Birthday boy Bryan was one of our best signings

Thursday 11 January 2024 09:00

I often think how the much-used phrase 'never meet your heroes' would not exist for anybody who has come across Bryan Robson.

For a man who was such an absolute legend and stalwart of the Manchester United side for people of my age growing up, Robbo is such wonderful company. It has undoubtedly been one of the greatest joys of my working life to spend time away with him and regularly speak with a footballer I idolised in my youth.

To have a beer and a chat about the 1980s and 1990s with him at the hotel during one one of our foreign excursions with the Reds was fulfilling a long-held ambition. Robbo was the ultimate captain, a brilliant leader for club and country. 

As hard as nails, but fair with it, and the box-to-box midfielder you would always reference when describing a player of that ilk.

What made Bryan Robson a United superhero?

I remember being justifiably excited when United won the race to sign him from West Brom in 1981. I'd only really started supporting the Reds in 1979/80 but was aware of Robson's breakthrough into the England side and there had been talk that Ron Atkinson's position at the Old Trafford helm was an obvious bonus when it came to challenging Liverpool and other top clubs for his signature.  

It is also worth pointing out that the British record fee of £1.5 million was viewed with outrage in some circles. While Big Ron may have famously said: "It's not even a risk you know, this lad is pure gold," others felt the world had gone crazy. With this in mind, I decided to trawl the newspaper archives to see what the general reaction was to the blockbusting deal with West Brom, a club who were extremely reluctant sellers.

The Manchester Evening News produced a letters page on the subject and printed comments both for and against the transfer. In an age before social media, this was the chance to air your views on the emotive subject. So, while I was thrilled by the prospect of Robbo pulling on the red shirt - even the way he signed was just magical, on the pitch in front of the crowd (I naively thought most new arrivals did it this way) - it seems others were less enthusiastic.

It would be downright wrong to call out anybody who, in hindsight, were on the wrong side of this particular argument, considering Robbo was, without question, the best United player of his generation.

However, some of the comments were pretty forthright. "Soccer transfer fees have finally reached the ultimate in insanity," complained one reader from Radcliffe. Another, from Salford, protested that present-day footballers "just aren't in the same class as Law, Greaves and Best". One argued that "the ridiculous fee United paid for Robson means that they can never afford to drop him".

Bryan Robson revisited The Cliff as part of his UTD Podcast appearance.

Yet no manager in his right mind would ever even contemplate leaving out a fit Bryan Robson at his peak. 

Other fans allowed themselves to be optimistic over the transfer. One said the fee would be considered "peanuts" if the new no.7 could have the same impact that Billy Bremner and Dave Mackay had enjoyed at Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

Another, from Salford, argued that why should the cost really matter to supporters, which is often a pertinent point.

I guess the point here is it's always been a game of opinions. And Atkinson's was unambivalent about a player he'd worked with at The Hawthorns. "I feel he is the most complete player in the country. It's hard to pick a weakness in him."

That is how most United fans of a certain age will recall Robbo, a flawless footballer with the only frustration being that he put his body on the line so often that he picked up injuries. And, when he was out, oh how did the team miss him.

So happy birthday, Bryan, and thanks for all the great memories!

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.