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Sir Robert "Bobby" Charlton, CBE (born 11 October 1937) 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 for 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.
As a teenager, Charlton was picked for the England schoolboys' team, and as a result of his performance he was approached by several clubs, including Manchester United, for whom he signed at the age of 17, having begun an apprenticeship as an engineer because his mother was reluctant to let him commit to an insecure football career straight after leaving school. Under manager, Matt Busby, he was groomed for 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.
- Main article: Munich air disaster
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 fatal decision.
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 make 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 magnificnent 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 goalscorer - 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 scoreline 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 went into the tournament with two victories in the group stages, plus a memorable defeat against Brazil. Charlton played in all three, though was substituted by Alan Ball in the final game of the group against Czechoslovakia. Ramsey, confident of victory and progress to the quarter final, wanted Charlton to rest.
England duly did reach the last eight where they again faced West Germany. Charlton controlled the midfield and suppressed the runs from deep of Beckenbauer 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 one of the best English midfielders of all time in Colin Bell who was a welcome addition to the team testing the German keeper Maier and also providing a great cross for Hurst who uncharacteristically squandered the glorious chance. West Germany who had a habit of coming back from a couple of goals down eventually scored twice( a freak back header from Uwe Seeler made it two all while Gerd Muller 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, but his England career ended with 48 goals.
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 South Africa.
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 Comb-Over".
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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