Bobby Charlton, A Quintessential Sporting Hero
He was admired for his footballing skills, and humility
He was the quintessential sporting hero admired by young and old for his footballing skills, his humility and being a thorough gentleman. Indeed Bobby Charlton who passed away on Saturday at the age of 86 is synonymous with the beautiful game. His record for both England and Manchester United was awesome but more than the goals he scored and his incredible ball control he will be remembered for his sportsmanship and discipline.
He was never sent off the field in 758 appearances for United from 1956 to 1973 or the 106 internationals he played for England from 1958 to 1970.
A prodigiously gifted footballer with a thundering shot, Charlton was the leading scorer for both United (249 goals) and England (49 goals) for more than 40 years. He played with George Best and Denis Law in the ‘Trinity’ that led United to a famous European Cup triumph in 1968.
His England record stood for 45 years until Wayne Rooney scored his 50th goal for the national team in 2015. As far as Charlton’s United record goes, though Ryan Giggs surpassed the number of his appearances in 2008 his scoring record for the club lasted another nine years
Charlton had a long career as an attacking midfielder, central midfielder and left winger and was widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. He was renowned for his attacking instincts, uncanny passing ability from midfield, ferocious long-range shots, fitness and stamina.
Charlton represented England in four World Cups from 1958 to 1970 peaking in 1966 when he was a key player in the team’s triumphant campaign at home. He played in every game along with his elder brother Jack doing more than his bit for England to advance through the league stage into the quarterfinals in which they defeated a strong Argentina side.
He was simply outstanding in the semifinal against Portugal when he scored both goals in England’s 2-1 win. In the final he played the midfield role to perfection falling back to bolster the defence or surging forward to enable Geoff Hurst to score his three goals as England triumphed over West Germany 4-2 at Wembley.
He received the loudest cheer from the capacity crowd when Queen Elizabeth presented him with his winners’ medal – a tribute to his enduring popularity.
The same year Charlton won the Ballon d’Or and finished second in Ballon d’Or voting in 1967 and 1968. Emphasising his success at both club and international level he is one of only nine players to win the World Cup, the European Cup and the Ballon d’Or.
At 33 Charlton was still sharp enough to represent England at the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 where his brisk moves on the field belied his age even as his vast experience came in handy before England went down to West Germany 2-3 in the quarterfinal.
While Charlton’s passing will be felt across the footballing world nowhere will it hit home as much as Manchester United with which his name is indissolubly linked. He spent 17 years at the club guiding them to three English league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup. He became a legendary figure at the club where there is a stand named in his honour.
Born in 1937 Charlton joined United as a schoolboy in 1953 and was a star of the team that won the FA Youth Cup three times between 1954 and 1956. In February 1958 he scored twice in a 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup quarterfinal. But having won the first leg at home 2-1 United maintained their aggregate lead to reach the last four and the team was in a jubilant mood as they left to catch the flight back home.
However, on the way United’s plane crashed at a snowy Munich airport killing 23 people including eight teammates. Charlton suffered cuts to his head and severe shock and was in hospital for a week. But the tragedy that devastated a team known as “Busby’s Babes” forced him to mature quickly and he became a central figure in the squad rebuilt by coach Matt Busby.
As the club said in a tribute “having survived the trauma of the Munich air disaster when aged just 20 he played as if every game was for his fallen colleagues recovering from his injuries to reach the pinnacle for both club and country.’’
In later years Charlton became a much loved and hugely respected ambassador for the club and the country serving as United’s director for 39 years besides playing a key role in London winning their bid to stage the Olympics in 2012. He was easily United’s greatest-ever servant and in a deeply moving statement the club said “Manchester United are in mourning following the passing away of Sir Bobby Charlton one of the greatest and most beloved players of our club.’’
It described him as ``a hero to millions not just in Manchester or the United Kingdom but wherever football is played around the world. He was admired as much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer. Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game.’’ Few will disagree with this assessment.