Sir Robert "Bobby" Charlton
, CBE (born 11 October 1937) Ashington,
Northumberland is a former English professional football player, one of the most
famous names in the game and a hero of the 1966 World Cup. He played almost all
his club football at Manchester United, where he became renowned for his
attacking instincts from midfield and his ferocious long-range shot.
One of his uncles, the Newcastle United centre forward Jackie Milburn, was a
professional footballer, but it was Charlton's mother Cissie who coached him at
first. His elder brother, Jack, went to work as a miner and also applied to join
the police before also becoming a footballer.
On the 9th February 1953, Bobby was spotted playing for East Northumberland
schools by Manchester United chief scout Joe Armstrong. Bobby went on to play
for England schoolboys, but despite offers that followed from several other
clubs, the 16 year old signed with United. Initially his mother was reluctant to
let him commit to an insecure football career, so he began an apprenticeship as
an engineer, however he went on to turn professional in October 1954, and under
manager Matt Busby, was destined for even greater things.
Charlton became one of the famed Busby Babes, the collection of precociously
talented footballers who emerged through the system at Old Trafford under their
manager in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s as Busby set about a long-term plan of
rebuilding the club after the Second World War. He worked his way through the
pecking order of teams, scoring regularly for the youth and reserve sides before
he was handed his first team debut against Charlton Athletic in October 1956. At
the same time, he was doing his National Service in Shrewsbury, where Busby had
advised him to apply as it meant he could still play for United at the weekend.
Also doing his army service in Shrewsbury at the same time was his United
team-mate Duncan Edwards.
Charlton played 14 times for United in that first season. They won The
Football League but were denied the 20th century's first "double" when they lost
the 1957 FA Cup final controversially to Aston Villa. Charlton, still only 19,
was selected for the game which saw United goalkeeper Ray Wood carried off with
a broken cheekbone after a clash with Villa centre forward Peter McParland.
Though Charlton was a candidate to go in goal to replace Wood (in the days
before substitutes, and certainly before goalkeeping substitutes), it was
team-mate Jackie Blanchflower who ended up between the sticks.
Charlton was an established player by the time the next season was fully
underway, and the previous year United, as League champions, had become the
first English team to embrace the European Cup thoroughly, reaching the semi
finals where they lost to Real Madrid. Previously, the Football Association had
scorned the competition but United's progress through the rounds earned them
much continental respect, which was replicated the next season as they got to
the quarter finals to play Red Star Belgrade. In the first leg at home, United
won 2-1. The return in Yugoslavia saw Charlton score twice as United stormed 3-0
ahead and though the hosts came back to earn a 3-3 draw, United maintained their
aggregate lead to reach the last four and were in jubilant mood as they headed
off to catch their flight home, thinking of an important League game against
Wolves at the weekend.
The aeroplane which took the United players and staff home from Zemun Airport
needed to stop in Munich to refuel. This it did, in turning weather, and by the
time the refuelling was complete and the call was made for the passengers to
re-board the aircraft, the wintry showers had taken hold and snow had settled
heavily on the runway and around the airport. There were two aborted take-offs
which caused a rumpus on board, and the passengers were advised by a stewardess
to dismount again while a minor technical error was fixed.
Back in the airport terminal for barely ten minutes, the call to reconvene on
the plane came and a number of passengers began to feel nervous. Charlton and
team-mate Dennis Viollet swapped places with Tommy Taylor and David Pegg, who
had decided they would be safer at the back of the plane. This would prove a
The plane clipped the fence at the end of the runway on its next take-off
attempt and a wing tore through a nearby house, setting it alight. The wing and
part of the tail came off and hit a tree and a wooden hut spinning along the
snow until coming to a halt. It had been cut in half.
Charlton, strapped into his seat, had fallen out of the cabin and when United
goalkeeper Harry Gregg (who had somehow got through a hole in the plane
unscathed and begun a one-man rescue mission) found him, he thought he was dead.
That said, he grabbed both Charlton and Viollet by their trouser waistbands and
dragged them away from the plane in constant fear that it would explode. Gregg
returned to the plane to try to help the appallingly injured Busby and
Blanchflower and when he turned round again, he got the relief of his life when
he saw that Charlton and Viollet, whom he'd presumed to be dead, had both got
out of their detached seats and were looking into the wreckage.
Charlton suffered cuts to his head and severe shock and was in hospital for a
week. Seven of his team-mates had perished at the scene, including Taylor and
Pegg, with whom he and Viollet had swapped seats prior to the fatal take-off
attempt. Club captain Roger Byrne was also killed, along with Mark Jones, Billy
Whelan, Eddie Colman and Geoff Bent. Duncan Edwards died a fortnight later after
an agonising battle against his injuries. In total, the crash claimed 23 lives.
