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Club news

Ex-Arsenal keeper Bob loves life in Dorset


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

If half-and-half scarves were available at tomorrow’s FA Cup tie, Bob Wilson may have been tempted to add one to his birthday list.

The legendary Arsenal goalkeeper has a soft spot for the Cherries, having lived in Dorset for the past ten years.

Bob and wife Megs moved to Christchurch in 2009, following close friends Dennis and Jan Roach, who had relocated to Mudeford from Hertfordshire.

Awarded an OBE for his charity work in 2007, Bob is most noted for his 11-year playing career with the Gunners between 1963 and 1974.

He made more than 300 appearances for the club and was crowned player of the year when they famously won their first double in 1971.

After hanging up his boots, Bob, who won two caps for Scotland, enjoyed an illustrious career in both coaching and broadcasting.

He spent 28 years as goalkeeping coach at Arsenal, working with the likes of Pat Jennings, John Lukic and David Seaman.

Bob retired at the end of 2002/03 season, having helped Arsenal win two further doubles under his good friend Arsene Wenger in 1997/98 and 2001/02.

A pundit for the BBC during their 1970 World Cup coverage, Bob went on to present Football Focus and Grandstand and also featured alongside Jimmy Hill on Match of the Day.

He also read the sports bulletins on Breakfast News and occasionally presented Sportsnight before moving to ITV in 1994 to front their Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup coverage.

In an interview with afcb.co.uk, Bob, now 78, explains how he came to reside locally: “Dennis Roach, who was a Bournemouth season ticket holder, became a big friend when we used to live in Hertfordshire. Sadly, Dennis died in May this year.

“I played for Loughborough University and our captain Terry Casey had a Christmas dinner party in 1964. We met Dennis and Jan there and became lifelong friends.

“Dennis went on to become one of the most successful football agents in the world.

“Him and Jan bought a holiday home in Mudeford which eventually became their permanent home and we used to come down and visit them.

“We saw a house in Christchurch which we had as a holiday home. At the time, I was getting up early in the morning to do bulletins on Breakfast News and then doing interviews for Grandstand and Match of the Day so we hardly ever used the house in Christchurch.

“We decided to move here ten years ago and sold our home in Hertfordshire. We followed friends here but I can’t tell you how many friends have followed us here as well. It’s a special place to live.”

Bob’s first real contact with the Cherries came in the mid-1970s after he had been appointed as a member of the Sports Council (now Sport England).

“Sir Roger Bannister was chairman and I became a member after I had finished playing,” said Bob. “I was very proud to be elected.

“One of my projects was to come to Bournemouth to look at what they were thinking of doing at that time.

“It was all linked with the community so I had that link with the club. I knew what Bournemouth were like and what their plans were so that was another little association with the club.

“I like the club and it’s remarkable what Eddie Howe has done there. I know there are always going to be concerns because of the size of the club, the size of the crowds and everything that goes with it but to see them rise from League Two to the Premier League was a fantastic achievement.

“Megs and me were both born in Chesterfield so we still look for their results but we always look for Bournemouth’s as well.

“I like the chairman a lot. We always have a good chat and he is very friendly. Every time in recent years that Bournemouth have played at the Emirates, Jeff has been there with his wife Rose.

“I like the way Eddie Howe plays the game and he shares a philosophy with Arsene. They like to play attractive football and that’s my type of football.

“It’s remarkable they are able to compete and the way they have competed in the Premier League. In my opinion, it’s no longer a level playing field.

“Even with the television money, you can see there are certain clubs which benefit massively from the extra money they get.

“It’s incredible they are able to put guys on the field who are able to compete against the millions that it costs to put together some of the other teams and the extraordinary salaries those guys are earning.

“When I played, it was a level playing field where everybody could compete against each other and anybody could win the title. It’s a miracle to see Bournemouth competing against the likes of Liverpool.”

Bob, who earned £130-a-week in his final season as a player, founded with his wife the Willow Foundation, a charity which was set up in memory of their daughter Anna, who died of cancer, aged 31, in December 1998.

It provides special days for seriously ill young adults aged between 16 and 40 and has raised more than £60million in 20 years. 

“My nickname as a player was Willow,” explained Bob. “Since we moved to Christchurch, some of the fund-raising has been done here because we live here.

“We used to have a lot of golf days which were hosted by the Roach family. We don’t have that so much now but we are always looking support local charities ourselves.

“The Willow Foundation launched on August 25th 1999 and started as a Hertfordshire-based charity before we became national.

“We celebrated 20 years in August and have arranged more than 17,000 special days and are averaging between 1,000 and 1,200 every year.

“We have 40 staff and six shops and remain the only UK charity doing that age group. It’s difficult trying to raise what we have to and it’s a constant worry to Megs and myself how we can sustain what we have to.”

Click here to make a donation to the Willow Foundation.

This article first appeared in MATCHDAY on Boxing Day.

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