This weekend football mourned the death of one of its favourite sons. Jack Charlton of Leeds United and England passed away peacefully in his sleep.
In the past seven months English football has said goodbye to four of the World Cup 1966 squad, Martin Peters, Peter Bonnetti, Norman Hunter and now Big Jack. Charlton was part of Don Revie’s great Leeds United side which in the last two years has seen the passing now of Charlton, Hunter, Paul Madeley and Trevor Cherry.
Jack Charlton’s legacy is huge. He is loved and remembered by football fans up and down the country, but also all around the world. He was a World Cup winner with England, and as far as Irish fans are concerned, a World Cup winner with Ireland. The story of English football over the last 60 years has him as an important figure. Likewise, Irish football of the past 35 years has him very much at its forefront.
If you’ve come into football in the last 20 years then you’ve known a life without him, but for those who have been around longer he remains an integral part of the game.
John ‘Jack’ Charlton was born in Ashington on 8th May 1935. He came from a footballing family. His uncles were all Milburns. Jack (Leeds United and Bradford City), George (Leeds United and Chesterfield), Jim (Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue) and Stan (Chesterfield, Leicester City and Rochdale). Legendary Newcastle United and England striker, Jackie was his mother’s cousin.
Two and a half years after Jack was born, along came Bobby. The two would become legends of their own within the game.
Their father wasn’t particularly interested in football, but their mother, Cissie was. It was she who encouraged the boys into the game. Initially Jack wasn’t sure it was for him. He had a trial for Leeds United but turned it down, preferring to go down the mines with his Dad. Once he discovered this wasn’t for him either, he returned to football, taking Leeds up on their offer.
He made his debut for the club in the Second Division in April 1953, under Sunderland and England legendary striker, Raich Carter. It was the final game of the 1952-53 season and before he could build on his football career, Charlton was off for two years National Service.
By the time he returned Bobby had accepted an offer from Manchester United. Jack became a regular at centre-back during Leeds promotion season in 1955-56. In these early years he lost his place on account of his predilection for late night parties, but by 1958 marriage made him settle down.
Jack’s career at Leeds still had not really got going even when Don Revie took over in 1961. Revie was willing to let him go and he almost joined Liverpool. But Bill Shankly couldn’t match the asking price. Matt Busby at Manchester United was interested but hesitated long enough for Charlton to decide to fight for his future at Elland Road.
From 1962-63 his career finally took off. He was part of a Leeds United team which has gone down in history as one of the great teams. From 1965-1975 they were the team to beat. However, they were too often bridesmaids rather than brides.
He won the League title in 1968-69, FA Cup 1971-72, League Cup 1967-68, Fairs Cup (then UEFA Cup, now Europa League) in 1967-68. But many will remember the times they were runners-up more than winners. They were runners-up in the league to Manchester United in 1964-65 and then again to Liverpool in 1965-66. But that season Charlton caught the attention of England manager, Alf Ramsey. April 1965 saw him make his England debut at Wembley against the Auld enemy, Scotland. Charlton would miss just one match in the run-up to the World Cup. Nobby Stiles made his debut that day too, and a year later the two would be together again in England’s most famous moment.
Alongside Bobby Moore, Charlton struck up a good partnership. Moore was the ball-playing cultured defender, Charlton was the traditional ‘stopper’. In his own words he was never the player Moore was, but that suited Charlton. Ramsey’s team was a mixture of world class individuals, punctuated with hard-working ‘water-carriers’.
Once his career was over Charlton joined the after-dinner speaking circuit. One story featured prominently;
“In that World Cup Final, we were deep into extra time and the ball comes into our box. Bobby chested it down and I’m shouting at him to clear it into the stands. We’re 3-2 up, the game will be over. But Bobby being Bobby doesn’t. And as I’m shouting at him again, he calmly looks up, sees Geoff make his run, and launches a perfect ball for him to run onto. Geoff scores, people are on the pitch and we win. And I’m still shouting at Bobby. I couldn’t believe what he’d done.”