Initially, ice on the wings was blamed, but another inquiry later declared that
slush on the runway had made the plane's facility to achieve safe take-off
conditions almost impossible.
Charlton was the first survivor to leave hospital. He arrived back in
Manchester on February 14, 1958, eight days after the crash. As he convalesced,
he spent some time kicking a ball around with local youths and a famous
photograph of him was taken. He was still only 20 years old, yet now there was
expectation on him to help with the rebuilding of the club as Busby's aides
tried to piece together what remained of the season.
Not unexpectedly, United went out of the European Cup to Real Madrid in the
semi finals to a 5-2 aggregate defeat and fell behind in the League. Yet somehow
they reached their second consecutive FA Cup final and the big day at Wembley
coincided with Busby's return to work. His words could not inspire a side which
was playing on a nation's goodwill and sentiment, however, and Nat Lofthouse
scored twice to give a professional Bolton Wanderers side a 2-0 win.
Hero of United & England
At the same time, Charlton's emergence as the country's leading young
football talent was completed when he was called up to join the England squad
for a British Home Championship game against Scotland at Hampden Park. It would
be the start of a long, prolific, record-breaking and globally respected career
for his country.
Charlton was handed his debut as England romped home 4-0, with the new player
earning even more admirers for scoring a magnificent thumping volley dispatched
with authority after a cross by the revered left winger Tom Finney. He scored
both goals in his second game as England beat Portugal 2-1 in a friendly at
Wembley; and overcame obvious nerves on a return to Belgrade to play his third
match against Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, England lost that game 5-0 and Charlton
played poorly. He was selected for the squad which competed at the 1958 World
Cup in Sweden, but didn't kick a ball, something at which critics expressed
surprise and bewilderment, even allowing for his no-show in Belgrade.
Charlton began to settle back into his footballing life with Manchester
United and England and enhanced his reputation as a scorer of great goals as
well as a great goal scorer - rarely is a player regarded as both. In 1959 he
scored a hat-trick as England demolished the USA 8-1; and his second England
hat-trick came in 1961 in an 8-0 thrashing of Mexico.
He played in qualifiers for the 1962 World Cup in Chile against Luxembourg
and Portugal and was named in the squad for the finals themselves. His goal in
the 3-1 group win over Argentina was his 25th for England in just 38
appearances, but his individual success couldn't be replicated by that of the
team, which was eliminated in the quarter final by Brazil.
Success once again with Manchester United finally came Charlton's way when
they beat Leicester City 3-1 in the FA Cup final of 1963, with Charlton finally
getting a winners' medal in his third final. Busby's post-Munich rebuilding
programme achieved another feat with two League championships within three
seasons, with United taking the title in 1965 and 1967. In between, there was
the pressing matter for Charlton of the 1966 World Cup for which he and England
had not needed to qualify, as they were hosting the event. A successful (though
trophyless) season with Manchester United had seen him take the honours of
Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year and European
Footballer Of The Year into the competition.
By now, England were coached by Alf Ramsey who had managed to gain sole
control of the recruitment and team selection procedure from the committee-based
call-up system which had lasted up to the previous World Cup. Ramsey had already
cleared out some of the older players who had been reliant on the loyalty of the
committee for their continued selection - it was well known that decorum on the
pitch at club level had been just as big a factor in playing for England as
ability and form. Luckily for Charlton, he had all three.
Charlton had remained the attacking midfield player around whom Ramsey had
intended to build his team. Charlton was still scoring and creating freely and
as the tournament was about to start, he was expected to become one of its stars
and galvanise his established reputation as one of the world's best footballers.
The Glory of 1966
The opening game of the tournament was Charlton's 69th for his country - a
goalless draw with Uruguay - and England swept aside this minor hiccup to
dispose of Mexico in the next game, with Charlton scoring one of the most famous
goals of his career.
Picking up the ball in the centre circle of the Wembley pitch, Charlton
issued a Mexican challenger with a body swerve which sent his opponent the wrong
way and opened up a sizeable gap ahead of him. His reputation for long-range
finishes now the stuff of legend, everyone braced themselves for a shot - and
what a shot it was. It arrowed straight and true into the top corner of the
Mexico net, finally opening England's goal account in the tournament and setting
them up for a 2-0 win. This was followed by an identical score line against
France and England were in the last eight.
There they overcame a thuggish Argentina side with a slender 1-0 win - the
game was the only one in which Charlton received a caution - and Portugal
awaited in the semi finals. This one turned out to be one of Charlton's most
important nights, for both himself and those for whom he played.
