Footballers on Desert Island Discs: a classic history of bangers, books and luxury items

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Bobby Robson (December 2004)

Bobby Robson

“Was that the unkindest cut of all?” begins Sue Lawley, asking Wor Bob about his summer sacking from boyhood club Newcastle United. “Well, yes, it was. I was bewildered,” sighs Robson. “It’ll always hurt.” Way to kick a man when he’s down, Sue.

Sir Bobby then picks a bizarre duet between future Morrissey lookalike Robbie Williams and “the mature” [or dead. Ed.] Frank Sinatra, It Was a Very Good Year.

“I mean, it’s not been a very good year,” chuckles Robson, also selecting it as his Castaway’s favourite, “but it’s a beautiful song.” It’s Robbie, Bobby!

Few are the people who can bridge the gap between the chubby dancer in Take That and Edward Elgar’s sentimental funeral-regular Nimrod, but Robson does it expertly. “It reminds me of war and sadness,” he explains, with great gravitas.

After holding court on modern footballers’ penchant for diamond earrings and BMWs, Sir Bob picks Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is?, a husky lament on life at the circus. Insert your own punchlines. Ditto picking Chris de Burgh in any kind of situation, with the possible exception of playing Lady In Red while cutting out the British crooner’s vocal chords with a rusty spoon, so he can forever associate his ear-bleedingly awful tripe with something equally uncomfortable.

The Winner Takes It All by ABBA is up next because it appeared on a UEFA compilation tape from Robson winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Robson’s own divorce from Barcelona was about as messy as Bjorn and Agnetha’s laid out in the song, too.

Nessun Dorma is an obvious choice, Robson saying, “I think about the penalty shootout every day of my life”.

Robson’s description of how he found out he had cancer is truly heartbreaking, describing wife Elsie’s part in making her husband go to the doctor’s, and an operation in which a surgeon has to break through the roof of his mouth underneath his eye. That was in 1995. He would work for another 11 years.

Just the Way You Are by Barry White is a reminder of his loved ones, followed by Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World because it makes Bobby relax, “even though I know my time is diminishing”.

Robson intertwines his luxury item and book, wanting a sun lounger (with canopy) on which to read historian John Keegan’s account of the two world wars. Where do we sign (minus Chris de Burgh)?

It Was a Very Good Year – Robbie Williams & Frank Sinatra *

Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36: Variation IX (Nimrod) – Edward Elgar

Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee

Lady In Red – Chris de Burgh

The Winner Takes It All – ABBA

Nessun Dorma – Giacomo Puccini

Just The Way You Are – Barry White

We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong

BookHistory of World War I and II, John Keegan

Luxury item – Sun lounger (with canopy)

John Motson (June 2018)

John Motson

Still technically retired, pre-TalkSport Motty describes football commentary as “like living on a knife edge” early doors with Kirsty Young, pulling out England’s semi-finals at Italia ‘90 and Euro ‘96 as his career highlights. You know what’s coming (home) next and, yes, Three Lions is his castaway’s favourite.

Jaunty big band number The Red Red Robin, played when Charlton ran out at the first game he ever attended as child, is another sentimental choice. Sheepskin coat chat follows, plus Anne’s black book – a collection of yearly stats Motty’s wife keeps each season – and being packed off to boarding school because his Methodist minister father kept moving parishes. Diana by Paul Anka reminds Motty of the latter, which is a bit weird given it’s a song about teenage love affairs.

Elton John makes another appearance (though not a christening in sight) with Daniel, because it was playing on BBC local radio when Motty first cut his broadcasting teeth in Barnet. It was in north London where he met his wife, dedicating Annie’s Song to her, despite clearly never having listened to John Denver in his life, no matter how much she lights up his senses.

Discussion of Motson’s legendary back-and-forth with Brian Clough proves enlightening – “I knew I had the interview in the palm of my hand” – before he chooses Elaine Paige singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, a nod to the 1986 World Cup, via military juntas and West End shows.

Abide With Me features not just because of the FA Cup final, but because it’s in the Methodist hymn book as a nod to Motty’s father, with professional miser Paul Simon “the man who could touch your imagination with a line” his last track. He introduces his favourite artist’s The Boy in the Bubble with a tonal shift, recalling Ronnie Radford in Hereford’s FA Cup upset in February 1972.

Catcher in the Rye is his book because “it said everything about how I felt as an adolescent, how phony everything was”. Banned from taking a portable radio as his luxury item by an incandescent Young because it allows contact with the outside world, Motson gets into a tizz. Anne has suggested he takes paper tissues because his nose runs a lot; Young offers a crate of red wine.

“I’ll take my running shoes, how about that?” he offers.

Not the sheepskin coat? Say it ain’t so, Motty.

