Hello and welcome to the first article in the historical section of the Geordie Boot Boys website. This will be a weekly feature taking a look at former Newcastle United players and stories that we think you might enjoy. We kick-off this week with a look at George Robledo, the first foreign footballer to be the top scorer in a First Division season.
On June 25th 1950, England played their first ever World Cup match at the Maracana in Rio. One of football’s most iconic grounds, it was badly dilapidated when Brazil hosted the tournament for the first time. Following a 31-hour round trip, England were greeted by rats in a cold, damp and dirty changing room. Wright, Finney, Mortensen and co knew little about the opponents waiting for them in the tunnel. For many of the England contingent, it was the first time they had ventured outside of Europe, never mind taken on an opponent as far-flung as Chile.
There was one man in the Chile team who was familiar with every one of the England squad though. Starting at centre-forward for the South Americans was one Jorge Robledo, of Newcastle United. Tom Finney described him as “the most potent weapon in the Chilean armoury,” but England were able to subdue the 24-year-old international debutant and run out 2-0 winners. The veteran ‘Jorge’, who would later notch at the tournament against the United States, was the only player at the 1950 World Cup who represented a foreign club.
Jorge Robledo was better known as George Robledo in England, with his name having been anglicised during the near two decades he had lived in Great Britain. Robledo was born in Iquique, Chile, in 1962, but his family swapped one mining region for another in the early 1930’s, following the rise of the Partido Radical (the Radical Party) in the early 1930’s. The locals mined saltpetre in his hometown of Iquique, but it was coal that they mined in his new home of South Yorkshire, and that is exactly what Robledo did in his formative years.
Alongside mining, Robledo played as an amateur for First Division side Huddersfield Town. Whilst he would go on to become England’s first foreign top scorer, he didn’t bring the South American flair to the English game that one might be imagining. He was – rather – an industrious and combative forward with a fierce shot. Robledo was happy to play as either an inside-forward or as a centre-forward, but he played as neither for the Terriers, failing to break into the club’s first team.
He ended up at Barnsley, where he signed professional forms in 1943. The league system wouldn’t fully return until 1946, and when it did, Robledo was prolific. He may not have been the most elegant of forwards, but he was certainly effective. During his two-and-a-half peacetime seasons with Barnsley, Robledo bagged 45 goals in 105 league games, prompting a bid from First Division side Newcastle United.
A fee was agreed between Barnsley and Newcastle, but Robledo refused to sign on the dotted line unless the Magpies also signed his brother, Ted. Newcastle reluctantly agreed, and both Robledo’s headed to the North East in January 1949. The deal cost £26,500, equalling the British record, but Robledo would soon start paying Newcastle back for the faith they had shown in him.
In his finest season, the 1951-52 campaign, Robledo scored 39 goals. After four consecutive seasons as Newcastle’s top scorer, Jackie Milburn was out-scored by his strike partner. The Magpies only managed to finish 8th in the First Division, but they won a second consecutive FA Cup, becoming the first team in over 60 years to retain the trophy. Robledo scored the only goal of the game just six minutes from time in a 1-0 win over Arsenal at Wembley.
A young John Lennon, aged 11, drew a picture of Robledo’s winner, and later included the image on the cover of his 1974 US number-one album Walls and Bridges. Robledo himself left Newcastle a year after that famous winner, returning to Chile after a 22 year absence. He signed for Colo-Colo, where he was Chilean top scorer for the next two seasons, winning one league title.
George Robledo died of a heart attack in his native Chile in 1989, two weeks prior to his 63rd birthday. His younger brother, Ted Robledo, had died almost 20 years earlier in mysterious circumstances. Ted worked on an oil tanker following his retirement from football, and he was reportedly thrown off a tanker and into the sea off the coast of Dubai in 1970. He was only 42, and his body was never found.
In his most prolific campaign at Newcastle, Jackie Milburn scored 25 goals, whilst Alan Shearer’s sharpest season in front of goal saw the net bulge on some 30 occasions. Robledo’s record of 39 goals for a single season wouldn’t be topped for 42 years, when Andy Cole struck 41 times in the 1993-94 campaign, and Cole remains the only man to top Robledo’s tally on Tyneside.