Obituary: Jimmy Robson (1939-2021)
Jimmy Robson never played for Huddersfield Town, but his spell at the Leeds Road lasted longer than most of the 1001 players who have worn the blue and white stripes and came during one of the club’s most successful periods.
During his playing days, Robson had a terrific career at his first club, Burnley. In a spell that began in 1956, he won the First Division in 1960 and scored the Clarets’ goal in a 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the 1962 F.A. Cup Final. He also had a second chalked off for offside, though he always thought he’d been onside.
He holds legendary status at Turf Moor and remained at the club until 1965, having scored 100 goals in 242 appearances. He subsequently had spells at Blackpool between 195 and 1968, Barnsley between 1968 and 1970, and Bury between 1970 and 1973, where he turned out as a defender.
Following his time at Gigg Lane, Robson returned to Turf Moor to work as a youth coach. He also played in their reserve side before he left the club again in 1974.
Buxton’s Man at Town
Following his appointment as the permanent manager at Town, Mick Buxton appointed Robson as the reserve team coach at Leeds Road in November 1978. Thus began a near 10 year association with Huddersfield Town.
At the time of his appointment, Buxton said:
“Jimmy was a colleague of mine at Burnley, where he played hundreds of matches in the First Division, winning a Division One Championship and scoring at Wembley in the 1962 FA Cup Final. He is a man with great experience and the infinite patience needed to bring along the young players in his charge.”
In recent interviews, Buxton has continued to speak fondly of Robson:
“Jimmy looked after the reserves and the kids. What a terrific guy. Extremely reliable…He had a very good sense of humour. He got on well with people. If someone had just had a bit of a rocket up their backside, Jimmy was the guy who would have a chat with them and help them out. He never said a great deal, but what he did say was very important.”
The Central League and reserve team football in general was quite a good standard during this era and Town’s second string, managed by Robson, regularly came up against the reserve sides of top teams such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton.
By 1980, Town had won the Fourth Division title and begun their climb back up the leagues. It had been in a slow decline since 1972, with three relegations in four years. The club lacked a sense of self-respect until Buxton started cracking the whip. A further promotion was came at the end of the 1982-83 season, with Town finishing 3rd in the Third Division.
Buxton has always been keen to point out that Robson, assistant manager & physio John Haselden and, chief scout and later youth coach Steve Smith were just as important as he was in the success Town achieved during that period.
Following promotion, Town struggled in the Second Division and were involved in a few relegation battles over the following seasons under Buxton, managing to just about survive each time. Robson spoke about his time at Town in 2018:
“I travelled from Burnley for training and matches and coached the reserves, who played in the Central League. The first team were doing well, and we had quite a few young players coming through. Mark Lillis was the best we had at the time. We also had Peter Butler, Simon Trevitt, Ian Measham, Liam Robinson and Graham Mitchell who played in the first team and had good careers.”
Working Under Smith and Macdonald
Following the departure of John Haselden in the summer of 1986, Robson stepped up and had more involvement with the first team but by December of that year, Town were propping up the Second Division and just days before Christmas, Mick Buxton was sacked. Youth coach Steve Smith stepped into the breach as caretaker manager, assisted by Robson:
“Steve Smith took the juniors but eventually became the manager and I was his right-hand man, but he didn’t last very long”.
In fact, Smith lasted just nine months as manager, having been appointed in January 1987 following an upturn in form. He managed to steer the club to survival at the end of the season, but the club had a disastrous start to the 1987-88 season, failing to win any of the first 10 games. This led to Smith’s resignation in October 1987, following a 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City at St. Andrews.
Smith reverted to his previous role as youth coach, but for the meantime, Robson was appointed caretaker manager until a replacement was found. He took charge of his one and only game on October 13th 1987, a 4-1 loss to Middlesbrough at Leeds Road.
Malcolm Macdonald was appointed as Smith’s successor a few days later and Robson returned to his duties with the reserve team. The season went from bad to worse and Town were relegated weeks before the season finished, winning just six games all season, losing 28 and conceding 100 goals. In and amongst that was the club’s record defeat, a 10-1 loss against Manchester City.
“I liked Malcolm Macdonald, he had been a star player, I got on well with him. It’s a shame it didn’t work out for him. Obviously hearing that Man City had scored 10 past us wasn’t a good time.”
At the end of the season, Eoin Hand was offered the manager’s job full time and one of the first decisions he made was to let Robson go and just months short of his 10th anniversary at the club, he left Leeds Road for the last time.
Despite the nature of his exit, Robson still had fond memories of his time at the club:
“I enjoyed promotion with Mick Buxton, but we also battled relegation a few times…I remember Nellie, the washer woman, who was a Huddersfield Town supporter and great character, nobody crossed her! I also remember once getting chased by an Alsatian in training with Liam Robinson in hysterics!”
He also recounted the time he was questioned by the Police, who were trying to find The Yorkshire Ripper. For context, in 1979, a hoaxer sent a cassette tape to West Yorkshire Police claiming to be the Ripper. The voice on the tape was from the Northeast and it completely derailed the investigation, leading officers on a wild goose chase looking for an attacker with a Northeast accent. As Robson was originally from Pelton, County Durham, he was called in for an interview:
“While I was at Huddersfield, having a Geordie accent, I was also interviewed about being the Yorkshire Ripper. My response to the police was ‘if you have got me in, then you haven’t got a clue!’.”
Following his spell at Town, Robson went on to work as a coach at non-league Colne Dynamoes in the late 1980s, and in March 1991 was appointed as manager of non-league Bacup, who were in a relegation battle at the time. Having achieved survival, he resigned at the end of the season having completed the job he’d set out to do.
He would also go on to work with former Town player Dave Sutton at Rochdale in the 1990s, enjoying a spell as the club’s youth coach.
Back to Turf Moor
A period out of football followed before he returned to Burnley in 1998 when Stan Ternent appointed him as Head of the Centre of Excellence. He continued in this role for six years, helping to bring through a new generation of youngsters before he retired in 2004, bringing an end to a near 50-year career in which he achieved so much and impacted many people, including players and the supporters of the clubs he served during his career.
Robson would still regularly watch Burnley after his retirement, forever welcome at Turf Moor, and was also awarded a Special Achievement Award by their Supporters Club in 2012. His heart clearly belonged to his first club, having spent a good chunk of his working life there, achieving much success and legendary status there and supporting them in his retirement. But there was also a small place for Huddersfield Town in there as well.
“Obviously my time was spent at Leeds Road, but the club were good enough to give me a life-long pass to watch Huddersfield Town at home at the new stadium…I was at Huddersfield for 10 years and I enjoyed every day.”
Jimmy Robson passed away on December 14th at the age of 82 and is survived by his children, Gavin, Melanie, Craig and Dany.