'Sometimes, there's a man, well; he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.'
The above statement may be part of the opening monologue from the Big Lebowski, but when writing an article about my all time hero, this line kept coming back to me. Bryan Robson encapsulated a time and a place. An era of Manchester United mediocrity that newer fans may never know, and a level of personal performance that rarely slipped below the sublime.
Yes, he was injured for prolonged periods of his career, but most of those came from the bravery and commitment he showed to the cause week in, week out. His all action style was breath-taking, his tackling ferocious, with an outstanding ability in the air, a truly explosive engine across the park, and the killer instinct to ghost into the box and bundle the ball plus three opponents into the back of the net.
He was like a superhero during the Eighties, certainly to me, and was the main reason I supported Manchester United. The drive that Robson showed for every ball and the amount of ground he covered in one game was unlike any other player on earth in my opinion. He held that average United team together during the Eighties, and even though we were nowhere near the standard of the great Liverpool sides of that era, Robson somehow dragged us into cup finals almost singlehandedly.
My first opportunity to watch Captain Marvel live was in 1986, when United had produced one of their worst ever starts to the season under Ron Atkinson. It was my first trip to Old Trafford, Robson had been injured, and the results were living proof of has lack of playing time. This was his first game back after his shoulder collapsed at the World Cup in Mexico, and you could tell that everyone in Old Trafford was nervous to how he would return.
Only 5 minutes into the game against Southampton, and a loose ball in the middle of the park saw Robson plough through two Saints players like the A-Team van flying through a wall of cardboard boxes! Nothing had changed. You couldn't change the way he played. HE couldn't change the way he played.
Not one thought for his own safety, or the injuries that plagued his career and kept him on the treatment table for far too long. A true will to win that I was grateful to observe first hand, as the skipper drove his team on to a 5-1 victory at my own Old Trafford debut. The main man was back, and you could see that the other members of the team played better when their talisman was leading the charge from the front.
Robson celebrated 10 years at the club with a testimonial against Celtic in November 1990, and this was an event I was never going to miss. I managed to sneak out of school early to get the coach up from Northampton; my Chippie jumper hanging loose over 25-inch parallels which dragged under my Adidas Gazelles. It was a glorious time to be a 16 year old, listening to 808 State '90' on my Walkman as I ran down to catch the minibus. What probably wasn't quite as awe-inspiring was my Clint Boon haircut, but hey ho, you live and learn!
Ten Bensons and a packet of Swan Vesta were my companions for the journey, and the walk up to Old Trafford made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I may not have been a local (though I certainly tried to dress like one), but United were MY team too, and the fact we were celebrating 10 years of watching my hero play on a cold Tuesday night in November, filled me with a sense of real pride.
The match itself may have been a non-descript 3-1 loss, but it would be a night that I would never forget. As Robson finished his lap of honour to Tina Turner 'Simply the Best' (funny how you remember the little things), a few fans stormed the pitch. Then a few more, then a huge tidal wave of the Stretford End rushed through the gates until the stewards decided to just open them up and let everyone venture out onto the hallowed turf.
Standing in the centre circle at Old Trafford, I took the time to take in every last detail of each corner of the ground from this esteemed position. Every image of the famous stadium was stored somewhere in the back of my mind, as I soaked up what it must be like to ply your trade at such a magnificent amphitheatre of football.
We went down to the travelling Celtic fans, exchanging scarves and hats, and even though they made the mistake of singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (that went down well!), it truly was a joyous night for football. One that will live with me forever, and a fitting tribute to a true icon of the game; a legend for both club and country.
With a lump in my throat (alongside a decent sized lump of the Old Trafford turf) I made my way back to the minibus with Shaun Ryder in my ears, and a warm feeling inside my stomach that sometimes only football can provide. Or a half time molten lava pie.
With continual watering on my return home, the horticulturist in me managed to grow the grass on my own little slice of heaven to an unusually long length. That was until I forget to take it with me on a family holiday to Cromer for two weeks of rain, non-stop ‘I Am The Resurrection’, and an unhealthy addiction for 2p fruit machines.
I probably would have fit in well with the East Runton yokels, walking around with a stupid grin on my face and a lump of overgrown grass in my hands. But alas, I returned home to a perished piece of turf, and life quickly moved on.
Thankfully, those memories that I stored in my brain of standing in the centre of the Old Trafford pitch made my football based dreams intensely vivid. On many occasions since, I've awoken in a blind panic from my dream because I couldn't find my boots in the Old Trafford changing rooms and ended up playing in socks. It's hard to get out of the changing rooms in these reoccurring dreams (something always goes wrong!), but on the few occasions I have made it out onto the pitch, it's been glorious. They don’t call it ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ for nothing you know.
And all these amazing memories are due to Bryan Robson. My obsession with his truly outstanding ability on the football pitch allowed me to see exactly where he plied his trade with such distinction. The very view he saw when he looked around the stadium. A moment that will stay with me forever, and something that many people may never have the good fortune to experience.
They say don't ever meet your heroes, and I certainly believe that is true in this case. I want to remember Captain Marvel as I saw him, as someone beyond a mere footballer. He was a warrior, the epitome of effort and bravery. A man whose 'never say die' attitude dragged lesser mortals to footballing greatness, no matter the cost to his own body. A true leader. A real hero. MY hero.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…