Saturday 21 October 2023, 18:00

A tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton (1937-2023)

Sir Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958 to become one of England’s finest and most successful footballers. Playing alongside his older brother Jack, he was a key member of the England team which won the FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1966, and is the only English player to have been in the squad for four FIFA World Cups. He also starred when Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.

A gentleman of the game, Sir Bobby was known for his ferocious long-range shots, his passing from midfield and his stamina.

The son of a coal miner, he was born in Ashington, in the north-eastern county of Northumberland, on 11 October 1937. He joined Manchester United as a 15-year-old after being spotted while playing in a schools’ match and became one of the ’Busby Babes‘ – a group of highly talented young players who were the products of a youth policy designed by manager Sir Matt Busby.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino honours Sir Bobby Charlton

He made his debut in October 1956 and went on to help Manchester United win the Football League that season and reach the FA Cup final, where they lost to Aston Villa. The following season saw them progress to the semi-finals of the 1957-58 European Cup when tragedy struck. The plane carrying the team back to Manchester from Belgrade crashed on take-off following a stopover in Munich, killing 23 of the 44 occupants and decimating the team. Charlton and Busby were among the survivors.

Manchester United reached the FA Cup final three months later and lost to Bolton Wanderers. Sir Bobby finally won an FA Cup winners’ medal at the third attempt when they beat Leicester City in the 1963 final.

By then, his England career was already well under way. He had been included in the 1958 FIFA World Cup squad but did not play, however by the time the 1962 FIFA World Cup came around four years later, he was an established member of the team and had already scored 24 goals for his country. He scored one goal in Chile, in the 3-1 defeat by Argentina.

The high point of his career came on home soil four years later as England won their only FIFA World Cup to date. Sir Bobby scored the first goal of England’s campaign with a trademark long-range shot against Mexico and notched both in the memorable 2-1 semi-final win over Eusébio’s Portugal.

He continued to enjoy success with Manchester United, winning league titles in 1965 and 1967, and enjoyed another historic match, also at Wembley, in 1968 by scoring twice as United beat Benfica 4-1 after extra-time to win the European Cup and then, as captain, lifting the trophy.

His final FIFA World Cup was in 1970 when England reached the quarter-finals and faced West Germany, the team they had beaten in the final four years earlier. Sir Bobby helped England take a 2-0 lead, however he was substituted shortly after England were pulled back to 2-1 and watched helplessly from the sidelines as West Germany went on to win 3-2. Both he and his brother Jack told England manager Sir Alf Ramsey on the flight home that they did not want to be considered for selection again.

He ended his England career with 106 caps and 49 goals, including four hat-tricks. He went on to play for Manchester United for another three seasons, ending against Chelsea in April 1973. The following season, he managed Preston North End before surprisingly coming out of retirement to act as their player-manager for the 1974-75 season.

He remained England’s international top goalscorer until 2015 when he was surpassed by Wayne Rooney before both of them were eclipsed in the all-time table by Harry Kane. For Manchester United, Sir Bobby made 758 appearances and is their second-highest all-time scorer with 249 goals.

Following Sir Bobby’s passing on 21 October 2023, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “On behalf of FIFA, and the global football family, I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sir Bobby Charlton. We mourn the loss of one of England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup winning team and a football legend, whose impact on the game spanned generations.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was close to him, his former teammates, The Football Association and Manchester United. Rest In Peace.”