Why memories of Sir Bobby prove how hard it is to ignore the 'minutiae of the moment'

The Northern Echo: UNDER PRESSURE: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been criticised this week after losing to Blackburn and Bayern Munich UNDER PRESSURE: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been criticised this week after losing to Blackburn and Bayern Munich

THE problem with being a sports writer in a world of wall-to-wall media and round-the-clock reporting is that everything tends to be consumed by the present.

Perspective is all-but-impossible when one defeat is a disaster, and an incident that might well have gone unreported a decade or so ago becomes back-page news once it is plastered all over the internet.

The same is true of supporters, who are whipped into a frenzy by a whirlwind of radio phone-ins and website message boards. What good is a promise of jam tomorrow when you're hungry for success today?

Recent events at Middlesbrough have underlined as much, with Tony Mowbray clearly frustrated at the ferocity of the criticism that has accompanied his side's struggles since the turn of the year.

While the fans have been booing and the coverage in newspapers such as this has become increasingly critical, Mowbray has sought to highlight the bigger picture, arguing with some justification that the failings of the last two months will be forgotten if his side holds on to its play-off position and is promoted in May.

Have we been too quick to find fault? It didn't feel like it leaving Selhurst Park on Saturday evening, but in the heat of the moment, when most match reports are written, perhaps clarity is hard to find.

Things rarely feel as catastrophic a few days later, although that is not to downplay the suffering of the supporter who has travelled the length of the country to watch his or her side collapse to a 4-1 defeat.

The need for perspective and context also crossed my mind on Monday, when two events conspired to highlight what might be termed the 'madness of the moment' when it comes to footballing reporting.

In London, Arsene Wenger was displaying a rare loss of control as his pre-match press conference ahead of the following day's Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich descended into a slanging match with the media.

This was a manager under intense scrutiny, snapping as the mounting pressure from fans and reporters alike failed to reflect the enormity of his previous achievements in his role.

Later on that evening, a galaxy of sport and entertainment stars gathered at the Sage in Gateshead to celebrate what would have been Sir Bobby Robson's 80th birthday.

The eulogies to one of the North-East's most popular footballing figures were warm, heartfelt and genuine. Robson, according to England under-21 boss Stuart Pearce, was “someone who was respected all over the country”. He was. Yet it wasn't always that way.

Out of interest, while I was waiting to travel to Kharkiv on Tuesday morning, I re-read the comment piece I'd written on the day Robson was dismissed from his position as Newcastle United manager in August 2004.

There was sympathy for Robson's plight and disappointment that a glorious managerial career had ended in such an ignominious way. But there wasn't really a broader acknowledgement of the former England manager's profound reshaping of the North-East's sporting landscape.

It was still too early for that. Instead, there was a degree of acceptance of Freddy Shepherd's decision and an analysis of the perceived failings that had blighted the latter stages of Robson's reign.

The booing that had accompanied the final home game of the previous season against Wolves, the damaging confession from Shepherd a few months earlier that Robson's contract was unlikely to be renewed, the disruptive departure of Jonathan Woodgate that raised questions about Newcastle's ambition. They're all footnotes at best now, but at the time they were hugely-important issues, colouring the attitude of supporters as well as journalists.

If I was able to rewrite the piece now, it would be different. It would talk about the first time I ever encountered Robson during a week of work experience, when his boundless enthusiasm in a press conference at St James' Park made an indelible mark that still provides inspiration today.

It would recall the way he made you feel in a one-on-one conversation, that amazing ability to convince even the most transitory of acquaintances that they held a special position in his thoughts. And it would properly reflect his status as the greatest manager to have graced the North-East with his presence in my lifetime.

It wouldn't have become lost in the minutiae of the moment, although perhaps the sad reality is that such a piece is only possible now that the hands of time have raced on.

All of which brings us back to Wenger. If I was a reporter covering Arsenal, immersed in the building bitterness that has accompanied their eight years without a trophy, I have no doubt that I would be contributing to the unfolding narrative that suggests a parting of the ways is inevitable.

If I was a supporter, paying the highest season-ticket prices in the Premier League, I'd probably be booing as my side lost 1-0 to Blackburn Rovers, an action that mimicked the catcalls of the Newcastle supporters at the end of Robson's final campaign.

Yet in a few years time, I'm equally convinced those actions will feel as misguided and inappropriate as the gripes that accompanied Robson's managerial demise.

Does that make them wrong now? Not really. But in many ways, that's modern-day football's failing. If every day brings a new drama, the things that really matter can easily become obscured.

**

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