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The Big Interview with Robert Thorpe

Robert Thorpe, the ‘Rolls Royce’ of football (as recently nicknamed by former Derby County player Shane Nicholson) sat down with the team at Football Aid to share his stories/experiences and reflect on his achievements in the game so far.  

Let’s begin …

Firstly, just to give the readers some background on your “football” career, can you tell us a bit about yourself and an overview of the clubs you have played for?

“I think I was six years old when I had my first pair of football boots and used to go and play on the green across the road where I lived. From around the age of 10, four or five of us played in the street using a gas lamp and a tree that was just wide enough for the goals. We used to play attack and defence (not many cars came past in those days). We also played in Longley park using coats as goals and during school holidays we took jam sandwiches and a bottle of tap water so we could play all day.

From 11 years old I played football for the school football team. There were no junior teams in my day so at the age of 16 I played for my Dad’s work team called Jubilee Sports.  

From 16-22 years of age I played for Jubilee Sports and we won the Sports and Athletic Premier League for three consecutive seasons; 1968–1969, 1969-1970 and 1970-1971. We were then promoted to the Hatched League and we won the division in 1972-1973.

I then began playing for Forward Sports which was my work’s team and where we once again won the league in 1973-1974. Success followed when we also won the league and cup in 1975-1976. I also represented the Sheffield league and we beat Huddersfield 3-1 and I scored a goal.

Forward changed its name to Kings Head and in 1978-1979 I was awarded player of the year.

In 1982-1983 I started playing for Frecheville Football Club and I was awarded the County Senior and Northern Counties Teams Player of the Year for 1984-1985 and Clubman player of the year for 1986-1987.

I moved to Derbyshire’s Holmesfield Football Club over 35s team in 1990-1991 we won Division 1, and I Scored the winner to help us get promotion in the last match of the season.

In 1994-1995 I moved to Sheffield’s Davy Sports over 35`s team.

From 1995 I played in the over 35`s team for Sheffield Aurora, then as we were getting older, we moved to the over 45`s league and we were runners up in 2016-2017.  

To the present day I continue to play 90 minutes most Saturdays and train every Tuesday night”.

Sunday football – list of honours:

“When I was aged 17 a couple of friends and I formed Hamilton Sports to play in the Sunday under 21`s league.

In 1971 we moved to the Sunday Alliance League where we were runners up in 1975-1976.

I was player of the year in 1974-1975,1975-1976 and 1976-1977.

I then moved to Forum / Attercliffe`s Lib`s where I was player of the year in 1979-1980, we were the League and Cup Double winners in 1980-1981.

I made another move to Fox Lane and further success when we won the Sheffield Tax League for 1983-1984 and a further bonus when I was awarded Player of the year.

I moved to Centre Spot in 1984-1985 and in 1986-1987 we won Division 2.

From 1991 to 1995 I coached A.F.C Dronfield`s under 12`s to under 16`s. We won the Sporting Award in 1993-1994. I retired from coaching in 1995.  

In 1998 I played for the Black Bull Taverners in the over 45`s Umbro National where we won the final at the home of Rushden and Diamonds Football Club.

We won the competition once again in 1999 but this time, we played at the Old Wembley Stadium. We preceded Kingstonians and Forest Green Rovers before the Umbro Cup final, with about 30,000 people watching. Jimmy Greaves presented the cup and our winners medals. My team colleagues voted me Man of the Match which I consider to be a huge honour.

In 2000 we won the cup again, but this time we played at The City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest FC”.

Can you tell us which footballers you loved to watch when you were growing up? Also, are there any players in the modern game that you particularly like to watch?

“My favourite players growing up were Duncan Edwards even though I was only eight when he tragically died in the Munich Air Disaster. Sir Bobby Charlton was another huge favourite of mine and Dean, my eldest son’s middle name is called Charlton after the great man himself.

Peter Swan, Vic Mobley, Ron Springett, John Fantham, Gerry Young, Mark Smith, John Sheridan, Chris Waddle all from Sheffield Wednesday which was my boyhood team.

