Long read: The story of Robbo joining United
On the anniversary of his 1981 transfer to United, Bryan Robson tells the revealing story behind his move from West Bromwich Albion...
“Ron Atkinson had been rebuilding the West Brom side and I readily accepted greater responsibility. In the summer of 1981, I had looked forward to an increasingly important role, but by the time I returned from an end-of-season tour with England, Ron was no longer the manager.
“He had been lured to Manchester United as successor to the sacked Dave Sexton. The Albion players didn’t want Ron to leave, but I understood why he was attracted to the job. United were an enormous club, with the kind of resources Albion couldn’t match. Ron was ambitious and he’d been offered one of football's greatest challenges.
“We were getting on well but Ron had said nothing about the possibility of a move and made no suggestion that he'd like me to join him. There were doubts in my mind about Albion’s future and their prospects of becoming a genuine force in the game. I had been convinced by one of the directors, Tom Silk, that the board had the ambition to take the club to the next level. Mr Silk was the money man at Albion but, tragically, he was killed in a plane crash and it seemed to be that the club wasn’t the same without him.
"Some of the hunger and desire were missing. We were standing still. Len Cantello, like Steve Bruce one of the best English players to have never been capped, left for Bolton. When they sold Laurie Cunningham to Real Madrid I thought, ‘Hold on a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be building a team? How are we going to replace Laurie?’
“The unrest in the Albion camp was obvious to the media and soon speculation arose that I would leave. I was linked with a number of clubs, notably United and Liverpool. Ronnie Allen wanted me to stay and I was offered a new long-term contract at West Brom worth a basic £1000 a week. It was a fabulous offer for those days, but as much as I wanted the best for my family, money wasn’t my main motivation. I simply wanted to be a winner. I decided I would turn down the transfer and ask for a transfer.”
“I left The Hawthorns with mixed feelings. West Brom had been great to me from the day I first went to the club. I made lifelong friends there. If I hadn’t had ambitions to win trophies, it would have been a fantastic place to spend the rest of my career. The local press, who had championed my cause to play for England, were now hammering me. I was dubbed a ‘Judas’, a ‘money grabber’ and much, much worse. That hurt because I felt I had played my part for the club, never given less than 100 per cent, and I still didn’t even know what my salary at United would be.
“Ray Marts, once my supporter-in-chief, turned on me just as the other local men did. It was ironic when, a couple of months later, he quit the Birmingham Evening Mail to join the Daily Mail. Whether his motivation was money or ambition I don’t know, but he felt it was the right career move for him. He now concedes I have a point!”
"I knew that once the clubs had reached agreement on the transfer, United would not have much of a problem persuading me to sign. They were prepared to pay a record fee, so I was sure the personal terms would be satisfactory.
"When we arrived at Old Trafford, I wasn’t disappointed. Martin Edwards offered me more than I had hoped for – £2,000 a week. The financial details were tied up and there were no hitches with the medical. It was a pity we missed the five o’clock deadline for me to be eligible to play that Saturday, but I was relieved all the wrangling had finished.
“The following day I was officially introduced as a United player at a press conference and on the Saturday formally signed on the dotted line, out on the Old Trafford pitch before United’s home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. A crowd of nearly 47,000 game me a fantastic reception."
"The fans have been great to me ever since, even when I returned with a visiting team. I was beginning to understand the scale of the move and the challenge ahead. I wasn’t so much nervous as excited. This was an opportunity any club would relish – huge club, huge stage, huge fan base, huge in every respect. I sat at a table, flanked by Ron and the club, pen poised, smiling for the cameras.
“I’ll never forget that day and I’ll never be allowed to forget the pictures. I’ve had so much ribbing over the years because at the time I was one of the many footballers sporting the perm look. The reason I had my hair permed was for convenience, not for fashion. It used to be a nightmare when I had a shower after training. I don’t really regret it though.
“My hair was standing on end as I watched my new team in action from the stand that day at Old Trafford. They absolutely murdered Wolves. Sammy McIlroy, supposedly one of the players whose place was under threat because of my arrival, scored a hat-trick. After United’s stunning performance other people were no doubt thinking, as I was, ‘How am I going to get into this team?’"
The extract above is taken from Bryan Robson's 2006 autobiography, Robbo.