Sir Bobby Charlton
Full name Sir Bobby Charlton CBE
Date of birth 11/10/1937
Place of birth Ashington, England
Bobby Charlton was perhaps the most famous Englishman of his age. He survived the Munich Air Disaster of 1958 to become the most recognizable face of legendary Manchester United and England squads, including the England team that won the World Cup in 1966. Now knighted, Sir Bobby Charlton remains known today as a technically superb player and a true gentleman.
Robert Charlton was born in Ashington, Northumberland in 1937. His four uncles Stan, Jack, George and Jimmy, his mother’s cousin, Jackie Milburn, and his brother Jack were all professional football players, so it was little surprise that Bobby became a footballer himself. He was scouted and played for England schoolboys and Manchester United’s youth team at the age of 15, and played his first match for the senior team in 1956, after spells training as an engineer and doing National Service in nearby Shrewsbury.
Charlton joined a rolling squad known as the Busby Babes, on account of their being an unusually youthful and prodigiously talented squad under legendary manager Matt Busby. However, in 1958, after two seasons securing his position in the team, Charlton’s life was to be dramatically affected by the events succeeding a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade. On February 6, the team was due to fly back from Munich in order to reach England in time to fulfill their league games. The weather was horrendous and the plane had difficulty taking off, but after a number of checks were carried out, the team got back on board. The plane had barely taken off when the wing and tail caught fire after hitting some obstacles on the ascent, and it crash-landed. 23 of the 44 footballers, journalists and crew members on board were killed, including Tommy Taylor and David Pegg, with whom Charlton and his team mate Dennis Viollet had swapped seats.
Charlton suffered cuts to his head and severe shock. He was the first to leave hospital and became, at the age of 20, something of a veteran of United’s decimated team. Unsurprisingly, United failed to do very well that season, but Busby built up another team with new players including George Best, with Charlton a stalwart. The psychological repercussions were harder to gauge and repair, and the crash remains one of the defining events of Charlton’s life according to the man himself.
However, his career continued to flourish and Bobby would eventually join his brother Jack in England’s squad for the 1966 World Cup, reaching and competing in the final against West Germany. Although neither Charlton scored, England won 4-2 in the tense, uneven match, and Bobby had taken part in English football’s greatest triumph to date.
The culmination of his club career came in 1968, when Charlton and United went on to win the European Cup that had destroyed the Busby Babes. In 1969 he was awarded the OBE and in 1970, after earning his 100th cap for England, he was selected for the World Cup squad, where he played his last game for the national side. Sadly, Charlton’s later years at club level were marred by long-running feuds with his United teammates. Finally, he retired in 1973.
Charlton met his wife Norma at a dry cleaners in Manchester and they married in 1961. They have two daughters, Suzanne and Andrea. He has avoided the controversial love life that dogged many footballers of his generation, but tabloids speculated instead on cracks in his relationship with his brother Jack. Bobby has admitted that their relationship is strained, citing the conflict between his loyalties to his wife and his mother as key.
Like many footballers, Charlton has become something of a polymath in his retirement. Initially taking semi-retirement as a player-manager at Preston, he went on to manage Wigan Athletic. However, today’s football fans recognize him largely as a sometime BBC pundit and as a member of Manchester United’s board of directors. He has also made money from advertising, from international footballing schools and DVDs and other enterprises.
Bobby Charlton was awarded the CBE in 1973 and was knighted in 1994. He continues to be an active member of the footballing community on a number of boards, helping promote sport at home and abroad, and as a commentator figure in the media.
- England Caps:106
- Goals Scored for England: 49
- Appearances for Manchester United: 754 (239 goals)
- Appearances for Preston North End: 38 (12 goals)
- Manchester United (Youth) – 1953 – 1954
- Manchester United – 1954 – 1973
- Preston North End – 1973 – 1974
- Waterford United – 1975
- England – 1958 – 1970
As a manager
- Preston North End – 1973-74 (player manager)
- Wigan Athletic – 1976
‘His story is the best in English football’ – John Giles, former team-mate
‘The greatest thing for a manager is to trust the talent. Bobby Charlton never betrayed that trust. It was a privilege to have him play for you.’ – Sir Matt Busby, former manager
‘Bobby Charlton’s career was miraculous’ – Sir Alex Ferguson
‘Some people tell me that we professional players are soccer slaves. Well, if this is slavery, give me a life sentence.’
‘It would be possible to list a thousand good things that have happened to me before I deal with the moment I regained consciousness and faced that scene at the airfield. But I know I couldn’t begin to define my life before going back there.’
‘Now, when I look back on my life and remember all that I wanted from it as a young boy in the North East, I see more clearly than ever it is a miracle. I see one privilege heaped upon another. I wonder all over again how so much could come to one man simply because he was able to do something which for him was so natural and easy, and which he knew from the start he loved to do more than anything else.’
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Individual Awards and Honours
- 1966 European Player of the Year
- 1966 Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year
- 1974 Professional Footballers’ Association Merit Award
- 1974 Awarded CBE
- 1984 Appointed director, Manchester United
- 1994 Awarded knighthood
Watch Bobby Charlton on Youtube.