Other players are Bobby Moore, Jack Charlton, Gordon Banks, Roy McFarland, and Norman Hunter.

Another one of my favourite players was Pelé who I saw play for Santos against Sheffield Wednesday in 1962 scoring a penalty against the then England goalkeeper Ron Springett, Pelé went to take it with his right foot and used his left and Springett never moved it was so good.   

George Best who was in my opinion the most complete footballer as he could dribble, tackle, use both feet and head a ball which not too many players can do.  

I loved to watch the England team that won the World Cup in 1966, and also the side that reached the World Cup Semi-Final in 1990.   

The players I love to watch in the modern game are Harry McGuire and Harry Kane. You will notice that I have listed quite a few defenders in all of these, probably that is why I play in defence”.

Moving on to your experiences with Football Aid, you have played in 85 matches and rank second in the all-time hall of fame for appearances, a remarkable and truly outstanding achievement. How did you first hear about Football Aid and what are your early memories?

“I first played in a Football Aid game back in 2004 when a friend told me about the charity. I was both interested in supporting the charity which raises funds for children with Type 1 Diabetes and for the opportunity to play football at some amazing football grounds. The first game I played in was at Sheffield Wednesday and the legend on my side was Mark Smith, a player I had admired when he was playing for The Owls and he was very good at encouraging all of us on the day”.

Bob Thorpe EE Wembley Team 2015

What are your favourite Football Aid moment(s) and highlights so far?  

“The England game at Wembley in 2015 obviously stands out. Alan Kennedy (European cup winner and scorer of the winning goal) was on our side and Mark Wright on the other side both England internationals and they are still very competitive. Our Manager on the day was Gary Mabbutt and Terry Butcher was managing the other team. Terry had to be persuaded not to sub a couple of players who were not doing too well even though they had paid for 90 minutes because he was desperate to win, “quite amusing” as they had been winning 3-1 and we had equalised to make it 3-3  but they finished winning 5-3 after a superb game of football. I was nominated Man of the Match for my team. A great honour as it was chosen by the ex-international players. My eldest son Dean also scored”.

What is the best stadium you have played at?

“The best surfaces I have played on are Wembley, Aston Villa and Hampden Park but now most of the surfaces are very similar as thousands of pounds are spent on the pitch”.

Within the Football Aid network, you are very much regarded as a “legend” and numerous players have mentioned to us that they would love to emulate your record. I was keen to find out who is the best Legend/Ex Professional you have played alongside, and/or been Managed by, and why?

“There are so many to mention Denis Irwin was a joy to play alongside also encouraging and advising, Pat Nevin another who was similar and when he picked me as Man of the Match he gave a good explanation why. Colin Hendry was very competitive and even though he played half a game on each team wanted to win both halves and played as though his life depended on it”.

Do you have any pre-match superstitions/rituals that you like to do before playing in a match?

“I like to have a cup of tea while waiting for all the players to arrive, if a massage is available I tend to be first on the couch then I have my own warm up which I do as well as join in with the other players. This to me is important as I don`t want to pull a muscle early in the game”.

Bob Thorpe Shef Wed 2010

On the topic of the Football Aid schedule, are there any events you look out for at the launch of the new Football Aid season in September?

“I am interested at playing at any grounds that I have not played at, (despite going off track and playing at some grounds several times)! As I would like to play as many as possible before I get too old! The grounds I love and look out to play at are Wembley (I have played at both the old and the new stadium), Sheffield Wednesday (my team) and Aston Villa my wife Linda`s favourite team as her dad supported them and she likes the name”!

Lastly, do you have any advice / recommendations for any supporters that are thinking about taking part in a Football Aid event?

“For supporters who are considering playing in a Football Aid game Do It, we are only here once and it is a fantastic experience, from entering the dressing room, seeing your shirt with your number and name on. Going down the tunnel onto the pitch, which in most occasions is like playing on a bowling green, especially after years of playing on pitches down at the local park!

On a professional pitch you know that you can pass with just one touch, rather than having to take two or three to get the ball under control.  

Try to ensure that you are reasonably fit to play because I have seen some guys get injured during the warmup because they have not prepared for the occasion.

