Eddie Howe's Newcastle United get Champions League backing as scout recalls Sir Bobby Robson's unforgettable European journey

This time 20 years ago, something special was happening at Newcastle United.

Thursday, 30th June 2022, 2:02 pm

The club was preparing for what was to prove a very special season - at home and abroad.

Sir Bobby Robson had transformed his beloved club in the previous couple of years following an emotional homecoming – and a fourth-placed finish had seen the team qualify for the Champions League.

Then, as now under Eddie Howe, fans were relishing what was to come.

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One of Sir Bobby’s first appointments had been Charlie Woods, who was at St James’s Park this week to wave Lee Perkins off on a fundraising rally to Barcelona in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which has raised more than to find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer since its launch in 2008.

Woods’ relationship with Robson dates back to 1969, when he was a player at Ipswich Town.

“I was a player for Sir Bobby in Ipswich,” said Whitehaven-born Woods, who started his playing career at Newcastle.

Former Newcastle United chief scout Charlie Woods with the programme for a 1960 friendly against Barcelona in which he scored. (Pic: Sir Bobby Robson Foundation)

“I was in the dressing room when he walked through the door and became manager. I was there for a few years, then he saw how good I was and transferred me! And then, about a year and a bit later, I went back as youth-team coach, and was there all the time he was manager.”

Robson – who won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup while in charge at Portman Road – called Woods after his appointment at relegation-threatened Newcastle in 1999 following the dismissal of Ruud Gullit.

“I was chief scout of Tottenham at the time, and he phoned up just to say could I come up and have a chat with him,” said Woods, who had also worked with Sir Bobby during his time as England manager.

“I said ‘well, I’ve got a good job here, Bob’. He said ‘look, just come up to the North East and have a chat’. So I came up, and he persuaded me to come. That’s my association again with him at Newcastle.”

Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson talks to his players at a training session at the Nou Camp in December 2002.

Robson guided the club away from the relegation zone, and in his second full season, the club finished fourth in the Premier League.

It was Woods who signed the mercurial Laurent Robert, a supremely gifted player who quickly lit up St James’s Park following his move from Paris Saint-Germain in 2001.

“He had a wonderful left foot,” said Woods. “He wasn’t great defensively, but he was very good going forward. I think that powerful left foot he had, I think Alan Shearer thought ‘this will suit me, I’ll get on the end of these (crosses)’.

“Bobby was a good judge of a player, so, whatever team he put out, he had vetted them, don’t you worry. I think was throughout his career, he was very particular about who he signed. Extremely.

Lee Perkins, centre, is raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

“He had a good staff at the time. Gordon Milne was, I would say, director of football (and) Mick Wadsworth, David Geddis and myself. We had a good, safe ship going at the time.”

Woods caught up with another of his signings, Hugo Viana, at last weekend’s Sir Bobby Robson Celebrity Golf Classic in Portugal.

“I was with Hugo Viana at Portugal at the weekend,” said Woods. “I remember going to Switzerland to watch the European Under-21s, and he played and was outstanding. I came back and said to Bobby ‘I like him’.

“A couple of weeks later we signed him. The likes of Jonathan Woodgate, he was a very good player. Sylvain Distain. Bobby had never seen Sylvain Distin play. But I had.

“He hadn’t seen Robert play, but I had. He took my word for it and signed them both, and they were good players.”

Something special is happening this summer. Newcastle, under new ownership, are again signing good players, and there’s hope that the club could again compete in the Champions League in the coming years.

"I’m sure that will happen," said Woods. “The new manager (Eddie Howe) has got to be given time. He’s got to be given his own players, who he’ll sign and work with. I think the future looks bright.

“The training ground needs revamping, so that’s part of it, but if he signs a few good players, I think there’s a bright future here. I like the look of them (this summer’s signings), and, if he gets another one or two, that’ll be even better.”

Back to the 2002/03 season, when the club, which lost its first three Champions League group games, would make history and progress to the second stage thanks to a dramatic 3-2 win over Feyenoord at De Kuip. Craig Bellamy scored twice, and Viana also found the net.

Shola Ameobi, now loan coordinator at Newcastle, would famously score in a 3-1 defat at the Nou Camp the following month – just over five years after Faustino Asprilla, memorably, scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Barcelona at St James’s Park.

Woods also found the net against Barcelona while wearing black and white in his own playing career. Now 81, Woods, a forward, came off the bench and netted in a 4-3 friendly defeat for United at St James’s Park in the summer of 1960.

“I was a young player at Newcastle, and the manager was Charlie Mitten,” said Woods. “He put me in the squad, and I was on the bench.

"We played Barcelona in a pre-season friendly in 1960, and, after 10 minutes, Ken Hale got injured, and Charlie said ‘off you go’. After 10 minutes I went on, and I think we were 3-0 up and lost 4-3. I did manage to score at the Leazes End.”

Robson, of course, would also manage Barcelona during his long and distinguished managerial career, and Perkins – who is raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Northern Centre for Cancer Care as a thank for the care he received after his cancer diagnosis last year – is driving a “banger” 2,000 miles to the Nou Camp.

“We’re very fortunate to have such brilliant hospitals here in the North East,” said Perkins. “The way they looked after my family and I was just amazing

" I was determined to do something to say thank you for the treatment I received within Newcastle Hospitals as soon as I was able to, and by fundraising for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, I knew I was doing something that would directly benefit people in our region.

“I had such a warm welcome when I first moved here and it feels like my family and I have been adopted by the North East. And, as I’m from a sporting background, I’ve always admired Sir Bobby, so supporting the work of his charity seemed like a very natural choice.”

Work funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation directly benefits cancer patients in the region – and also funds valuable research. Robson – who passed away in 2009 – described the charity as his “last and greatest team”.

On Sir Bobby’s legacy, Woods said: “Loved in Ipswich, he was loved in the North East. He had a great time at England, it came to an abrupt end. When you see people like Lee doing things for his foundation, I think it’s remarkable.”

Perkins has already raised more than £40,000 for the two charities, and to follow his journey and sponsor him, go to his JustGIving page.