A teacher from Easington who set football legend Bryan Robson on his path to World Cup stardom has been hailed as a ‘very special’ influence on his life.
Norman Humphries, who was also a football scout, spotted a young Robson while playing for Chester-le-Street boys in the early 1970s.
He managed to get him a trial with West Bromwich Albion, where the midfielder came through the ranks before going on to achieve worldwide acclaim with Manchester United and England.
Robson, who was born in Chester-le-Street, was back in the region this week to remember his time as manager of Middlebrough between 1994 and 2001.
He took to the stage in front of a sell-out crowd alongside radio presenter Paul ‘Goffy’ Gough, from Hartlepool, whose company Goffy Media had arranged the event.
Norman’s son Gavin was at the event, and was invited on stage by Mr Gough to pay tribute to the former England captain.
Norman will always be very special in my life, that’s for sureBryan Robson
Robson said: “Gavin’s appearance came right out of the blue and I never expected anything in return.
“Norman will always be very special in my life, that’s for sure.
“You never forget wonderful people that help you along the way in life.”
Dubbed ‘Captain Marvel’ by his former England manager Sir Bobby Robson, Bryan Robson was awarded an OBE for his achievements in 1990.
He gave credit to Mr Humphries for his work in setting him on the road to stardom in his first book, ‘United We Stand’.
Norman’s son, Gavin, says his father – who died four years ago – was ‘so proud’ of Robson’s achievements in the game.
He said: “Bryan Robson is not only a fantastic footballer that we are all so very proud of here in the region, but he is also a super human being.
“My dad was so proud of what he went on to achieve at the very highest level, both on and off the pitch.
“We would often joke with my dad, as he would frequently get Bryan’s personally messaged book out and show visitors to the house his recognition inside the pages.
“He would tell the story that he went to watch Chester-le-Street boys to see a young goalkeeper one winter’s day for West Brom, and shining like a beacon was a young Bryan Robson, totally dominating the whole game.
“He was so outstanding that dad immediately rushed home and phoned West Brom to tell them to get him snapped up before anyone else would beat them to it.”
Norman was a highly-respected teacher, including a spell at Acre Rigg School in Peterlee, where he taught PE and Geography. He died aged 70 after a battle with cancer four years ago.
Gavin added: “It was at this time I thought I would try and track Bryan down to see if he would speak with my dad through the very difficult times that he was facing due to his suffering with cancer. Sure enough, he didn’t disappoint my dad.
“He was quickly in contact with him, urging him full of genuine compassion to stay strong and telling him how grateful he had been for getting him on the first rung of the ladder at West Brom all those years ago.
“He told him he would never forget it. This really gave my dad and all the family a huge boost in some very dark days of our life.
“We can never thank him enough, so when I heard the Boro fans were paying a tribute with a sell-out event I just knew I had to get there and personally shake his hand and thank him for being such a wonderful man.”