Robson and the Bangkok scandal

Bryan Robson has emerged with a blemished reputation after he was caught in a sting operation, plotting and planning dubious club takeover in England. Over to Brian Glanville.

How sad it was to watch Bryan Robson, once a heroic, fearless and compulsive England captain, exposed on a television “undercover” programme plotting and planning dubious club takeover in England, on behalf of an insidious organisation headed by the corpulent Joe Sim, a prominent figure in Bangkok, where the footage was covered hot; side by side with Robson himself.

Those of us who have fond, even vivid, memories of Robson in action, at least that spectacular early goal he headed in Bilbao against France in England's first 1982 World Cup match, hurling himself to meet Terry Butcher's flick on from Steve Coppell's lone throw in, could feel especially disappointed.

Robson played 90 times for England, many times as captain, and having begun with West Bromwich Albion — though a Geordie — enjoyed great success at Manchester United. It now remains to be seen whether the club will wish to continue with him as a global ambassador. No one can take the gloss off his reputation as a player — he was far less successful as a manager — but the television investigation has surely tarnished his image.

He declared it a good and valid idea for his organisation and by extension whatever organisation the television sleuths purported to represent to take over not just one English club but two. Even if the advantage of this seemed a little obscure. He insisted that whereas soccer had once been a sport, now it was only a business. The truth of the matter, surely being that since the very birth of professionalism back in the 19 {+t} {+h} century, it has surely always been both.

Taking Sheffield Wednesday, now down in the depths of the third division, alias the so called 1st Division, of the football League, he declared that a stake now taken in the club could enlarge in time to GBP 300,000. As for Mr. Sim, he constantly boasted of his close relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, the all conquering manager of Manchester United, whom he regarded as “a brother.” One who would provide whatever English club he and his people took over with loan players.

Yet, one wondered, how much good would that do? Only last season, Preston North End, when being managed by Alex Ferguson's son Darren, borrowed a number of players from Manchester United which didn't stop them being relegated from the first division.

What did seem surprising was the initial, evident readiness of Sim and his cohorts to take the television team at their face value without bothering to undertake any due diligence. It was only when the scene changed to London that, at last, the company's solicitors demanded that the fake English organisation produce the passport of a supposed Indian businessman, who would allegedly be financing their deal. When their request was twice not met, Sim and his company decided to pull out.

At the time the television investigation was shot, Robson, who would be diagnosed with cancer, was still in charge of the Thai national team. As for Sim, he is known to have been a friend of the disgraced and exiled former President of Thailand, Thaksin Shinwatra, who passed the so called “fit for purpose” criteria imposed by the Premier League despite the fact that he had been accused and was subsequently convicted for massive corruption in Thailand, and, by Amnesty International, of torture and even murder of opponents. None of which prevented him taking over a Manchester City, where the chief executive, one Garry Cook, an Englishman honed in the world of American business, declared him as a likable a figure with whom to play golf.

When, after much probing and persuading by the television, Sim, at last gave them the name of a club to take over, it was, somewhat ludicrously, Sheffield United — once managed with scant success by Robson himself — then in the 3rd division — or 1st decision to be precise — with debts of over GBP 50 million!

Meanwhile, we did see Sim dining amicably with Alex Ferguson, who'd subsequently deny that he had ever offered to lend Sim players or to give him, as Sim claimed, advice on what the results of other clubs than his might be. Yet if Ferguson was hardly a brother to Sim, you had to ask why he found such a man such plainly genial company.

It is Robson, alas, who emerged from this episode with a blemished reputation even though — despite the report that the Football Association are conducting an investigation — he has actually infringed no law.

Like Caesar's wife, however, one would always like a captain of England as courageous and dynamic as Robson to be above suspicion.