STEVE Harmison's benefit year will raise funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and having become close to the former Newcastle United and England manager, the Durham bowler claims the identity of his nominated charity was never in doubt.

Harmison first encountered Sir Bobby when Newcastle United's fitness coach, Paul Winsper, invited him to train with the Magpies in 2003.

Over the next few years, the pair became good friends, with Robson regularly attending county matches at Durham Emirates ICG and Test matches at The Oval.

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“The way Sir Bobby treated me was incredible,” said Harmison. “He was fantastic with me from the word go and I think the world of the man.

“He helped me out with my training when a lot of people were writing me off, and made me look at the people who were at Newcastle at the time – people like Alan Shearer, Shay Given, Steve Harper and Gary Speed – and I was able to see what you had to put in to succeed at the very highest level. They were fantastic role models and Sir Bobby made sure I learned from them.

“He used to spend a lot of time watching Durham. You knew when Sir Bobby was in because he had a big Rolls Royce and when it was parked in the car park, you knew he was around. Whenever he was there, I knew he'd be up in the Esh Group box, sitting having a cup of tea, and I'd go up and say hello.

“He just used to sit and love to talk about cricket. He was such a vibrant man. I was at a crossroads in my career and he helped me out – that's why there was only ever going to be one charity associated with my benefit year.”

So does Harmison have a favourite Sir Bobby anecdote?

“It was one of those surreal moments where you think, 'Has that really happened',” he explained. “I was on an exercise bike with John Carver alongside me, and Sir Bobby was walking on the treadmill.

“He was watching the reserves and young lads train outside the window, and he obviously saw something he wanted to take notice of so he suddenly stopped walking. He stopped, but the treadmill was still going and he ended up flat on his face.

“He missed the metal bar by a whisker. I was next to John, and we looked at each other but we couldn't laugh because it was Sir Bobby Robson. John went straight over and got him up, and he just shook his head, got back on the treadmill and started walking again.

“My tongue was so sore from biting it, and it was only when he left that me and John were on the floor laughing. He'd have been in his 70s then, but he was so interested in the youth game that he completely lost track of where he was.”