Whenever I’m in Newcastle I have a chat with Bobby’s statue.. I’ll miss him for ever
was first attracted to his walk – a certain swagger,” she says.
Their courtship began in their midteens and before every date, Bobby turned up with flowers.
Elsie remembers the moment she knew she’d found the love of her life.
“Bob was walking me home from a dance and it was snowing. I was in a full-length ball gown. I still remember the lovely feeling of his kiss and snowflakes on my lips. That was the moment I knew I’d fallen in love.”
On June 25, 1955, they married at their local Catholic church in a “lovely and simple” ceremony. Bobby was 23 and Elsie was 21.
They then moved to London, as talented footballer Bobby had left his job as a colliery electrician’s apprentice and signed for Fulham FC.
“For the first year, we would take off each night for the West End and just wander around, because coming from the North and seeing Piccadilly was such a contrast,” says Elsie. “We had a flat which had a toilet but no bathroom or hot water. It was quite basic.
“That’s how it was in those days. And it solidified us as a couple.”
Two years later, Bobby bought the evening paper to find out if he had made the England team. Scoring twice on his debut was an early sign of the illustrious career to come.
Over the next five decades, as Bobby went from playing to managing, the couple lived in Vancouver, Barcelona, Lisbon, Porto and Holland.
Elsie settled their three sons – Andrew, Paul and Mark – into new countries while her husband spent his time steering the world’s biggest clubs.
His highs included helping the careers of greats such as Ronaldo, Gary Lineker, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and a troubled Paul Gascoigne, who considered Sir Bobby a second father.
“Paul is the most lovely boy,” says Elsie. “I do think about him and am concerned about him.”
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Few offers could have enticed Sir Bobby away from his highly successful run with PSV Eindhoven in 1999. But he could not refuse Newcastle United, his boyhood club. Yet in 2004, one season after taking them to third, chairman Sir Freddy Shepherd sacked the man so popular he was considered king of the Toon. Sir Freddy said later: “It was like shooting Bambi.”
Elsie says Bobby felt “guillotined”. “He was low and depressed after that,” she says. “There was quite a lot of anger. But that was the decision. They will know it was their loss, if they are wise.”
When Bobby fell ill, he told friends Elsie saved his life. Her instinct, and training as a nurse, meant she saw tiny signs of ill-health and made him see a doctor.
Elsie says: “A wife knows her husband better than anyone. You just feel something’s not quite right. I had worked as a nurse in London and that helped me care for Bob.”
Just as she had been there when he signed his first player’s contract, when he held the UEFA and FA cups aloft, when he led England to the 1990 World Cup semi-final and when he endured cancer five times, Elsie was by Bobby’s side when he died at their home back in County Durham, aged 76, in July 2009. “Throughout our life, we had lots of laughs but also cried together, especially during Bob’s cancer treatments. That was heartbreaking. He was so brave, so tough and positive it was hard for him to grasp that it was terminal, even in his final couple of weeks. “We didn’t have difficult conversations about his death. He’d have found it too hard to talk like that – too stressful to put it into words. In his final days he was determined to go to the stadium in Newcastle in his wheelchair and trilby hat and we had to facilitate that. He died three days later. “Bob was peaceful in the very end and all the family were there. Knowing CLOSE With Gazza in 1989 he’d been at home with us was a comfort, as were all the messages from friends and fans.”
Elsie gave many of Bobby’s belongings to charity but keeps close what matters most – their family and all their precious memories.
She hopes a new film, Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager, will help others get to know her husband and realise his good work stretched far beyond football.
Elsie says: “I miss his presence, his companionship, chatting to him. He was affectionate so I miss his hugs.
“Now I focus on his charity work. Bob would be so happy to know he helped other people. He had a great enthusiasm for life. He saw the importance of everyone. That’s just one of the reasons he was so special – one of the reasons I will miss him for ever.”
Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager opens in select cinemas on June 1 and can be pre-ordered for digital download on June 1 and Blu-Ray/DVD on June 4. Visit bobby robsonfilm.com
Find out about Bobby’s foundation at sirbobbyrobsonfoundation.org.uk