Then a pause……
“Then I realised he could do that because he was Bobby Moore. I wasn’t Bobby Moore so I wouldn’t have done that. I was never going to be Bobby Moore”
And with that there would be the odd tear in the room. I had the pleasure of hearing this story myself first hand at an occasion held at Woking Football Club. I remember thinking, here’s a man who feels blessed, honoured, and maybe a little humble at being at the epicentre of English football’s greatest day. No ego, no posturing, just sheer pride at how he’d been able to be part of it all.
Charlton played 35 times for his country. He was dropped after the opening match of the 1970 World Cup, with Everton’s Brian Labone replacing him. He would never pull on an England jersey again. It’s said he made the decision himself. He had agonised over how to break the news to Ramsey. When he gave his reasons why he didn’t consider himself good enough, Ramsey listened and then agreed with him.
He was a one-club man, regularly playing 30-40 matches a season for Leeds United. His final season for the club was 1972-73 when they again went close for the title, but Charlton only made 18 appearances as Gordon McQueen and Norman Hunter were increasingly the favoured pair. He picked up an injury in the FA Cup Semi-Final win over Wolves and that effectively ended his season.
He was 38 and had played 762 times for the club, scoring 95 goals.
Within weeks of the season ending he was offered the position as manager of Middlesbrough. He declined to be interviewed for the job yet demanded a list of responsibilities. He refused to sign a contract, and went through his whole managerial career without one. He took a salary of £10,000pa, despite the chairman happy to pay him more. One of his stipulations was he would be allowed three days off a week for fishing and shooting.
In his first season he led the club to the Second Division title, winning by 15pts. He sent four years at Ayresome Park and stepped down as he believed that was the optimum amount of time to spend with one set of players. He joined Sheffield Wednesday, then a Third Division club.
In between the change of clubs he applied for the England manager’s job after Don Revie went. He never received a reply and vowed to never ever apply for another job, preferring to be approached.
Within two years The Owls were promoted and in 1982-83 reached the FA Cup Semi-Finals. Despite protestations from the directors, Charlton left the club that summer. He was then approached by Newcastle United and took over the club just after Arthur Cox and Kevin Keegan left. His tenure at St. James’s Park lasted just over a year, as fans began to call for his dismissal.
Six months later the FAI came calling and Jack duly accepted the role of the Republic of Ireland manager.
If his playing career had revolved around Leeds United and England, his managerial career would be defined for the job he did with Ireland. He became a master at delving into players’ ancestry to see if they qualified to play for the Irish.
His first task was to try and qualify for the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. They were drawn in a group with Belgium, Bulgaria and Scotland, all of whom had been at the 1986 World Cup. They won the group by a point from Bulgaria, who’d handed them their only defeat. Scotland did them a favour with a win in Sofia in the final match.
They were drawn in a group with England, Netherlands and Soviet Union. In Stuttgart they shocked the world with a famous 1-0 win over England, Ray Houghton with the only goal of the game. They earned a creditable draw against the Soviets and were only beaten by the Dutch in the last ten minutes. They were out in the group stage, but Charlton’s Ireland had arrived on the world stage.
If anyone thought this would be a flash in the pan, they did it again by qualifying for the 1990 World Cup. They qualified alongside Spain in a group where Jack’s defensive tactics meant their 0-2 defeat in Seville was the only game they conceded in.
For the tournament in Italy they were again up against the Dutch and the English, as well as Egypt. A 1-1 draw against England was followed by a stale goalless draw with Egypt. When Niall Quinn equalised against the Dutch, both sides realised a draw would see them through. Ireland went through in second place after they drew lots, to meet Romania in the next round.
In Genoa they lined up against a Romanian side which included Hagi, Popescu and Raducioiu. No goals in normal or extra time so penalties were called for. All of the first eight kicks were successful before Packie Bonner saved Daniel Timofte’s. Charlton and the rest of the squad were all really excited as the nation held its breath. The manager recalled the moment in his diary;
“Packie thumped the ground in delight. Hauled himself off the grass, and like every Irish supporter in the ground, my eyes moved almost instinctively back to the centre circle to see who was going to take the last and vital kick for us.