It has been a brilliant opportunity for me to play many of the games with my eldest son Dean and a few games with both of my sons Dean and Geoff also with my brother David.

Wembley was the icing on the cake because all four of us played. Dean scored and I was Man of the Match.

Above all, don`t forget that we are helping to raise money for worthy causes.  

I consider myself very lucky to have come across Football Aid and been fortunate and fit enough to play in 85 games most of which were 90 minutes. To have made many friends through Football Aid and quite a few of us keep in contact via a WhatsApp group.

Not many players have been fortunate enough to play at the Old Wembley and the New Wembley. I enquired at the Guinness Book of Records because I believe we were the only two sets of brothers and father and sons playing for England or in any other organised football match at Wembley. Unfortunately, they informed me that they do not “recognise” it! Even though I believe that it has never been done before.

My thanks also go to all the Football Aid staff, the staff at each of the football grounds and all the people who have paid to play, you have all made the whole experience unforgettable. I have also met many legends who both support the charity but love to play at their beloved clubs. You have all given me the opportunity of “living my dream” and all in all “I have never looked back”. A real bonus is that professional photos and DVD `s are available so you can relive your memories."

Bob Thorpe - Derby County 2019

On a final note another highlight of playing in Football Aid games is having the opportunity to play alongside or to be managed by and against an ex professional and International player. I have played with quite a number players to name a few: Mark Smith, Terry Curran, John Sheridan, Phil King, John Pearson, Brian Laws, Russ Wilcox , Lawrie Madden, Greg Fee, Lee Bullen, Matthew Pindar, Peter Lorimer, Mike Whitlow, Tony Kelly, John Hendrie, Chris Fleming, Andy Hinchcliffe, Ian Brightwell, Peter Beardsley, Mick Martin, Paul Lambert, Trevor Steven, Pat Nevin, Jeremy Goss, Dale Gordon, Bryan Gunn, Gary Shaw, Bryan Small, Dave Norton, Kevin Gallacher, Simon Ireland, Richard Brown, Mark Robson, Stuart Barlow, Kevin Hector, Roger Davies, Dave Bennett, David Busst, Scott Booth, Alan McLaren, Mark Atkins, Dennis Irwin, Arthur Albiston, Jason McAteer, Michael Thomas, Howard Gale, Brian Hall, Jim Beglin, David Fairclough, Ally McCoist, Derek McInnes, Ally Dawson, Alec Cleland, Don Goodman, Andy Mutch, Robbie Dennison, Jon Purdie, Steve Sedgley, Shaun Teal, Mark Burke, Charlie Aitken, Chris Nichol, Perry Groves, Derek Spence, Terry Pashley, Marc Joseph, Ciaran Donnelly, Jamie Milligan, John Hills, Matt Jackson, Denis Smith, Carl Beeston, Wayne Biggins, Andy Cooke, Jason Lee, John O`Hare, Des Lyttle, Steve Hodge, Paul Furlong, Wayne Fereday, Tom Boyd, John Kennedy, Tony Daley, Matt Murray, Steve Bull, Jody Craddock, Steve Froggatt, Tony Currie, Mark Todd, Carl Bradshaw, Ted Hemsley, Len Badger, David Holdsworth, Kevin Gage, Carl Asaba, Richard Sneekes, Ian Hamilton, James Beattie, Luca Franchini, Terry Butcher, Mark Wright, Gary Mabbutt, Alan Kennedy, Colin Hendry, Frank Casper, Jim Thompson, Martin Laursen, Matt Piper, Julian Joachim, Marc Edworthy, Roy McFarland,  Michael Johnson, Jonathon Stevenson, Shane Nicholson, Les Bradd, Brian Bates, Mark Stallard, Thomas Butler, Lee Trundle, Rob Edwards, Colin Cramb, Lee Jenkins, Mamady Sidibé, Chris Sedgwick, Andy Monkhouse, and the list goes on.…

So, don’t hesitate, get your bids in and LIVE YOUR DREAM as Dreams CAN and DO come true.