Moran became the first ever player to be sent-off in an FA Cup final, United finished the season in fourth place again as Robson played in 46 games and scored 14 goals.
1985-86 started very well for Robson as United started the season winning 10 games on the trot and for the first team since 1967 United looked like they were on their way to becoming champions again, then disaster struck after 27 games into Robson’s season he got injured and would miss the rest of the season, without Robson United struggled and from the remaining 30 points available they only took 10 and finished fourth place yet again. Ron Atkinson was sacked the following season and was replaced with young manager Alex Ferguson, Robson stayed in favour with Ferguson who like his never say die attitude to the game and despite United’s short comings in the next 4 years he was still first choice in the team and remained captain of club and country.
During the 1989-90 season Robson was ravaged by injury and he was contained to only 20 games all season but he did play an important role as he scored in the FA Cup semi-final and the Final to get a replay, United won the replay over Crystal Palace and in doing so Robson became the first player to lift the FA Cup as captain atop the Wembley steps as a winner. On 20 November 1990 Robson was awarded a testimonial match for his services to United in which United lost 3-1 to Celtic, but injury was now starting to take its toll on Robson and during the 1990-91 season he was restricted to only 17 games but he was available for one of the biggest games of his career the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Barcelona, it was a massive return to European football for English clubs as this was the first time in 5 years since a ban was put on English team entering Europe due to the Hysel Stadium Disaster, Robson walked the winning steps again at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam after United had beaten Barcelona 2-1 thanks to two goals from Welshman Mark Hughes. the next season United came the closest yet to winning the league losing out to arch-rivals Leeds United with lees than 5 games left United lost 3 and drew 1 of the remaining 5 games and ended up as runners-up, he also played in his final game for England he had gained 90 caps and scored 27 goals, 65 of his England caps were played as captain.
Robson was now 36 years old and during the 1992-93 season he only played 14 league game this season, although he was still club captain Steve Bruce was captain on most match days and they shared the job remarkably, Robson scored on the final day of the season and thus becoming the oldest post-war scorer for the club, the main reason for Robson not playing so much was not mainly due to his age it was that Brian McClair was now playing in midfield with Paul Ince because United had signed the enigmatic player that went by the name of Eric Cantona, United were not to be beaten this year and for the first time in 26 years the were crowned League Champions and Robson and Bruce both went and picked the trophy up together. Robson career was now coming to an end and United knew this and signed future captain Roy Keane in the summer on 1993 this was the twilight of Robson’s career and he started only 10 league games of the 1993-94 season, although he played in the last game of the season against Coventry City this was to be his last game fo the club but it was enough for him to pick up his second Championship winners medal and he was an unused sub in the 1994 FA Cup final and won his fourth FA Cup winners medal. He played in 461 games for United and scored 97 goals, he spent 12 years as captain and his the longest-serving captain in United’s history, upon leaving United he had two League Titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup, three Charity Shield, one European Cup Winners’ Cup and one European Super cup winners medals, he was also awarded an O.B.E in 1990 for his services to football and charity.
Robson went to Middlesbrough after United in 1994 to become their player-manager, he has since managed Bradford, West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and is the current manager of Thailand, he his also a global ambassador for Manchester United.