Arguably the greatest man in Manchester United history, Sir Bobby Charlton incredibly managed to survive the Munich Air Disaster and become an integral part of United’s history. On Tuesday, October 11th, Charlton celebrated his 79th birthday, bringing back tributes toward his greatest and most tragic moments at Manchester United.
Charlton joined Manchester United aged just 15 after being spotted by United’s chief scout, Joe Armstrong. Charlton made his debut five days before his 19th birthday, after winning three youth cups in his first three years at United. On the day of his debut, Charlton had an ankle injury but refused to admit it to Sir Matt Busby (back then Matt Busby), and it seemingly didn’t matter as the Englishman notched two goals. It was clear to everyone as early as then that his talent was immense, and he would only go on to a spectacular seventeen more years at the club.
In the aftermath of scoring two goals against Red Star Belgrade to take United to the semi-finals of the 1958 European Cup, tragedy struck Charlton’s life in the form of the Munich Air Disaster, after a plane carrying the ’58 Manchester United team failed to take off three times, resulting in a tragic crash. 23 of the 44 passengers in the airplane passed away in the aftermath of the disaster.
That being said, Charlton was the first United player to walk out of the hospital, and he was back playing football just a month later. Somehow, with Charlton’s words, United managed to reach the FA Cup final, a match the Busby Babes lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers. Reaching that stage of the competition was achievement enough given the time of mourning. This moment represented the beginning of ten years of rebuilding the club, an inspiring time in which Charlton guided United to two league Championships in 1965 and 1967.
Before the pinnacle of his United career, Charlton was a key cog in carrying England to their sole World Cup win in 1966, scoring twice in their semi-final win over Portugal. That year, Charlton won the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year awards before he played a massive part in giving the Three Lions the best moment in their footballing history. Charlton scored 49 goals in 106 caps for England, his record recently surpassed by Wayne Rooney.
His true footballing colours, though, could only be epitomized by his brace in the Champions League final in 1968, as United reigned victorious over Benfica, 4-1, in extra time. This moment represented United’s rebuilding, a journey that lasted twelve years but ultimately reached its destination.
Falling out with the likes of Denis Law and George Best, Charlton decided to retire in 1973, going on to manage Preston North End and Wigan with little success. He became director of Manchester United in 1984 and held the position for a grand 28 years, including 25 of the 26 years in which Sir Alex Ferguson managed.
The Busby Babes’ tragic fall from grace in 1958 was met with a twelve-year recovery period, and in that time, Charlton was a key cog in building Manchester United to the club it is today. In 758 appearances for United, Charlton scored 249 goals. Charlton is the embodiment of everything Manchester United is about- personality to recover from the worst of times, majestic footballing ability, and the dedication of this football club to the events that occurred in 1958. Charlton’s name will be written down in the United history books until the end of time, so impactful his influence on the club through his 79 years has been.