The late Sir Bobby Charlton for some is what Manchester United means. The guy was the club’s top scorer of all time until that record was broken by Wayne Rooney, a player who has earned the plaudits and maybe had a career on par with the great Charlton, but when you compare the two, Charlton will be the player who stands out the most.
Charlton scored seven hat-tricks in his United career, scoring 249 goals for the club and a further 49 for his country. Both of those records are now held by Rooney who has scored 253 goals for United; 53 for England meaning he has broken the records set by Charlton by scoring four more goals, which is an achievement even if Rooney will not be held in the same vein as Charlton, the true embodiment of the world legend.
Sir Bobby Charlton joined Manchester United as an apprentice in 1953, making his first team debut on the 6 October 1956 in a 4-2 victory over Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, scoring twice in that match. Charlton survived the Munich Air Disaster on the 6 February 1958, which lost the lives of eight of the Busby Babes, which also left him feeling guilty about still being alive and left his career up in the air.
He eventually returned to football on the 1 March 1958 in a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion, United’s first match after the disaster, scoring again later that month with a brace against Fulham in the FA Cup, which was a 2-2 draw, with the replay played days later and United winning 5-3 with Charlton scoring once.
Charlton won three First Division titles in his career, along with one FA Cup, four FA Charity Shields and the European Cup in 1968, ten years after that fateful flight from Munich. Charlton scored twice at Wembley to lift their first European trophy, with George Best and Brian Kidd also scoring goals, most coming in extra time with Charlton’s first goal in the 53rd minute of the match, Best scoring the winner in the 92nd minute, Kidd scoring two minutes later and Charlton ending the scoring in the 99th minute, beating Benfica 4-1, with Jaime Graça equalising in the 79th minute of the match.
During his time in the youth ranks, Charlton won the FA Youth Cup three times, in consecutive years. For England, Charlton obviously won the World Cup, something that only a few Englishmen can say they won – something which will probably be the case for decades still when you look at the players who turn out for England, not many of them winners and always underachieving. Charlton also won the British Home Championship ten times, showing that the England team of that time were something special, but saying that, football was special in those days, not that I was alive to see it all but I would have loved to have been a child from that era.
They seem to have been the times to have been alive and watching football in this country. What a period to have been alive; a World Cup and a European Cup for Charlton just two years apart. Charlton went through a lot to continue playing football, surviving the Munich Air Disaster at a young age, dealing with the guilt then paying his deceased teammates back for giving their lives.
That really much have been a tough time for him. Playing with his teammates in what turned out to be their final match, then on the way back to Manchester stopping in Munich to refuel. Then the fateful thing happened which changed the course of history for Manchester United, something which would take the club to the brink and back rising from the ashes and a decade later and doing what could have been done that season or soon after – lifting the European Cup for the first time, a competition dominated by Real Madrid at the time winning the trophy six times before the 1960s were over.
When you say the word legend in today’s game, only a few players give me the same feeling as Sir Bobby Charlton, none of them supersedes the feeling I get when you mention the name, Charlton. The guy literally put his life on the line for the club, overcoming the bad times, turning them into good times but without the like of Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan – the player who died on or within a fortnight of that fateful day, not to mention those who never played the game again; Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower.
Club officials Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry and Bert Whalley would have been close to the heart also. Sir Bobby Charlton, at the age of 81, is still working in the game today, nothing too strenuous but for his age and to still play a part just shows how much the guy loves and respects the game he played for so many years.
Charlton achieved so much with Manchester United, but in his own right he has won over a lot of plaudits too. Charlton is one of four players to have ever been awarded the top individual prize in football, the Ballon d’Or. Denis Law was the first player to be honoured in 1964 with Charlton winning the award in 1966, coming second in 1967 and 1968, which is an achievement, finished runner-up to George Best that year.
The fourth winner of the prestigious award was Cristiano Ronaldo but Eric Cantona and David Beckham came close. For me, Charlton is my favourite ever Manchester United player, even though he is not a player I ever saw play in the flesh. He is a true legend, a true inspiration and his story should be told forever more. Sir Bobby Charlton is the epitome of the word legend and that will always be the case. The player has been honoured twice by the Old Trafford club, having a statue of himself, George Best and Denis Law, the United Trinity opposite that of their master, Sir Matt Busy outside the east stand of the stadium.
The south stand of Old Trafford was named after the player, The Sir Bobby Charlton Stand now sits opposite that of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, two legends of the club, there forever more. Charlton was named the fourth best Manchester United player in the history of the Old Trafford club by the readers of the United magazine, Inside United, back in January 2011.
Ryan Giggs topped the poll, Eric Cantona coming second, George Best coming third and Charlton in fourth place. It may be something that was destined to happen at some time with most readers of the magazine being younger, the fans who would have seen Giggs and Cantona come through the club, who are decent players from the history of the club. The memories, the legendary matches, the history of the club. Sir Bobby Charlton – what a player, what a man, what a legend.
Written by John Walker