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Bob Wilson - Famous Derbyshire People

Bob Wilson

Chesterfield born Bob Wilson made his television debut in the same year that Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Over thirty years later, not only has the ex-Arsenal and Scottish International goalkeeper become known as an erudite and much loved television personality, latterly anchoring ITV's football commentating team at the European Championship Finals in Belgium and Holland in 2002, but he is also a qualified F.A. Coach,- and a trained school-teacher.
Chesterfield is famous for its production line of goalkeeping greats, including such legendary figures as Gordon Banks, Alan Stevenson, John Osborne, Ray Middleton, Steve Ogrizovic, Steve Hardwick, - and F.A.Cup and League Championship double winner, Bob Wilson.

Bob was born at Ashgate Road, Chesterfield on October 21st 1941, the youngest of six children, five of whom were boys. His father was Borough engineer and surveyor of Chesterfield and his mother was a local magistrate.
All five boys attended Chesterfield Grammar School, - and excelled at sport.
The two eldest, John and William (or Jock & Billy as Bob called them) were fine athletes, both being victor lodorum of the school, and Don was a fine swimmer.
Sister Jean was the fourth child, followed by Hugh, two years older than Bob and like his famous brother also a footballer who played centre-half for Grantham in the Midland League.
Jock, a Spitfire pilot, was shot down and killed in 1942, and Billy, rear gunner in a Lancaster, was killed a few months later. Bob was too young to know them.

An inspiration to any local sports mad youngster, Bob's epitomises the character of the lion rampant that he so proudly wore on his Scottish International goalkeeping jersey, and his success has been built on the solid foundation of a wonderfully supportive and close-knit family, exemplifying the ethic of teamwork,- and sheer guts and determination.
"I have been keen on sport ever since I can remember"?, says Bob, - when I was eight a friend gave me a red goalkeeping jersey for Christmas, and everything else followed"?

Soon afterwards he was keeping goal for Old Hall Primary School and went on to play football for Chesterfield Boys and England Schoolboys in 1956.
An excellent wicket-keeper, Bob, who at 15 stood 6ft tall and weighed 11st 2lbs also captained the Derbyshire Junior cricket team, ran the 400 metres in the National Schools Championships, and has always been a fine all round talented athlete.

"I was transferred to the Grammar School from Tapton House School when I was 13"?, says Bob, but I didn't want to go because I had taken a strong fancy to one of the girls there"?. (Tapton House was a `mixed' school). That girl was Margaret Miles,- or "Megs"? as Bob calls her, and they recently celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary - having become husband and wife at Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield on July 25th 1964.

As a youngster Bob trained at Old Trafford and at 15 turned down the chance to sign for Manchester United. "We were driving back to Chesterfield from Old Trafford when Dad suddenly told me that Matt Busby had chatted to him and had offered to sign me on schoolboy forms"? explained Bob, adding, "of course I was really excited, but then my Dad said - ` I told him no"?. "Dad wanted me to have a career, but if I had signed and then failed to make the grade, there would have been nothing to fall back on"? said Bob, "and you have to remember that in those days the maximum wage for a professional footballer was only £20 a week"?.

So in 1960 Bob went to Loughborough College where he studied history and physical education for three years and completed his teacher training course. He had a short spell as an amateur with Wolves during his college days, and then in 1963 he made his first visit to Highbury, the home of the famous `Gunners' of Arsenal and was shown around by the legendary Billy Wright.

Bob signed for Arsenal six months later and made his debut against Nottingham Forest on October 26th 1963, -a few days after his 22nd birthday. But there followed several frustrating years of playing in the reserves and even in the third team, and a career threatening broken arm - before the tenacious young keeper from Chesterfield became a regular first choice for Arsenal at the ripe old age of 26! The rest, as they say, is history:

Once established Bob Wilson became indispensable and his courageous displays earned him the praise and respect of soccer fans and fellow professionals alike. He was an integral part of the famous Arsenal double-winning side of 1970-71, winning a League Championship medal and an F.A.Cup Winners medal as Arsenal beat Liverpool at Wembley on May 8th 1971.

"Throughout my career the Wilson clan always came and supported me whenever they could"? says Bob. But surprisingly his father did not go to Wembley for the cup final; "˜He was ill at the time"?, recalls Bob, "˜and besides, he was a true Scot, keenly interested in Scottish football and he only ever really wanted me to play for Scotland"?.

This prospect was impossible at the time because a player could only play for the country of his birth, - and Bob of course, was born in England, - though of very Scottish parents, - and did not qualify. Remarkably however the rules were changed in 1972 allowing `foreign' born players to be selected to play for the country of their parents birth, and happily Mr.Wilson senior lived long enough to witness his son fulfilling his dream, for Bob Wilson became the first English-born player in history to play for Scotland when he was capped against Portugal in 1973!

Bob went on to further glory with Scotland and Arsenal, and already a regular T.V. pundit, became a professional television presenter in 1974. Since then he has won the hearts and admiration of fans all over the world and has become a familiar figure on the nations television screens, but all has not been roses; tragedy and heartbreak struck the family in December 1998 when 21-year-old daughter Anna died from leukemia after a long and valiant battle for life.

"Megs and I spent all our time with Anna towards the end, talking about her wishes and about what she wanted us to do"?. Bob explained that although four major charities existed to raise funds for the provision of `special days' for terminally ill children between the ages of 1 and 15, there was no provision for those from 15 years old upwards.

"So in memory of Anna and in respect of her wishes we formed the Willow Foundation"? says Bob, adding `this is a charitable Trust that raises funds to provide `special days' for terminally ill children over 15 years of age and thus fills the gap that the other charities leave"?.
With Bob and Megs at the helm the Willow Foundation exceeded its projected target of raising £100,000 and in its first year has raised over £160,000!

And what of the future for this multi-talented, globetrotting articulate champion `Gunner' whom his team-mates long ago nicknamed `Willow'?
"Well I had a hip replacement a couple of years ago"? said Bob now 61, adding wryly, ` so I've had to pack in the goalkeeping. My work in sport has taken me all over the world, and I've enjoyed it immenseley. I really loved my television work, and my professional role at Arsenal Football Club, but now I'm looking forward to retiring and devoting my energies to the Willow Foundation and to my family"?.

This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates