Widely regarded as one of the greatest English footballers to ever take to the field, Bryan Robson won 90 caps for England, eight trophies at Manchester United and made the PFA’s Team of the Century. In 2011, a poll of former Manchester United players named Robson as the club’s greatest ever player. Two decades on, Robson’s legacy and reputation within the game lives on, but another English footballing great by the same name perhaps doesn’t quite get the recognition he deserves.
Bryan Robson, better known as ‘Pop’ Robson, is among the finest goal scorers to have graced these shores. The master of the first time shot, Pop was a centre-forward who came alive in the box. Glancing front post headers, sumptuous volleys and dinking the ball past an outstretched goalkeeper in a one-on-one; it was rare for Robson to take more than three touches before laying it off or taking an early shot and catching the goalkeeper off guard.
He stood at just 5’8″, which might not seem unusual for a centre-forward today, but was markedly short for one in the 1960’s and 70’s. Robson joined Newcastle United as a 17-year-old, and he made a goal scoring debut against Charlton Athletic before his 18th birthday. Supposedly nicknamed ‘Pop’ due to his lack of hair even from a young age, Robson didn’t look like the youngest man in the Newcastle United side.
The Sunderland-born centre-forward had joined a Second Division club, but they earned promotion when he was only 20 in 1965. It was in the 1968-69 season that Robson really exploded into life though. The diminutive front man bagged 30 goals in all competitions, the most of any Newcastle player since George Robledo in 1952. His goals helped Newcastle win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which remains the club’s last piece of major siverware.
Victories over Feyenoord, Sporting Clube de Portugal, Real Zaragoza, Vitoria and Rangers put the Magpies into the final of the precursor to the UEFA Cup, or the Europa League as it is now known. Newcastle faced Ujpest in a two-legged final, where they were emphatic winners. Ujpest may not seem like footballing royalty to younger readers, but the Hungarian outfit had beaten Leeds United 3-0 on aggregate en-route to the final. That Leeds side was probably the finest one ever assembled at Elland Road, and Don Revie’s men won the First Division that season, losing only two games. Despite Leeds’ domestic success, Ujpest had kept clean sheets against them over two legs, yet Newcastle put six past them.
Robson would be Newcastle’s top scorer for three consecutive seasons, up until a £120,000 move to West Ham in 1971. He linked up with a star-studded West Ham side, featuring the likes of Frank Lampard Snr, Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, Clyde Best, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore. In his first season with the Hammers, the club reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
His second season at Upton Park would prove to the best of his career. West Ham finished sixth in the First Division, their joint best ever campaign at that time, as Robson led the division scoring charts with 28 goals. He left West Ham for his hometown club of Sunderland, where he spent two seasons, was top scorer in both and helped the club achieve promotion back to the First Division.
In 1976, he returned to West Ham, and he was even more prolific than he had been in his first spell. In his three seasons back at the Boleyn Ground, Robson was top scorer in all three, but he couldn’t prevent the Hammers from being relegated from the top flight. He followed a second spell at West Ham with a second spell at Sunderland, yet again being the top scorer in his first season back at Roker Park, helping the club to promotion to the First Division once more.
Into his mid-30’s, Robson had stints with Carlisle United, Chelsea and a third at Sunderland. In two seasons at Carlisle, the veteran centre-forward bagged 21 goals in 48 games, adding another promotion to his CV. During his time at Brunton Park, Robson hit off an exciting strike partnership with future Newcastle great Peter Beardsley.
Remarkably, Robson somehow never won a cap for England. He didn’t officially hang up his boots until the age of 40, having a final season at Gateshead. Now aged 72, Pop has the rare distinction of ranking among the top ten all time goal scorers of two different clubs, Newcastle United and West Ham. He scored a total of 97 goals in 244 games for the Newcastle, the tenth most of any player for the Magpies, and 104 goals in 255 games for West Ham, the seventh most in Hammers history. Robson’s tally of 263 Football League goals ranks 30th in the all time charts, ahead of greats of the game like Lofthouse, Rush and Rooney, and is only 10 goals fewer than Alan Shearer.