Simon Smith and Sir Bobby Robson


By Dan King - Newcastle United Digital Editor

England coach Simon Smith still ranks working as Sir Bobby Robson's "goalkeeping lad" as the highlight of his career.

Smith has worked at the Football Association for a decade, helping the likes of Joe Hart progress to become the national team's number one in his role as a goalkeeping guru for a range of England's youth teams.

But he still fondly recalls his time at his boyhood Club, Newcastle United, and as English football celebrates Sir Bobby Robson Day, the 51-year-old looked back on his five years alongside the man who "lived for football".

"I had got my dream job under Ruud Gullit but then after he was sacked, Sir Bobby arrived - a legend even then. The fact that he was coming back home to his own Club made it that extra bit special," Smith told TheFA.com.

"My first meeting with him was something I'll never forget. We trained at Chester-le-Street and I walked past the reception as he called me into this side room. I feared the worst, to be honest.

"I went in and he said 'look, I don't know you and you don't know me, but we'll give it a go and see how we get on.'

"As he was saying it, I'm thinking, 'well I know who you are, but you actually don't know who I am' - but he never actually mentioned anything about the job again for the next few years until he left the Club.

"That was the kind of guy he was. He gave me an opportunity which I will always be grateful for - although for the first six months if we went anywhere, he'd introduce his staff to other people but I was always introduced as 'Goalkeeping Lad'."

Smith - who now works with talented young shot-stoppers including United's Freddie Woodman - coached the likes of Shay Given and Steve Harper at St. James' Park.

And even five years after Sir Bobby's death, Smith's affection for his former manager is obvious.

"I know it is a much-used term, but he really was a football man," said Smith. "It was his life. Apart from his footballing career I didn't know much about him, and it wasn't until I'd worked for him for two years that I found out he had children - it was just football, football and football.

"He was so proud being back at the Club he supported as a kid, and he had a great affinity with the people of the North East. With him working abroad and as England manager, in all the people that I've met who had ever met him, no-one has ever had a bad word to say about him.

"I remember playing Barcelona in the Champions League. Obviously for him, going back was a big thing for him, and before the game their president presented him with a silver salver.

"After his team talk we went out to the tunnel, which had a metal fence separating the sides. As we go out, we are lined up ready for the walkout, and all of a sudden he appeared on the Barcelona side.

"I remember Luis Enrique greeting him, giving him a big cuddle, and calling him 'Mister'. You could tell that everyone who had worked for him there had a real affinity for him. Even though he had left, he just had that thing of making people feel good about themselves.

"He had that lovely way with people. He could make you feel special - but it was him who was special. When he walked into a room, he is one of the few people that I've met that had an aura about him. He had time to speak to everybody and always had a smile on his face. He was a man of the people who just lived for football.

"After he had left the Club, and I had, I actually got to know him as a person too. I'd worked for him as the boss, but then I used to meet up with him quite regularly and ask him about things from his career, and those were real magical chats.

"He'd be so proud of a day in his honour. From my own point of view, when I got the job at the FA he was so proud that one of his staff had got a job with England because it meant so much to him. He loved the North East, but he was so passionate about his country.

"I go to St. George's Park now, and he has a ballroom named after him, and sometimes in your hotel room there are pictures of him on the wall. I know how proud he would be that he is still remembered and so highly thought of."

With thanks to Gary Stonehouse and TheFA.com