From making his first team debut in 1975 as an 18-year old for West Brom to his final appearance as a 40-year old for Middlesbrough—Bryan Robson made things happen. He signed for Manchester United in 1981 for £1.5million—a British record that stuck for six years—and went on to play almost 500 times for the Red Devils winning a shedload of trophies on the way. Robson was a proper mud and guts midfielder, the kind you hate coming up against on a Sunday morning—screaming headers, tackles that echo off shin pads and goals falling out of his pockets. He played for England 90 times, with 65 of those appearances as captain, and won the First Division title in his first season as a manager. We had a very quick chat with him at The Ice Bar in London. It was really cold.
“I made my debut for West Brom at the age of 18 and was really happy to do so. But I realised you can’t get complacent because once you’ve made your debut—that’s where the hard work starts. It’s all about dedication, how far you want to go, how hard you want to train and taking your opportunity. I was lucky enough to get within a football club as a youngster, so I wanted to make sure I took that opportunity. Every boy dreams of becoming a professional footballer; it’s a great way of life, the rewards in the game are unbelievable, so I thought why not give everything I’ve got, so it was great to make my debut but it was only the start.
“It was great to come through the ranks at West Brom, and get regular first team football. But in the summer of 1981 we lost a couple of players and that unsettled me. If you’re selling your best players, you’re never going to be a club that wins things. And then Manchester United came in.
“The atmosphere was amazing for my debut at Old Trafford, I could feel the expectation around the place immediately. As a Manchester United player you are just expected to win. It was very different to what I had previously experienced. And that expectation is even bigger now—the stadium is bigger, the targets are higher.
“I’m lucky enough to get the chance to speak to new signings, and I say to them, “there are huge expectations, but if you want to be a top player, you’ve got to be able to handle that and prove yourself and win things for a fantastic football club”. When I get to go away with the team, I like spending a little bit of time with the lads, and they like to chat to us. But it is also about making sure you actually enjoying playing for Manchester United. Yes, you have got to work hard, but it’s a privilege to play for such a special club.
“I joined United to win things, and we won a few FA Cups, but the first Premier League title is what stands out for me. After 26 years of not winning the league it was amazing.
“It was sad to stop playing. In my last game I didn’t walk off; I limped off! I played my last game just 11 days short of my 40th birthday for Middlesbrough against Arsenal. It took me three days to be able to walk again; my body was telling me enough was enough, so I decided to be a full-time manager.
“I was in management for 12 years, and when Man United came to me and said, “How would you fancy being ambassador of the football club?” I said, “Let’s give it a go and see what happens”. I did a year and really enjoyed it; 10 years later, I’m still sat here because I really enjoy the job. It keeps me involved in football, I get to go and watch training when I want to, spend time with the players and I go around the world—experience different cultures, meeting the amazing fans—so it really suits me.
“As a kid I dreamt of playing professional football, but to play for Manchester United and also for my country (and what a great honour it was to do that by the way), well it was above anything I imagined.”
Thanks to Columbia Sportswear for the opportunity to speak to Bryan.
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