Robbie Elliott

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

When Robbie Elliott started planning his marathon charity bike ride between Lisbon and Newcastle, he decided it was absolutely imperative that the route included all eight of the teams that the late, great Sir Bobby Robson managed during his trophy-laden career.

But it did not really cross the mind of the former Magpies left-back that he may actually be able to visit some of the famous foreign grounds on his map and watch Newcastle play in the process.

The form of Alan Pardew's side this season has taken almost everybody by surprise, including Elliott, but there is now a very real chance that by the time he and his friend Phil Gray embark upon their 3,500-mile journey in October, United could have qualified to play in Europe - just like they regularly did when Sir Bobby was in charge.

Ex-England under-21 star Elliott revealed his Bike For Bobby venture this week, and plans to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Breakthrough Breast Cancer by riding non-stop from Lison's Estádio José Alvalade to the Sports Direct Arena, stopping off via Porto, Barcelona, Eindhoven, Ipswich and London, where Fulham and England are based.

Speaking to nufc.co.uk, Elliott said that he had been pondering fundraising schemes for some time - and admitted that he'd relish the chance to combine his epic journey with watching the team he still supports should the Magpies maintain their current top six berth. 

"That would be nice," he smiled. "A Newcastle v Barca tie would be fun!

"We're going to try to hit the grounds at games as we can, just to raise the awareness, so the ride will be dictated by fixtures. And the way they map out, it's quite a steady route - it could have been a lot worse.

"The idea is to finish at Newcastle on a matchday, which will hopefully be a good occasion.

"Sir Bobby has a reputation throughout the world, not just in the North-East, so it's something we're hoping every club will get behind and people will follow."

As the cycling idea first began to hatch in Elliott's mind, few would have predicted that the Magpies would occupy such a lofty perch right now. The likes of Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan had been allowed to leave while several relatively unknown players had been signed to replace them.

But despite last weekend's defeat to Tottenham, Newcastle are very much in the hunt to play in the Europa League - or even the Champions League - next term, something which Elliott remembers well from his playing days.

"The European nights were the nights that memories are made of," he said. "They're fantastic occasions, the travelling abroad; hopefully the side will just carry on and get in there.

"I think if they didn't make it to Europe this year, it would be a bit of a disappointment. If you said that in the summer, you'd have been getting carted away so it's been a fantastic season and one that we can only look forward to continuing until the end.

"I think the manager's certainly getting the best out of the players and we look like a really good team unit. And the goals that Demba (Ba) has brought in is just something that we weren't expecting so it's been fantastic.

"They just seem to be playing as a team and there's a good fight in there. I think the worry was losing the likes of Joey and Kev last summer, but the players they've brought in have been fantastic.

"I didn't know much about Ba, I didn't know much about (Yohan) Cabaye. You were hopeful that they'd be able to perform, but they've done amazingly well."

Robbie Elliott with Phil Gray and Andrew Robson, son of Sir Bobby

Elliott doesn't even own a bike, so the prospect of riding up to 150 miles a day is a daunting prospect, even for a one-time professional athlete.

He admits that he will be pushed "to the limit" - but is determined to repay some of his debt of gratitude to the manager who brought him back for a second spell at his beloved club in 2001.

Now 39, Elliott started his career at St. James' Park and played in Kevin Keegan's legendary 'Entertainers' team in the 1990s, but enjoyed a new lease of life when he returned to the club under Sir Bobby.

And he said: "I owe Sir Bobby a hell of a lot. He was the manager who brought me back for my second spell at Newcastle, so this is a bit of payback and a bit of a thank you - even though it doesn't touch half of what he did for me.

"It was dream time. I was having a good time at Bolton under Big Sam (Allardyce), we'd just got promoted to the Premiership, but the fact that Sir Bobby was on the phone; it was just a no-brainer."

After leaving Newcastle for a second time, Elliott went on to play for Sunderland, Leeds and Hartlepool, before returning to Tyneside to become a fitness coach with the Magpies.

Nowadays, he spends most of his time in America but still watches United whenever he can.

He explained: "I work for Nike and US Soccer; I'm the performance coach for the youth national teams out there.

"At the minute I'm working with the under-17 women's team, who are on a World Cup cycle. We have qualifiers in Guatemala in April and then the World Cup in Azerbaijan in October, which is why I can't do the ride until after that."

But if Newcastle can secure European football for next season over the next 13 games, it might - just might - prove to be perfect timing.