22nd July 2024

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Sir Bobby Charlton, Manchester United legend and World Cup winner, dies at 86

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  • Manchester United pay tribute to ‘giant of the game’
  • Munich disaster survivor played key role in 1966 win

Sean Ingle

 England’s greatest footballer, Sir Bobby Charlton, whose artistry, genius and unbending will to win inspired the country’s World Cup victory in 1966 as well as Manchester United’s European Cup triumph two years later, has died peacefully in his sleep aged 86.

The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, hailed Charlton as a “football legend, whose impact on the game spanned generations” and his fellow England 1966 team-mate Geoff Hurst called him “one of the true greats”.

That sentiment was shared by Gary Lineker, who said that Charlton was England’s greatest ever player. “He may no longer be with us but he’ll have footballing immortality.”

Grainy footage of old matches can make yesterday’s footballers seem as if they were playing at half speed. Not so Charlton. Even after 50 years, he looks every bit the modern footballer: two-footed, intelligent, smart – the stamina of a workhorse combined with the talent of a virtuoso.

Meanwhile those countless images of him rifling a cannonball shot past a beleaguered goalkeeper – with the cameraman struggling to keep up – can still take the breath away, even in black and white.

And Charlton’s statistics would be extraordinary in any era. He played 758 games and scored 249 goals during 17 years as a Manchester United player, winning the European Cup, three league titles and the FA Cup. For England, he won 106 caps and scored 49 goals, a record that stood until Wayne Rooney overtook it in 2015.

During the 1966 World Cup he played a starring role, including scoring two goals against Portugal in the semi-final. Three years later, when Charlton was awarded the OBE, the Observer ran it on the front page, with the simple but powerful headline: “Cheers for Bobby Charlton.” Later, he was the only English player chosen by Johan Cruyff to be part of his dream all-time XI.

But it wasn’t just as a footballer that Charlton epitomised the best of Englishness. As a man he did too. He was modest as his talents were exceptional; the walking embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If–, treating triumph and disaster in the same way.

United’s European Cup win, in particular, with Charlton scoring twice in a 4-1 win against Benfica at Wembley, carried extra poignancy as it came 10 years after he survived the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958, which killed 23 people, including eight players and three members of the club’s staff.

That tragedy left an impossibly deep mark, with his brother Jack saying that Sir Bobby “stopped smiling” and left his sparkle in the wreckage of the plane.

After leaving United in May 1973, Charlton managed and played for Preston and Waterford United in Ireland. Manchester United made him a director in 1984 and announced in February 2016 that they were naming their South Stand after him.

Charlton was knighted in 1994, and later became a familiar figure at Old Trafford with his wife, Lady Norma, until he was diagnosed with dementia in 2020.

Manchester United and Sheffield United players observe a minute of applause for Bobby Charlton. Photograph: Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images

Manchester United players wore black armbands at Saturday’s Premier League match at Sheffield United and a pre-planned minute’s silence was expanded to pay respects to Charlton. Meanwhile at Old Trafford, fans began to lay floral tributes.

The club said a book of condolence would be open to fans and the public at 10am on Sunday. “Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game,” the club added in a statement.

The England manager, Gareth Southgate, added his own personal tribute: “The privilege of meeting him on several occasions allowed me to understand his personal pride and emotion in having represented England and simply confirmed in my mind his standing as one of the gentlemen of the game.

“The world of football will unite in its sadness at losing an undisputed legend.” – The Guardian.

 

 

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