Charlton opened the scoring with a crisp side-footed finish after a run by
Roger Hunt had forced the Portuguese goalkeeper out of his net; the second was a
sweetly struck shot after a run and pull-back from Geoff Hurst. Charlton and
Hunt were now England's equal-highest scorers in the tournament with three each,
and a final against West Germany was to come.
Though the game had drama, great team performances and some breathtaking
individual displays, the game actually turned out to be one of Charlton's
quieter days. He had a young Franz Beckenbauer marking him and vice versa, and
the two ultimately seemed to cancel each other out. But the team did what was
required and won 4-2, with Hurst's hat-trick putting his name forever into
football folklore (and overtaking Charlton and Hunt as England's top marksman).
Charlton was playing alongside his brother Jack and the two openly embraced and
wept as the enormity of their achievement sunk in.
Record Breaker & Euro Glory
Charlton's next England game was his 75th as England beat Northern Ireland;
two caps later and he had become England's second highest representative, behind
the veteran Billy Wright, who was approaching his 100th appearance when Charlton
was starting out and ended with 105 caps.
In 1968, Manchester United reached the European Cup final, ten seasons after
Munich. Even though other clubs had taken part in the competition in the
intervening decade, the team which got to this final was still the first English
side to do so. On a highly emotional night at Wembley, Charlton scored twice in
a 4-1 win after extra time against Benfica and, as United captain, lifted the
trophy. Weeks later he scored his 45th England goal in a friendly against
Sweden, breaking the record of 44 set the previous year by Jimmy Greaves. He was
then in the England team which was knocked out in the semi final of the 1968
European Championships against Yugoslavia in Florence.
In 1969, Charlton was awarded the OBE for services to football. More
milestones followed as he won his 100th England cap on 21st April 1970 against
Northern Ireland, and was made captain by Ramsey for the occasion. Inevitably,
he scored. This was his 48th goal for his country - his 49th and final goal
would follow a month later in a 4-0 win over Colombia during a warm-up tour for
the 1970 World Cup, designed to get the players adapted to altitude conditions.
Mexico 1970 & A Career Ends
England began the tournament with two victories in the group stages, plus a
memorable defeat against Brazil. Charlton played in all three, though was
substituted for Alan Ball in the final game of the group against Czechoslovakia.
Ramsey, confident of victory and progress to the quarter final, wanted Charlton
England duly did reach the last eight where they again faced West Germany.
Charlton controlled the midfield and suppressed Beckenbauer's runs from deep as
England coasted to a 2-0 lead. Beckenbauer pulled a goal back for the German's
and Ramsey replaced the aging and tired Charlton with Colin Bell who further
tested the German keeper Maier and also provided a great cross for Hurst who
uncharacteristically squandered the chance. West Germany, who had a habit of
coming back from behind, eventually scored twice - a freak back header from Uwe
Seeler made it 2-2 after which Gerd Muller's goal finished England off. England
were out and, after a record 106 caps and 49 goals, Charlton's international
career was over at the age of 32. Despite populist opinion the substitution did
not change the game as Beckenbauer had scored before Charlton left the field
hence Charlton had failed to cancel out the German. Charlton himself conceded
that the substitution did not affect the game in a BBC documentary. His caps
record lasted until 1973 when Bobby Moore overtook it, and Charlton currently
lies third in the all-time England appearances list behind Moore and Peter
Shilton, whose own England career began in the first game after Charlton's had
ended. The goals record still stands, with Gary Lineker the only player
subsequently to threaten it, with a total of 48 goals for England.
There was little left for him in football thereafter, though he stayed at
Manchester United until 1973, retiring after a club record of 752 matches and
247 goals. He was awarded the CBE in 1974.
Management & Soccer Schools
He became the player manager of Preston North End, taking United and England
team-mate Nobby Stiles with him as a player-coach, but Charlton was not suited
to management and quit after just one season. He then spent some time playing in
In later years Charlton has been known for his successful "soccer schools"
scheme, which were designed to give football-mad youngsters some proper coaching
during school holiday periods. In the 1980s, a young David Beckham was among the
hopefuls who had his photograph taken with Charlton for outstanding potential at
one such soccer school. Charlton also became a member of the board of directors
at Manchester United and remains in such a role to this day.
Miscellaneous & Family Life
Charlton began to lose his hair in the early 1960s and for a while refused to
go bald gracefully, sporting a style of stranded, isolated hairs which would
often flop around when he was running before he would tug them back over his
head. This style today is still known by the vernacular of "the Bobby Charlton
He received a knighthood in 1994. He met his wife Norma at an ice rink in
Manchester in 1959 and they married in 1961. They had two daughters - Suzanne
and Andrea - the former of whom became a public figure herself as a weather
forecaster for the BBC.
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