Bobby’s ‘Goalkeeping lad’

He has coached many of the game’s top keepers, been on the bench as England U17s won a European Championship and played over 500 games for Gateshead – but working as Sir Bobby Robson’s “goalkeeping lad” is still the highlight of Simon Smith’s career.

Smith has worked at The FA for a decade, and has helped Joe Hart and Jack Butland come through the ranks.

Boyhood Newcastle United fan Smith realised an ambition of working for the north-east club after he was appointed to Ruud Gullit’s backroom team – and as English football celebrates Sir Bobby Robson National Football Day, the 51-year-old looked back on his five years alongside the man who “lived for football”.

“He’d introduce his staff to other people but I was always introduced as ‘Goalkeeping lad’”

Simon Smith

“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 sat on the bench alongside John Carver and Sir Bobby Robson

Smith, seated, says the five years he worked for Sir Bobby at Newcastle were ‘truly special’

Despite having never worked with him previously, Smith says upon that first encounter with the former England manager he knew he was working with a genuine “football man of the people”.

Smith continued: “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 loved 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.”

Many in the game who came into contact with Sir Bobby were left with a warm feeling, including Barcelona’s manager Luis Enrique as Smith recalls.

“I know it is a much-used term, but he really was a football man. 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 know how proud he would be that he is still remembered and so highly thought of”

Smith on Sir Bobby

He continued: “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.”

And on this day to remember him, Smith believes that the great man would be touched to see how much the world of football loved him.

“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, and I know how proud he would be that he is still remembered and so highly thought of.”

The FA is proud to be associated with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which continues to do valuable work in raising money and awareness in the fight against cancer. Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in 2008 after a request for help from his oncologist Professor Ruth Plummer.

Sir Bobby said he would give up a year of his life to the charity. In fact, he became so passionate about it that, despite being very ill, he spent his last 18 months doing all he could to raise funds to find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer through his Foundation.

He described it as “like being at the helm of a team again” – his last and greatest team – and always said ‘when’ not ‘if’ we beat cancer. Sir Bobby truly believed, with us all pulling together, we will beat the disease.”

Click here for more information on the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.