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Born: Monday 11 October 1937, Ashington, England
Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder
An incredibly talented all-round attacking player and still England's record goalscorer, Bobby Charlton was one of the heroes of the team which won the World Cup on home soil in 1966. He spent almost his entire club career with Manchester United, where he was a survivor of the Munich Air Crash in 1958 and then ten years later a star of the rebuilt team which won the club's first European Cup, scoring two goals in the final.
Born in Ashington on 11 October 1937, Charlton followed his brother Jack, four uncles and his mother's cousin Jackie Milburn into professional football. After representing his school team and being selected for East Northumberland Schools, he was spotted by a scout from Manchester United. Several other clubs were also chasing his signature but Charlton chose to go to Old Trafford, signing in 1953 and turning professional the following year.
He went on to spend some 20 years with Manchester United, initially being used as a speedy left-winger or inside-left. Throughout his career he appeared in a variety of forward positions and later as an attacking midfielder. In more central roles, he was able to make use of his remarkable range of passing to form the centrepiece of his team's attacks, while also making the most of his powerful shot to record an extremely impressive goalscoring rate.
One of the 'Busby Babes', Charlton broke into the first team in the 1956-57 season, with the Manchester United defending their league title. He contributed 10 goals in just 14 games as the championship was successfully retained, as well as appearing in the club's run to the European Cup semi-finals and FA Cup final. Their hopes of a domestic double were sadly ruined when goalkeeper Ray Wood was injured in the cup final, with Aston Villa going on to win 2-1.
In 1957-58 United made another good run in the European Cup. In the first leg of the quarter-final against Red Star Belgrade, Charlton grabbed a crucial equaliser in a 2-1 win, before scoring twice more in the 3-3 second leg draw. However, as the team flew back to England, tragedy struck. After refuelling in Munich, their plane failed to take off on a slush covered runway and crashed. Charlton survived, but was deeply affected by the tragedy which claimed the lives of eight of his team-mates.
Remarkably, he was back in action within weeks. Although United lost their European Cup semi-final, Charlton helped them to an emotional FA Cup final appearance where they were beaten by Bolton Wanderers. He also scored on his England debut in a 4-0 win over Scotland and was selected in national squad for the World Cup finals in Sweden, but was surprisingly left out of all of England's games in the finals as they went out in the first round.
Despite a second place finish in 1959, Manchester United went through several bleak years as manager Matt Busby gradually rebuilt the team, but Charlton was always central to the side. He also remained pivotal to the England team, being selected for the World Cup squad again in 1962. Still predominantly a left-winger, he played in all four of England's games in Chile, scoring in the win over Argentina, as the team reached the quarter-finals where they lost to Brazil.
Manchester United won their first major honour since Munich when they beat Leicester City 3-1 in the FA Cup final in 1963, before adding the league title two years later when they held off Leeds United on goal average. It was around that time that Charlton began to settle into a deeper-lying role. England manager Alf Ramsey's 'wingless' system allowed him more freedom to control games from the centre of the pitch, a role which he would continue to play for the remainder of his career.
Although Manchester United lost their league title in 1966, Charlton had a fine season and was named Footballer of the Year, before going on to play a crucial role in England's World Cup campaign on home soil. After a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, it was Charlton who got the hosts off and running with a stunning long range goal in their 2-0 win over Mexico. England went on to win their group and beat Argentina in the quarter-finals, setting up a semi-final against Portugal.
That match was Charlton's finest of the tournament, scoring once in each half as England won 2-1 to reach the final. Against West Germany, Charlton involved in a fascinating tussle with man-marker Franz Beckenbauer. The two largely cancelled each other out, but England were still able to win 4-2 to become World Champions for the first time. At the end of the year, Charlton edged out Eusébio by a single point in the voting for the 'Ballon d'Or' as European Footballer of the Year.
Manchester United won the league title back in 1967 and despite finishing second to rivals Manchester City a year later, enjoyed a fantastic run in the European Cup where they reached the final against Benfica at Wembley. Charlton gave his team the lead early in the second half and after Benfica forced extra-time, scored another in the extra period as United took complete control with three goals. They won 4-1, becoming the first English side to win the European Cup in an extremely emotional victory ten years on from Munich.
A week before that final, Charlton had become England's leading scorer with his 45th international goal in a 3-1 win over Sweden. That summer he joined up with the national team for the European Championship in Italy, but they were unable to add to their World Cup win after a 1-0 semi-final defeat to Yugoslavia. Charlton did however add another goal to his tally with the opener in the third place play-off win over the Soviet Union.
In 1970, Charlton became the second man to win 100 caps for England, marking the occasion with a goal against Northern Ireland, before appearing in his third World Cup as England attempted to defend their title in Mexico. In the quarter-final against West Germany, Charlton broke Billy Wright's appearance record with his 106th cap. He looked set to extend that record when England led 2-0, but was substituted in the second half and West Germany fought back to win 3-2 after extra-time. Following the defeat, Charlton retired from international football aged 32.
In the early 1970s, Manchester United surprisingly went into decline. The European Cup winning team had broken up and the team rarely rose far above mid-table. Charlton remained a virtual ever-present, but the club continued to struggle and in 1972-73, faced a relegation battle. A good finish to the season dragged United clear of danger, but that summer Charlton took the decision to leave. His total of 758 games for Manchester United remained a record for 35 years after his departure, while his 249 goals for the club remains unsurpassed.
Charlton became manager of Second Division Preston North End, but his first season in charge ended in the disappointment of relegation. He made a return to playing the following year in the Third Division, but left early in the 1975-76 season after a disagreement with the board. Apart from making a handful of appearances for Waterford United in the League of Ireland, he left active involvement in football.
Charlton later worked as a TV pundit and as a director at Wigan Athletic, briefly becoming caretaker-manager in the early 1980s. He also set up a number of coaching schools for children. In 1984 he became a director at Manchester United, a position he still holds today. In 2008, he led the team up to collect the European Cup following their win over Chelsea in the year of the 50th anniversary of the Munich tragedy.
References (all accessed 11 November 2012):
- Published on Monday, 12 November 2012 00:37