138. George Robledo
One of the first foreign-born players to make an impact in the English game, Chilean international George Robledo became a crowd favourite at Newcastle United for his performances in the club’s back-to-back FA Cup wins in the early 1950s. Although he had lived in England from an early age he became a regular international for Chile and returned to his homeland late in his career to enjoy further success with Colo-Colo.
Robledo was born in Iquique on 14 April 1926, the son of a Chilean father and an English mother. When he was still only five years old political upheaval in Chile led his mother to move back to England with her three sons, where they settled in Yorkshire. Growing up in a coal mining area, it was in that industry that he found work after leaving school, while also beginning his football career in local junior games. During the Second World War, he had a brief spell on the books of Huddersfield Town as an amateur but it was a move to Second Division Barnsley that really brought his career to life.
Robledo’s official Football League debut came in Barnsley’s first game of the 1946-47 season, as the league restarted after the war. In that first game he scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest. He spent a total of two and a half seasons playing league football with Barnsley, during which time the club also signed his younger brother Ted, but the team was unable to break out of a mid-table position in the Second Division. Part way through the 1948-49 season, Robledo had amassed 13 goals in 27 games for Barnsley and top division clubs began to take an interest in him.
Newcastle United made an offer to sign Robledo, but he made it clear that he was not prepared to move to the club unless his brother could move with him. Newcastle were really only interesting in signing George, but were so determined to conclude the deal that they eventually agreed to take Ted as well. The brother signed at the end of January 1949, with George making his debut in a 2-0 win over Charlton on 5 February. At the time, Newcastle were second in the league and chasing the title but could only finish fourth.
Usually playing at inside-left for Newcastle, Robledo scored 11 goals in his first full season of First Division football. He was a typical strong forward, good in the air and with a powerful shot, and immediately struck up an excellent partnership with centre-forward Jackie Milburn. His performances began to attract attention from his home country and in the summer of 1950, Robledo was called up by Chile ahead of the World Cup finals in Brazil. Playing at centre-forward for his country, he appeared in all three groups games but 2-0 defeats to England and Spain sent Chile out with a match to spare. However, Robledo did have the honour of scoring Chile’s first goal of the finals in their consolation 5-2 win over the USA.
During Robledo’s time at the club, Newcastle became a fixture in the top five of the First Division but after that first season were unable to mount a sustained challenge for the league title. They did however reach the FA Cup final against Blackpool in 1951, where Robledo became the first South American to appear in that showpiece game. After a goal-less first half, it was Robledo who created the opening goal for Milburn early in the second period and Newcastle went on to win 2-0.
The following season would prove to be arguably the finest of his career. Newcastle struggled to get above mid-table, but displaying what had become his trademark opportunism when within sight of the goal Robledo scored 33 league goals to finish as top scorer in the First Division. His grand total of 39 also equalled Hughie Gallacher’s then club record. Newcastle reached the FA Cup final again, this time against Arsenal, with both Robledo brothers this time appearing at Wembley. Six minutes from the end of a tight match, Robledo headed home a cross from Milburn to make Newcastle the first team to retain the trophy in 61 years.
After another strong season in 1952-53, Robledo was in high demand from clubs in Chile. That summer he left Newcastle to join Colo-Colo, again taking brother Ted with him. He had scored 82 league goals for Newcastle, making him the highest scoring non-British or Irish player in the English top flight, a record he held for almost 50 years until it was beaten by Dwight Yorke. Robledo would continue his fine goalscoring form in Chile, finishing as the league’s top scorer in each of his first two seasons with Colo-Colo and helping the club claim the title in 1953.
In 1955 both Robledo brothers were called up by Chile for the South American Championship, which Chile were to host. George scored in both of Chile’s first two games, once in a 7-1 thrashing of Ecuador and more significantly, twice in a narrow 5-4 win over Peru. Going into their final game against Argentina, Chile still had a chance of winning the title but a narrow 1-0 defeat ultimately left them in second place. After another league title with Colo-Colo in 1956, Robledo appeared in the South American Championship again in the spring of 1957 but was unable to find the net as Chile finished sixth out of seven teams.
During the later years of his time with Colo-Colo Robledo had finally been separated from brother Ted, who had returned to England to play for Notts County. After winning the Chilean Cup in 1958, he left Colo-Colo and after a short time out of the game, signed for Club Deportivo O’Higgins, where he played out the final years of his career. After two years with O’Higgins, during which time they finished fourth and eighth in the league, Robledo retired at the end of the 1960 season, aged 34.
In his retirement Robledo stayed largely out of the public eye, working with a mining company and running the sports programme at a school in Viña del Mar. He also worked on the organising committee when Chile hosted the World Cup finals in 1962. He lost his brother in tragic and mysterious circumstances in 1970 when Ted fell from the oil tanker on which he worked and drowned, with the exact events never being fully established. George Robledo died of a heart attack in Viña del Mar on 1 April 1989, less than two weeks before his 63rd birthday.