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Sep 21, 2009

Football greats honour Sir Bobby

Some of the biggest names in football came together to pay tribute to Sir Bobby Robson at a remembrance service at Durham Cathedral on Monday. The former England manager died at home in Langley Park on July 31 at the age of 76 following a long battle against cancer.

• Ten moments from Sir Bobby's life
• Sir Bobby Robson, 1933-2009
• Fergie salutes "inspirational" Robson

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, England coach Fabio Capello, football legend Sir Bobby Charlton and Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola were among the 1,000 guests at the service.

Former England players including Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce also attended. Lineker, who played in Sir Bobby's Italia '90 England World Cup side, praised his "hugely supportive and fiercely loyal" former coach, telling the congregation: "Sir Bobby Robson, we will miss you but we will never, ever forget you."

Lineker, who won his first cap under Sir Bobby, said: "Two World Cup campaigns and a European Championship over a six-year period was easily enough time for me to realise that Sir Bobby was indeed not just a brilliant leader of men, who brought the absolute best out of his players, but also without question the single most enthusiastic and passionate man I've ever met in football."

Sir Bobby enjoyed an illustrious playing and management career in football at both domestic and international level. As a forward he enjoyed success with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion before going on to manage Ipswich Town, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona and his hometown club Newcastle United.

Manchester United manager Ferguson said Sir Bobby was an inspiration to himself and managers across Europe. The Scot spoke of Sir Bobby's enthusiasm for football and remembered many times when they would speak about the game together.

"I think I speak for almost everyone here in football terms, he influenced me but what made him so special was he influenced people who didn't know him," Ferguson said. "They admired his courage, his dignity, his enthusiasm."

"It has been one of the privileges of my life to have met him and to have been enthused by him. That enthusiasm, you just can't explain it, special people have got it."

Sir Bobby fought cancer five times and devoted his final years to helping others with the disease. One his great triumphs away from football was helping to raise around £1.8 million for his foundation which funds research into the early detection of cancer. Such was the affection felt for a genuine football man, Sir Bobby's target of raising £500,000 was met in just eight weeks.

In February, he was proud to officially open a cancer trials centre at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, and he said then that he wanted that to be his legacy.

Speaking about Sir Bobby's fight against cancer, Ferguson said: "He fought his disease with incredible courage and resilience and showed you what his background was."

Ferguson also recalled Sir Bobby's "little jig" when England scored against Belgium in the 1990 World Cup and said people would remember him, and it, "forever".

Tom Wilson, who began his career with Sir Bobby at Fulham, was best man at his wedding and remained close friends with him, spoke about the man himself and said: "He had innate charm and a ready smile, but was modest all his life, even somewhat shy - though he had largely overcome that in later life.

"He was always passionate about football, had a deep love of his family and great loyalty to his old friends, with a touching and justifiable pride in his beautiful home up here in his beloved north east. Friends have said to me you should never finish a eulogy with a cliché, such as 'we will never see his like again'. But we won't."

Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins concluded the service with a rendition of Nessun Dorma which transported everyone back to Sir Bobby's finest hour at Italia 90; Gazza's tears, Lineker's famous warning glance to the touchline, the missed penalties of Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce and Sir Bobby's dignity in defeat.

Despite the solemn nature of the gathering it was also peppered with humourous anecdotes. Such as when 'Captain Marvel' and namesake Bryan Robson once encountered the England manager emerging from a hotel lift at the Mexico World Cup, deep in thought.

"Hi Bobby," said Sir Bobby. "No, you're Bobby, I'm Bryan," chuckled Bryan.

There were also tales of him chasing Gascoigne around a golf course screaming at the man he famously once described as "Daft as a brush" to put a shirt on. More stories about him dragging Gazza off a tennis court hours before a World Cup match, his anger at Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal and yet more of the manner in which he lifted England's desolate World Cup players off the dressing room floor after their semi-final defeat to West Germany.

"He was everything that was good about the game," concluded Lineker. "He loved the game and the game loved him. A lion of a man - make that 'three lions'."

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