WITH what seemed like perfect timing, Newcastle United yesterday announced plans to erect a statue of Sir Bobby Robson outside St James’ Park.
Not since Sir Bobby’s days have United supporters dared to dream of Champions League nights, nor has the club felt as united or as driven as it does now.
For two of the staples of that squad, the memories are coming flooding back. John Carver has departed and returned, but Shola Ameobi and Steve Harper are the duo who have seen the rot set in and then the revival. On Monday they visited Sir Bobby’s old school Langley Park Primary School, which has raised a remarkable £1,200 in the last few months for the Foundation that bears their former pupil’s name. That is part of a fundraising effort that has seen £4million raised in the battle to beat cancer.
The tone is optimistic, and as Ameobi considers the impact that Sir Bobby had on the city and the football club he held dear, he admits there was a certain amount of complacency that Newcastle’s position among the elite was assured.
He said: “I certainly thought those days wouldn’t end. Because I came into that side at a young age. My first real experiences were Champions League and European football. At the time, you kind of do take it for granted – this is what it’s going to be like.
“But the last couple of years makes you appreciate those times. When we got relegated and coming through the Championship, I kind of looked back at those experiences and thought ‘well, they won’t be coming back before my time’s up’.
“You start to wonder. You cherish those moments. But coming into that team and squad, it was a given that we were going to get into European year after year. “It shows how quickly things can change.
“If you’d asked me a couple of years ago if we’d be fighting for a Champions League spot a couple of years down the line, I’d have laughed at you.
“In football things change very quickly. It’s made me realise that you’ve got to grasp and cherish those important moments.”
For Harper, he is revelling in the return of conviction to his home city. The “collective” reminds him of the days under Sir Bobby, and there is a real pride at the way the city regards the football club.
“I think the belief has returned a little bit,” he said. “People can believe in a united Newcastle United again, which is a big part of supporting your club and being onside with everything, the ethos.
“I think they can see the plan and the results of the plan out on the pitch now by being back up there in the league. We’ve had a taste of it and that’s where they want to be; why not with the size of the club.
“It’s great for the fans, to have averaged 44,000 in the Championship, it’s a great reward for them who came to all those places around the country probably where they hadn’t been for 20 years.
“It’s a great reward for them to be on the Internet looking at flights, rather than trains.”
For more information about the Foundation or to donate, please visit www.sirbobbyrobsonfoundation.org.uk.