Had he not been so modest, there was a time when
Bobby Charlton could have claimed, with some justification, that he was the most famous living Englishman. He never did, of course, but others, such
as TV soccer pundit Jimmy Hill, said it for him. It was the late 1960s. England had won the World Cup and Manchester United the European Cup. All over
the world there were children who could speak only two words of English. One was "Bobby", the other was "Charlton", such was the esteem in which he
It was more than just his tremendous achievements that sparked instant recognition, though he won everything the game has to offer. Championships, Cup
winner's medals, a record number of international caps and goals. Nor was it solely his exquisite skills - grace, speed, athleticism and a thunderbolt
shot that made him dangerous even 30 yards from goal.
No, Charlton stood for something that the world admired. He was a gentleman, the ultimate in old-fashioned sporting heroes. He was never in trouble,
never argued with referees, showed honesty and respect to opponents. It made him a perfect role model, the essence of the Corinthian ideal. His status
as the greatest ambassador in the history of British sport rested unequivocally on his unrivaled sense of fair play.
Bobby Charlton was born in Ashington in
Northumberland on 11th October 1937 and was born into a footballing family. His uncles Jack, George and Jim all played for Leeds United and his other
Uncle, Stan, played for Chesterfield, Leicester and Rochdale. Most famous of all his family members was his mother's cousin, the great Newcastle
United centre-forward Jackie Milburn. Charlton played for both East Northumberland Schools and England Schoolboys before joining United as an amateur
in January 1953, after being spotted by United's chief scout, Joe Armstrong. He turned professional in October 1954 and won F.A. Youth Cup winners'
plaques in 1954, 1955 and 1956. His league debut came on 6th October 1956 when he scored twice versus Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford.
A League Championship winner in 1957, 1965 and
1967, he was an F.A. Cup Winner in 1963 and Cup Runner-up in 1957 and 1958. Perhaps his greatest night was in 1968 when he scored twice captaining
United to a 4-1 extra-time victory over Benfica in the European Champions Cup Final. Charlton was awarded Footballer of the Year and European Player
of the Year in 1966, the same year that he became a World Cup Winner with England. He represented the Football League on 8 occasions, was capped at
schoolboy, youth and under-23 levels, and won a then record 106 international caps. Charlton currently holds the England scoring record with 49
international goals. He is United's most capped player and made a club record 604 League appearances (plus 2 as a substitute) and scored a club record
199 league goals.
1966 is a year which lives in the memory of every Englishman and one which saw Charlton at the height of his talent. Alongside his brother Jackie, who
had risen to become a stalwart of the England defence, Bobby was the focal point of the team which triumphed on home soil and received the Jules Rimet
trophy from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 30 July 1966.
The campaign started badly, with a dour 0-0 draw
against Uruguay. England's campaign needed a spark, and Charlton was the man to provide it. Against Mexico in the following group match, Bobby picked
up a loose ball on the half-way line some ten minutes before the break. "I picked up the ball quite deep and I had no intention of shooting at goal,"
he said in a later interview. "I didn't really expect them to allow me to keep going, so I just banged it." The surging run was rounded off by a
net-bursting shot into the top corner, and England were on their way. It was in the semi-final against Portugal that Bobby really came into his own.
His running kept the Portuguese defence on the back foot, his passing opened up gaps for team-mates to exploit, and when he found himself in front of
goal, he let fly. A pair of goals, one in each half, were enough to see England through, Bobby scoring both of them and outshining Portugal's own
In the final, West German manager Helmut Schon knew exactly who England's danger man was and assigned a young yet equally talented Franz Beckenbauer
to a man-marking role. As Bobby attacked, Franz defended, and when Franz attacked, Bobby stuck to him. The fact that neither Charlton nor Beckenbauer
scored and the teams were locked at 2-2 after 90 minutes points to the fact that this was an epic struggle between two legendary midfielders. The
final score of 4-2 would indicate that Bobby finally had the upper hand, and as Beckenbauer himself pointed out, "England beat us in 1966 because
Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me."
When England travelled to Mexico four years later to defend their title, Charlton, aged 32, was still in his prime. As an inside right in a team which
had evolved from a 2-3-5 at the outset of his international career through 4-2-4 to a 4-3-3 formation, his role had become more defensive, yet no less
important. After the group stage had been safely negotiated, England faced West Germany in the quarter-final, in an epic rematch of the 1966 final.
With his team leading 2-1 with 20 minutes remaining, England manager Alf (later Sir Alf) Ramsey substituted Charlton, preferring to rest him before
the semi-final. An Uwe Seeler equaliser took the game to extra time, during which Gerd Muller gave the Germans their revenge with a late winner.
This was to be Charlton's swan song in England
colours, and he announced his retirement after the final whistle of the game, which had seen him overtake Billy Wright's record with his 106th cap. He
played another two seasons for Manchester United, his last League match for United was on 28th April 1973 at Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea. His
testimonial match, versus Celtic on 18th September 1972, had attracted a crowd of 60,538 - the largest ever for a testimonial match. Charlton was a
regular scorer for both club and country starting as an inside-forward before becoming an outside-left and finishing his career as a deep lying
After his retirement Bobby Charlton took over as manager of Preston North End in May 1973. Unfortunately Preston were relegated to the Third Division
during his time at the club which included a spell as player-manager from May 1974 to August 1975. Charlton played 38 league matches for Preston but
resigned as manager in August 1975. He briefly played for Waterford in the Republic of Ireland in 1976 before accepting a position on the Board of
Directors at Springfield Park with Wigan Athletic. He also took over briefly as caretaker-manager during season 1982-83. In June 1984 Bobby Charlton
became a director of Manchester United, a position he still holds today. Awarded the O.B.E. in 1969 he has since become a C.B.E., and was knighted in
June 1994. Also in 1984, he was invited to sit on FIFA's football committee. Since then, he has worked unstintingly for the good of the game, in
Manchester, England and much further afield, making him recognised around the globe as a true ambassador of football as well as being a genuine
As his friend and manager Sir Matt Busby said of him, "There has never been a more popular footballer. He was as near perfection as man and player as
it is possible to be.
751 matches (245 goals)
1953 - 1972 : Manchester United
1973 - 1974 : Preston North End (player-manager)
1976 : Waterford
European Cup Winner 1968
English League Winner 1957, 1965, 1967
FA Cup Winner 1963
106 Internationals (49 goals)
1966 FIFA World Cup winner
1968 European Championship third-place