Sir Bobby Charlton: Goodbye to the greatest


Sir Bobby Charlton will always be remembered as an elite footballer, but following his passing on the 21st of October, it was his character that those who knew him wished to endure. It is a truly special feat to be one of the finest players of all time in your sport, and yet your personality stands firmer than your sporting reputation.

Born in Ashington, Northumberland, in 1937, Sir Bobby moved to the Manchester United academy in his youth following a successful stint in his school team. He would go on to make 758 appearances across 17 years for the club. Charlton made a near instant in his first two seasons; his goals fired Manchester United to the European Cup semi-finals in 1958. It was on the flight back from the quarter-finals in Serbia that Sir Bobby’s life would change.

The 1958 Munich Air Disaster killed 23 of the 44 people on board, including eight squad members and David Pegg, who had swapped seats with Charlton prior to takeoff. Multiple others never played again. Sir Bobby was only twenty years old, yet was burdened by the expectation of being central to rebuilding a club he had just watched collapse around him.

Charlton scored twice and lifted the trophy as captain

In 1965 and 1967, Charlton was influential in United’s league title successes, but it was in the European Cup that United were truly desperate for victory – the competition that took so much from the club. Against Benfica in the 1968 final, Charlton scored twice and lifted the trophy as captain.

The late 60s were Charlton’s peak as a footballer. Having been one of England’s best players at the 1962 World Cup, Sir Bobby was England’s figurehead approaching the tournament on home soil in 1966. Scoring three goals, including two in the semi-final, pushed him to the forefront of global footballing attention, especially as England went on to claim the Jules Rimet trophy. He and Franz Beckenbauer famously marked each other out of the final.

Playing as a midfielder, Charlton’s goalscoring record is astounding. Scoring in every other game for England saw him rack up a record 49 goals for the Three Lions, a record only broken by Wayne Rooney in 2015. His performances also earned him the Ballon D’Or in 1966. The enduring image of Sir Bobby on the football pitch remains his incredibly powerful right-footed shot, perhaps most famously demonstrated in the World Cup quarter-final against Mexico in 1966. His technique was unparalleled.

He won almost every trophy possible with a club he rebuilt from its ruins

Sir Bobby offered so much more than his footballing career, however. An ambassador for three Olympic Games bids and one World Cup bid, he was always looking at how to help his country. Charitable work included cancer work and land mine clearance, after making visits to Laos and Cambodia.

Raising a successful family was another string to Sir Bobby’s bow. His daughter was a BBC weather presenter, whilst older brother Jack earned 35 England caps, being part of the same iconic team of 1966, and he became a Leeds United legend after a remarkable 21 seasons at the club.

There has been much debate over Sir Bobby’s position amongst England’s greatest ever players. For me, there is no question. One of a handful of men to deliver a trophy to our nation, his consistency and longevity at Manchester United demands the utmost credit. His statistical output is unmatched in his position in England and he won almost every trophy possible with a club he rebuilt from its ruins. It was almost as if he played his career for those whose careers and lives were stolen in 1958. Sir Bobby is the greatest this country has ever seen.

Image: Jack de Nijs via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.