This week’s visit by Rafa Benitez to the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre was something I was lucky to attend in a professional capacity.
The visit was also special to me personally, as a Newcastle fan, and I loved the way he approached it. It was all very low key, no fuss. In that respect, and a few others, I found Rafa very like Sir Bobby.
throughout his visit. Lots of eye contact, with everyone he met, lots of interest in other people, lots of smiles, jokes and, most importantly of all, lots of empathy for the patients in the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Centre.
He took the time to walk slowly down ‘The Football Corridor’ with its images of Sir Bobby and teams from across the North East. Its inclusion, in the heart of the region’s main cancer centre, is for me a symbol of how important football is to this area as a form of escapism and pride.
While a small group of us, including charity Patron, George Caulkin, squashed into Professor Ruth Plummer’s office and drank tea, he talked endearingly about ‘cheating his wife’ into watching football on their weekends away. Lady Elsie just smiled and nodded.
I was very impressed by him – as was Lady Elsie and everyone else he met.
What struck me most was how relaxed he seemed in his role as Newcastle’s manager. This is a one club city, starved of football joy. We have fallen head-over-heels for him in a very short space of time. To another man, that might be suffocating but he seemed so in tune with it.
As we were leaving the Northern Centre for Cancer Care a man in a wheelchair, obviously keen to be discharged, came up behind him and shouted loudly in broad Geordie: “Howay man Rafa. Oot the way. Ah wanna gan hyem!”
I have no idea if he understood the words, but I’m sure he understood the tone. He’s already one of us.
I hope my client, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and Newcastle United, who were kind enough to help organise the visit, will understand my lack of strict professionalism when I thanked Rafa for ‘rescuing our club’.
It felt like the right thing to say and I think Sir Bobby would approve.
Photo inset by Serena Taylor for Newcastle United