Why Robson was my greatest team-mate

Friday 07 October 2022 12:58

Manchester United legend Bryan Robson kicked off a special Old Trafford career on this day in 1981.

Less than a week after famously signing his contract on the pitch at the Theatre of Dreams before a home game against Wolves, Robson made his debut for the club on 7 October 1981, in a 1-0 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup. 

While that clash may not have been one to remember, Robbo’s United career certainly proved to be, as the Durham-born midfielder went on to make 461 appearances across a trophy-filled 13 years as a Red, many of which were spent as skipper.

Our former captain is regularly referred to as one of the greatest players to ever pull on the red shirt, not only by fans but by the peers who played with or against him.

Seven reasons Robbo is a United icon


On the 41st anniversary of his Reds debut, here's an explanation of what made Bryan Robson such a great.

That is the case for former England captain Terry Butcher, who was a team-mate of Robson’s at international level for a decade from 1980.

Speaking recently at The Salvation Army’s annual Partnership Trophy, Butcher recalled the moment his Three Lions companion joined United in 1981.

“When he signed for United, you thought that was a massive piece in their jigsaw and so it proved,” explained the former defender.

“He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful person and was a great captain for Manchester United. 

“He was the best I played with, and I played with Gazza [Paul Gascoigne] and a lot of other really good players. Bryan was solid, he was strong, he used to give me some rollockings! 

“I thought I had it tough at Ipswich when I was younger, but he was immense. When I did well, he was giving it and taking it. He was really good.”
Robson and Butcher most notably played for England together at the 1982, 1986 and 1990 World Cups, and therefore got to know each other well on the pitch, despite never sharing a dressing room at club level.

“I think he was slightly older than me, so he wasn't so much a role model, but he was certainly inspirational to me,” Butcher added.

“He was in front of us in the [England] back four, defending well and then he'd be in the [opposition] box scoring a goal.”

Speaking of goals inside the 18-yard area, Butcher did provide Robson with the ball that saw our former no.7 score – what was then - the fastest-ever goal in World Cup history, timed at 27 seconds against France in the 1982 tournament.

“I did assist him for one of the quickest goals ever, but he never thanked me afterwards,” recalled Butcher with a smile, during our interview. 

“He got a watch, and I got nothing!”
Butcher and Robson celebrate the first of the latter's two goals in England's 3-1 win over France in the 1982 World Cup.

Last year, ahead of the release of our former midfielder’s documentary film, Robbo: The Bryan Robson Story, Sir Alex Ferguson named Bryan as the best skipper he had during his 26 years as United mahager

“Well, he was easily the best captain I had. I think over the period he was at United, he was the best player,” Sir Alex explained in a Q&A with Robson. 

“They responded to him, and he was the longest-serving captain in my time anyway.

“It’s difficult for a captain because sometimes he has to tell the truth to players. The encouragement he’s got to give them sometimes can be quite volatile and he was like that, but the players did love him. They appreciated the time he spent on them

“He’s the only captain I knew who could make a decision on the pitch. He didn’t need to look over to me. He would do that and that’s unusual. In fact it’s very unusual because he had the balls to do that.”
Speaking at the film’s premiere, another former United midfielder Michael Carrick also highlighted the esteem that Bryan is regarded with, following his decorated playing career at the club.

"Everyone I have spoken to, the ex-players he played with, said he was the best they ever played with.

"You’re talking to some big players who’ve said that, so Robbo is a special footballer but he’s a good man as well and he’s always been supportive."