The principles in life have changed for Bryan Robson; that is what cancer does to you.
It is 11 years since his diagnosis and thankfully the only reminder is an occasional scratch of discomfort from the scar tissue in his throat and a sensitivity to the cold.
This week, as a film about Captain Marvel’s inspirational life is released, Robson is grateful to the highly skilled Thailand doctors who ensured he is still around to enjoy it.
A movie about the life of Bryan Robson (shown right) will be released to the public this week
ROBBO: The Bryan Robson Story will celebrate the career of United legend ‘Captain Marvel’
He was coaching Thailand’s national side when he became troubled by a dogged, tickly cough and struggled to swallow. One Monday morning, his wife Denise urged him to visit the ear, nose and throat clinic across the road from their Bangkok apartment.
‘The doctor was blunt,’ says Robson. ‘There was no pulling punches: ‘This looks like a cancerous tumour, Mr Robson. It will have to come out’.
‘Looking at my throat he was surprised that I’d never smoked and asked if I drank a lot of vodka or whisky. I said I never touch shorts. After half an hour, I walked back. It was about 600 yards, I was just dazed, then I told Denise and she got a bit panicky.’
That afternoon the doctor called Robson back for an MRI scan. ‘At 5pm, he was there waiting for my results to come out then he said, ‘you can go home, I’ll be back in touch’.’
‘At 9pm that night he phoned to say I want you in all day Tuesday for bone scans, blood tests and a lumbar puncture. He wanted me in the hospital on Wednesday night and on Thursday morning they took the tumour away.
Several stars attended the premiere. Pictured: United’s Harry Maguire, caretaker boss Michael Carrick, Robson, managerial icon Sir Alex Ferguson and Red Devils legend Wayne Rooney (l-r)
Robson’s former England team-mate Paul Gascoigne (pictured) was also one in attendance
‘The speed was incredible, undoubtedly that played a significant part in me being here now. Everything about them was immaculate. They gave me so much confidence. It was like how hospitals used to be here.’
That is not to say radiotherapy treatment was a proverbial walk in the park. ‘They mould a mesh mask to your face and it has bolts at the side that pin you to the bed then straps across your chest so you can’t move.
‘People who have claustrophobia, I don’t know how they do it. I was gasping for air at first as it’s so unnatural but once I relaxed I was OK. The good thing was it was only for 15 to 20 minutes.
‘I went in Monday to Friday so I could still watch matches at the weekend. My appointment time was 10am. In four weeks of treatment they were never late once. They were brilliant.’
In the darkest days, Robson was drained and lost his appetite. Food tasted charred and, when he could eat, it had to be cold soup or scrambled eggs. Two weeks before his treatment ended, local media began asking questions about his regular visits to the hospital.
Robson and Ferguson both spoke at the event. Pictured right: Sports presenter Jim Rosenthal
Steve Bruce (fourth left), Sam Allardyce (third right), Graeme Souness (second right) also went
Up to that point, Robson had kept his illness secret from family. He had to tell his children Claire, Charlotte and Ben before news broke and rang Manchester United to release a statement to the world.
After 18 weeks he was told his cancer was clear. On returning to England, close friend, former Nottingham Forest striker Trevor Francis and his wife Helen offered support.
‘Helen had gone through hell with her own cancer treatment and she recommended a specialist in Harley Street who kept an eye on me for the next few years.’
After eight years and a few unfounded scares, the specialist told Robson he no longer required scheduled check-ups. Tragically, Helen passed away in 2017. ‘I’m one of the fortunate ones,’ says Robson, 64.
The mental fortitude and drive that served him so well as a player were no doubt integral to his fight. As was the unswerving support of his family. ‘Denise has been brilliant throughout. The principles of life for us have changed. If Denise wants to go on holiday, we’ll go and make more time for the grandkids.’
Robson (left) was a generational talent, a gifted all-action, all-round centre midfield player
Robson, 64, began his career at West Bromwich Albion before moving to Manchester United
He won nine trophies during his time at Old Trafford, including two Premier League titles
Robson went on to manage clubs including Middlesbrough, West Brom and Sheffield United
That is apt as the arrival of Claire’s baby daughter Mia last week makes it six grandchildren for the Robsons. ‘Football no longer governs what we do. The focus is on family now.’
It may be just as well amid the latest crisis his beloved United find themselves in. Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as interim manager was the topic of conversation as luminaries such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul Gascoigne showed their support for Robson at his film’s premiere last Thursday.
‘It was sad Ole had to go as he is such a classy guy but whatever message he wanted to get across to the players wasn’t getting through,’ says Robson.
‘When David de Gea said after the Watford defeat that the team didn’t know what to do with the ball, that should have stayed in the dressing room, not said publicly. The players need to take a good look at themselves.
‘The first thing Ralf Rangnick will do is get them organised and play to their strengths because this is a talented squad of players. They just need direction.’
How they could do with Captain Marvel today.
ROBBO: The Bryan Robson Story is available on DVD, Blu Ray and digital download from November 29. Pre orders are available from Amazon, AppleTV and SkyStore.
Robson’s toughest opponents
Top, top player. He could dribble, had great vision and was fantastic at playing a ball with one touch. Was as good as any on free-kicks also.
Was the best player in the world. His low sense of gravity enabled him to dribble past you at ease and he was so quick over the first five yards.
Had incredible talent and great quality of pass. Had a clever knack of being able to push off your chest like a springboard then he’d speed away from you.
Read the game brilliantly and was an excellent passer from deep. Could be nasty but we always had a fair contest and he scored some spectacular goals.
Unbelievable talent who you just couldn’t get the ball off. I marked him for England v Brazil and his close skill was incredible. He was very similar to Platini.
A great box to box midfielder who had fantastic stamina and could score goals. He was a tough tackler too. Won everything with Juventus and Italy.
Worked incredibly hard to become European Footballer of the Year. Very brave, tough to tackle and was constantly on the move, never stayed in a straight line.