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Manchester United and England great Sir Bobby Charlton dies aged 86

21 Oct 2023 6 minute read
Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton who has died aged 86. Photo PA/PA Wire.

Manchester United and England great Sir Bobby Charlton has died aged 86, his family have announced in a statement.

Charlton was a key member of England’s victorious 1966 World Cup team and also enjoyed great success at club level with United, who became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968.

A key member of the Busby Babes and a survivor of the Munich air crash of 1958, a wonderful 17-year career at Manchester United dovetailed with a remarkable time with England, which peaked with World Cup glory in 1966.

His explosive playing style was underpinned by supreme balance and grace and, with a dip of the shoulder and thunderous shot in either foot, he scored spectacular goals.

“There has never been a more popular footballer. He was as near perfection as man and player as it is possible to be,” former United boss Sir Matt Busby said of Charlton.

The champion of the north west was a son of the north east, born in Ashington on October 11, 1937.

While his second cousin Jackie Milburn became one of the greatest players in Newcastle’s history and brother Jack joined Leeds, Bobby’s path led to Old Trafford.

Frozen pitch

Having impressed a United scout while playing for East Northumberland Boys on a frozen pitch at Jarrow, the shy 15-year-old who turned up at United in a green ankle-length raincoat would quickly flourish in red.

Having initially signed for the club on New Year’s Day 1953, he gave up an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer to turn professional in October 1954.

Charlton won the FA Youth Cup in three successive years up until 1956, when he made his senior league debut against Charlton on October 6, scoring twice in a 4-2 win.

It was the kind of display that set the tone for a remarkable club career which was in its infancy when Busby’s swashbuckling side won the First Division in 1957.

Tragically, the Busby Babes were cut off in their prime after their plane crashed on the runway in Munich as it attempted to take off in heavy snow, having stopped to refuel on the way back from a European Cup tie at Red Star Belgrade on February 6, 1958.

Seven of Charlton’s team-mates were killed, while an eighth, Duncan Edwards, died in hospital 15 days later.

Charlton, who was just 20 at the time, was dragged from the plane by goalkeeper Harry Gregg, having suffered head injuries.

He recuperated in hospital but was engulfed by terrible regret and sadness.

He wrote in his autobiography: “All the time the question came pounding in: ‘Why me, why did I survive?’”.


However, he chose to draw strength from those around him rather than submit to the impact of the catastrophe and somehow returned to action on March 1.

Busby returned to the helm after spending two months in hospital and United, with Charlton to the fore, managed to reach the FA Cup final less than three months after the tragedy, losing 2-0 to Bolton.

Two weeks before that he had marked his England debut by volleying home a Tom Finney cross against Scotland at Hampden Park.

Charlton would become integral to rebuilding the United team, with the FA Cup triumph of 1963 a catalyst which set the club on course for more success.

First Division titles arrived in 1965 and 1967, either side of the most famous moment in English football history.

Charlton likened playing at Wembley as a schoolboy to arriving in paradise – and his dreams came true there.

At the 1966 World Cup, he scored a stunning long-range strike in the group-stage win over Mexico and a brace in the semi-final defeat of Eusebio-inspired Portugal.

A quieter display followed in the final against West Germany, but it mattered not as England triumphed 4-2 after extra-time to be crowned champions of the world.

Charlton would also win the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, while he collected the Ballon d’Or and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award in 1966.

Holy trinity

Wembley would witness another moment to cherish for Charlton two years later.

Part of United’s heralded ‘Holy Trinity’ alongside Denis Law and George Best, he scored twice in a 4-1 extra-time win against Benfica in the European Cup final as United became the first English champions of the continent.

That victory capped the post-Munich rebuilding, with Charlton, along with Bill Foulkes one of only two survivors of the tragedy in the team, opting out of post-match celebrations to remember those who died.

It proved the last major honour of a United career which spanned 758 games and featured 249 goals.

He made his 106th and final appearance for England in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final defeat to West Germany. Charlton, aged 32, was substituted after 70 minutes when England were leading 2-1. They went on to lose 3-2 in extra-time.

He left United in 1973, before working briefly as player-manager at Preston and a stint in Ireland with Waterford United.

A brief spell as director and caretaker manager of Wigan followed before returning to United in 1984 and becoming a club director – a position he held until his death, along with his ambassadorial role at the club.

Charlton continued to be a huge figure at United, greeting new players and watching them home and away with his wife, Lady Norma. The pair met at a Manchester ice rink in 1959 and married in 1961.


Away from sport, he founded the ‘Find A Better Way’ charity in 2011, having seen first hand the humanitarian damage caused by landmines on visits to Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The organisation’s goal is to help fund research and development for those teams ridding the world of the threat of landmines.

Awarded an OBE in 1969 and CBE in 1974, he was knighted in 1994 and given the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

Old Trafford’s South Stand carries his name and the statue of the ‘Holy Trinity’ watches over the ground where he made so many memories, having made the second most United appearances, behind Ryan Giggs, and scored the second most goals, behind Wayne Rooney.

Charlton’s 106 caps and 49 goals for England – he was his country’s record scorer until Rooney surpassed his mark in 2015 – will also never be forgotten, with a pitch at the St George’s Park training complex named after him in 2017.

Charlton, who has died at the age of 86 after being diagnosed with dementia, is survived by his wife and their daughters Suzanne and Andrea.

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