Three Lions – David Baddiel, Frank Skinner & The Lightning Seeds *

The Red Red Robin – Billy Cotton & The Johnston Singers

Diana – Paul Anka

Daniel – Elton John

Annie's Song – John Denver

Don't Cry for Me Argentina – Elaine Paige

Abide With Me – Henry Francis Lyte/William Henry Monk

The Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon

BookThe Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

Luxury item – Running shoes

Trevor Brooking (January 1982)

Trevor Brooking

Roy Plomley, who devised the idea for Desert Island Discs in 1941 as he was about to head for bed, goes hard and early. “Trevor,” he enquires, elongating his vowels like a kindly barrister, “are you fond of music?”

“Yes, I do like music,” confirms Trev, adopting a similar nervous tone as Gary Lineker would manage eight years later, “quite often at home with the family in the evenings we listen to music.” With anecdotes like that, FFT fears it’s going to be a long 40 minutes.

Plomley is determined to dig a little deeper. Does Brooking play an instrument? Piano lessons as a kid. Does he sing? In the shower or when no one’s around. Does he have a large collection? Yes, previously singles, but increasingly more cassettes for the cover.

Thankfully, Brooking’s musical taste is better than his repartie. No wonder he nearly became an accountant. Motown classic The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles is a song so good, an ‘80s footballer probably shouldn’t like it. Take a good look at FFT’s face, we’re not joking.

Plomley guides us through the West Ham forward’s two-footed upbringing with his dad and possibly becoming an accountant, having completed two A-levels.

“Good beaty number,” (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson is another certified Motown banger, and another contender for one of the greatest songs of all-time. Ditto, without the Motown, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me by Elton John, who is clearly a hit with football folk of all ages and eras.

“The saxophone is my favourite instrument,” Brooking, teeing up How Sweet It Is (To Be Love By You) by Jnr Walker & The All Stars, a celebratory take on the Marvin Gaye original. Continuing his hitherto impeccable selections, The Beatles’ Let It Be is next up after Brooking attempts an anecdote. Then explain how the upcoming summer’s World Cup will work with two group stage and “by the end of the day, certainly some of the ladies in the household will be sick and tired of football”. Best stick to the music, Trev.

He picks another third track with parenthesis Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) by Christopher Cross from Dudley Moore’s film of the same name. Things do eventually deteriorate for Trev, though. Diana Ross and Lionel Richie’s Endless Love – why not the Commodores or Supremes who were actually good? – is followed by another rotter of a duet from Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb with the nauseating What Kind of Fool. Just pick The Bee Gees!

Brooking’s luxury item is a set of golf clubs and ball – “If I’m on a desert island, I’ll probably need another sand wedge” – with the largest set of crossword puzzles he can find for his book. It takes Plomley to point out he’ll need some pencils as well.

The Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me – Elton John

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) – Jnr Walker & The All Stars

Let It Be – The Beatles

Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) – Christopher Cross

Endless Love – Lionel Richie & Diana Ross

What Kind Of Fool – Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb *

Book – Crossword puzzles and pencils

Luxury item – Golf clubs and balls

Jack Charlton (October 1990)

Jack Charlton

“I was big and I could kick the ball,” reasons the straight-talking miner’s son of his talents. “I liked to fight.” The eldest Charlton reveals it was only at his mother’s insistence – she was part of the Milburn dynasty, her first cousin Newcastle legend Jackie – that he played football at all, picking Frank Sinatra’s September Song because it reminds him of those early tin-bath-in-front-of-the-fire days.

Jack responds with admirable restraint at Sue Lawley’s attempts to rile him by focusing on younger brother Bobby’s successes, before recalling good old Geordie times by picking Crocodile Shoes by Jimmy Nail. Calmer waters come describing his first England call-up, entering a defeated Manchester United FA Cup semi-final dressing room in 1965 to tell a defected ‘Our Kid’ the news.

Roger Miller and King of the Road is next, Charlton visiting him backstage in Vancouver to have a beer for half an hour with the honky-tonk Country legend. The Dubliners’ jingle-jangling provide a similar backstage tale, and hint at his future trade with Dirty Old Town. As does Don’t Pay the Ferryman by Chris de Burgh – “who I’ve known for years” – and who performed Bobby Robson favourite Lady In Red for the Ireland squad after they were knocked out of Italia ‘90, a tactic which should really feature in an update to the United Nations Convention against Torture.

Well and truly warming to his folking theme, he goes for Red Rose Cafe by the The Fureys, then the almost spoken-word Delirium Tremens by professional Irishman Christy Moore. He concludes with more huskiness from Vic Vega favourite Lee Marvin and Wand’rin’ Star.

Lawley bends the rules to allow The Encyclopaedia of How To Survive for Jackie’s book, despite its practicality. And the luxury? “I have to have a fishing rod,” spits Charlton. “I can sit all day catching nothing and catching nothing. Of course on a desert island, I’d have to catch something, so it would also be a necessity.”

September Song – Frank Sinatra *

Crocodile Shoes – Jimmy Nail

King Of The Road – Roger Miller

Dirty Old Town – The Dubliners

Don't Pay The Ferryman – Chris de Burgh

Red Rose Cafe – The Fureys

Delirium Tremens – Christy Moore

Wand'rin' Star – Lee Marvin

BookEncyclopaedia of How To Survive

Luxury item – Fishing rod