Robbie Elliott recalls epic derby clash ahead of epic bike ride

TRIBUTE ... Robbie Elliott is cycling 3,500 miles in memory of Sir Bobby Robson.
TRIBUTE ... Robbie Elliott is cycling 3,500 miles in memory of Sir Bobby Robson.
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IT was a night Robbie Elliott will never forget.

Neither will those who shared a dressing room with him at an eerie Roker Park, nor those Newcastle United fans who somehow made it into the ground.

INFLUENCE ... Robbie Elliott with the late Sir Bobby Robson during their time together at Newcastle.

INFLUENCE ... Robbie Elliott with the late Sir Bobby Robson during their time together at Newcastle.

In the 1996/97 season, away fans were banned from Tyne-Wear derbies.

And on an intimidating evening on Wearside in September 1996, Kevin Keegan’s team memorably came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand.

Not surprisingly, it is Elliott’s abiding derby memory.

And the former Newcastle defender – who today set off on an epic 3,500-mile bike ride from Portugal to Tyneside in memory of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson – is relishing Sunday’s sold-out game at the Stadium of Light.

Only the 38-year-old won’t be able to watch it.

Gosforth-born Elliott – who also had a six-month spell at Sunderland late in his career – will be leaving Madrid for Barcelona.

“It could be a long day, or not, depending on the result,” joked Elliott.

The 147th derby between the two sides will be very different to that 16 years ago in what was the last fixture between the two sides at Roker Park.

“The derby at Roker Park when we won 2-1 really stands out for me,” reflected Elliott, who had two spells at United.

“It was tough without away fans. It was an incredible evening.

“It was an eerie atmosphere. When things started going well, the Newcastle fans popped up all around the ground.

“It’s a game I’ll never forget. It was a great team, and a great season. In the four walls of the dressing room, we expected to win every game.”

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is attempting to build an equally formidable team.

Elliott’s former team-mates Steve Harper, Shola Ameobi and Steven Taylor could all play, and the game will mean more to them than anyone in the dressing room.

“I’d like to think all the players know what it’s about, and are totally aware of the situation,” said Elliott.

“But it’s different for the local lads. It’s how they’re brought up.

“Some players might think it’s another game, and another 90 minutes, but it’s so much more than that.

“The build-up, and the excitement of the day, are something else.

“If you live in the region, these two fixtures really matter. There’s a long time between games if it doesn’t go right. Going away is always that little bit tougher. If we put out our first XI, you’d fancy our chances.

“Fingers crossed the internationals come back in one piece. You’ve got to be 100 per cent right for these games.”

Elliott – who works for US Soccer as a performance coach – is cycling between all the teams managed by Sir Bobby over the next few weeks along with triathlete Phil Gray.

The money raised will go towards the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

Elliott – who didn’t previously cycle – has been training hard in recent months. “There are going to be a lot of tough times – we know that,” he said.

“But Sir Bobby’s an inspiration to us all with what he went through.

“And the battle against cancer is very close to my heart.

“It’s been great. Everyone we’ve approached has really grasped the idea, and helped make it happen.

“I’ve been getting out as much as I can with Phil, and I’ve also been training indoors on the bike.

“The last two weeks have been about getting the logistics sorted, and it’ll be a relief just to get pedalling! It’s for Sir Bobby and his legacy. So many people have got involved.”

Their journey will end at the place closest to Sir Bobby’s heart – St James’s Park – on November 10.

“I’m trying not to think about the finish (at St James’s Park) – there’s a long way between the dots – but coming down Barrack Road’s at the back of your mind.”

* To donate to Bike for Bobby, go to www.justgiving.com/therobbieelliottfoundation. For more information, go to www.bikeforbobby.com.

Twitter: @milesstarforth