I’m as much in the dark as anybody and I must confess that I’m a little taken aback when I see big David O’Leary striding up towards the penalty area.
As one of the old school, I’ve never considered centre-backs to be among the best takers of a penalty and as far as I know, David hasn’t taken one for years. But the big fellow strides up, puts the ball down and hoofs it down the middle.
It wasn’t the best penalty that I’ve ever seen but for my money it was the most vital. O’Leary is mobbed by his teammates. What a moment for him.”
For a moment Charlton felt a sense of sympathy for the Romanians, then he saw what it meant to the players and the fans in the stadium and realised this might now be Ireland’s greatest moment.
With a Quarter-Final against Italy looming, Charlton took his players off to meet the Pope. The squad couldn’t believe it. As the players were being introduced to him the Pope paid particular attention to the goalkeeper, Packie Bonner. The Pope used to be a keeper so he shared a moment with the Celtic man.
The next day, a hot Saturday night in Rome, Ireland lined up against the hosts. Back home the bingo halls were shut. On a Saturday night!
The game hinged on a moment with eight first half minutes remaining. Donadoni’s fierce shot was parried by Bonner but it fell to Toto Schillaci. The ferocity of the shot almost knocked Bonner off his feet and as he stumbled to try and maintain his balance, Schillaci passed the ball into the empty net.
It was the only goal of the game, and bravely Ireland were now on their way home.
Years later Andy Townsend would recall the occasion;
“We’d lost and so we were all back in the dressing room. Jack gave a speech about how proud he was of us, and how we can go home with our heads held high. Then he says to Packie
‘Come on, get your shower lad you’ve deserved it’
As Packie is in the shower, Jack sits down, lights a cigar, takes a puff and says
‘The f****** Pope would’ve saved that!”
Charlton’s big tournament palmeres didn’t end there. After narrowly missing out to England for qualification to the Euro ’92, they knocked European Champions Denmark out in qualification for USA ’94.
Finally a tournament without England for Charlton’s men. But Italy were once again in their way. In the Giants Stadium Ireland pulled off another famous victory against the odds. In a match reminiscent of their Stuttgart heist over England six years earlier, Ray Houghton scored early and Ireland defended doggedly to win 1-0.
Next up in Orlando, they were 0-2 down to the Mexicans when Charlton wanted to bring on John Aldridge for Owen Coyne. Coyne had already left the pitch and sat on the bench. Cue a touchline altercation as officials noticed a box unticked on a sheet and wouldn’t allow the substitution. Two men known for the heat of their heads, Aldridge and Charlton were visibly losing it with the jobsworths. Eventually, Aldridge got on and scored, but they still lost.
A goalless draw against Norway resulted in a unique occasion of all four teams finishing on identical points and goal difference. Charlton had to watch the game from the commentary box as FIFA banned him for the game after his brush with the officials.
In the next round they were back in Orlando but came up short against the Dutch. Despite this Charlton was given the Freedom of the City of Dublin. Not a bad achievement for an Englishman.
Ireland finished second in their qualifying group for Euro ’96, and as the worst runners-up they had to negotiate a play-off match against the Dutch, yet again! Patrick Kluivert scored a brace at Anfield and the Irish had to sit out a ‘local’ tournament.
For Charlton, this signalled the end of the road. In his autobiography he explained his decision;
“In my heart of hearts, I knew I’d wrung as much as I could out of the squad I’d got – that some of my older players had given me all they had to give”.
He won the Football Writers’ Association award as Footballer of the Year in 1967. He was awarded an OBE in 1974 and honorary Irish citizenship in 1996. He was inducted into the English Football hall of Fame in 2005 and a Freeman of the City of Leeds in 2019.
He died on 10th July 2020 at the age of 85 after suffering from lymphoma and dementia.
Tributes have poured in from all over the football world for a man who remained true to his roots and humble of the opportunities presented to him.