A Tribute To...Bobby Charlton

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IDecember 6, 2008

Barney Corkhill's "A Tribute To..." series once again looks at football. In this series I look at the greatest talents to grace various sports.

Today's tribute looks at a Manchester United and England legend, and a man who has experienced the very highest and very lowest feelings in football. He has scored more goals for Manchester United and England than any other player.

I speak, of course, of the great Sir Bobby Charlton.

Born October 11, 1937, Robert Charlton was born into a football mad family. He was destined for football stardom before he had even kicked a ball. His uncles were Jack Milburn, George Milburn, Jim Milburn, and Stan Milburn—all of whom were professional footballers. His mother's cousin was Jackie Milburn, one of the greatest players in the history of Newcastle Football Club.

His elder brother, Jack Charlton, would also go on to become a highly successful professional footballer.

At the tender age of 15, Bobby Charlton signed a pre-contract agreement with Manchester United. A year later he became a professional footballer, much to his delight and his mother's apprehension.

He had to fight it out in the youth team and reserves for two years, but finally made his much anticipated debut against Charlton in 1956.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

His talent was clear from an early age, but he was surrounded by other great young talents that made up the Busby Babes. Despite the obvious competition from the established first team players and Charlton's young counterparts—including Duncan Edwards—he made 17 appearances for the first team that season, scoring 12 goals.

Sir Matt Busby led his young Manchester United team to the First Division title that season, giving Charlton an early taste of success, and outlining the potential of this young side.

The season also saw Bobby Charlton's first taste of the European Cup—a tournament that would give him much joy and despair in the future. He was selected for the second leg of the semifinal against Real Madrid.

Unsurprisingly, the young United were overcome by the great team who would go on to win five European Cups in a row, but Charlton, at just 19, had stepped on the field with players like Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, and managed to get on the score sheet.

The league success ensured European competition the following season as well.

The following season was a promising one for United, as they were pushing for a third consecutive First Division title, an FA Cup, and were making major strides once again in Europe.

After an aggregate win over Red Star Belgrade, which ensured United were in the semifinals once again, disaster struck.

On the flight back, the United plane stopped off in Munich to be refuelled. The weather was terrible, and the players and everyone else on the plane were nervous about the take-off, after several failed attempts.

The slush on the runway prevented a clean take-off, and the plane crashed into a fence and a house, ripping the plane in half.

As far as the United team was concerned, Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Liam Whelan died at the scene. Duncan Edwards died in hospital 15 days later.

There were 15 other fatalities including staff, journalists, and flight attendants.

Obviously, the tragedy shook Manchester United and the footballing world to the core. A team with unlimited potential had been torn apart, and United unsurprisingly fell off the pace in the league and went out of the European Cup.

The fact that they were able to continue at all shows great resilience and character, and the fact that they managed to reach the FA Cup final showed how strong they were. It was an ultimately unsuccessful final, but it saw Matt Busby's return to work after being read the Last Rites twice while lying in his hospital bed.

A month before that FA Cup final, Bobby Charlton was selected for England for the first time, in a match against Scotland in the British Home Championships. Charlton scored a breathtaking goal in a 4-0 win for the English.

He scored two goals against Portugal in his following match and, despite a poor performance on his return to Belgrade to face Yugoslavia, he was selected for the 1958 World Cup. Unfortunately for Charlton, however, he didn't get a game.

He went on to help England to Home Championship success in 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1961.

1962 brought Charlton's second World Cup, and this time he had a part to play, helping England to qualify from their group ahead of Argentina. A Garrincha inspired Brazil, however, were too much for them as they crashed out in the quarterfinal.

The following season finally brought silverware back to Old Trafford, and ensured that the re-building process of United was well underway.

United faced Leicester in the 1963 FA Cup final, with Charlton looking for his first FA Cup winners medal at the third time of asking. A 3-1 win gave him that much wanted medal.

The 1963-64 season saw Charlton go trophyless with United, but England managed to win the British Home Championships again, as they did in 1965 and 1966 as well.

1965 saw United win the league for the first time since the Munich disaster, beating Leeds United to the title on goal average only. Matt Busby's second great United side was beginning to take place, with the likes of Charlton, Denis Law, and George Best leading the charge.

1966, however, was to be the highest point of Bobby Charlton's illustrious career.

Although he experienced another trophyless season at club level, he led England into that year's World Cup as hosts and gave the country the greatest sporting moment in it's history.

After qualifying top of the group having not conceded, they met and overcame a strong Argentina in the quarterfinals, before coming up against Eusebio's Portugal. Charlton scored twice as England won 2-1, with Charlton's United teammate Nobby Stiles having a particularly good game.

The final saw England taking on West Germany in the grudge match to end all grudge matches. Charlton himself had a fairly quiet game, due to the presence of a young Franz Beckenbauer. That isn't to say he was ineffective, as he in turn kept Beckenbauer from influencing the game.

As we all know, England went on to triumph 4-2 with Geoff Hurst scoring a hat-trick. After the game, Bobby Charlton hugged his brother Jack, with whom he had won the greatest prize in the game.

With the World Cup win, Charlton had experienced the greatest possible feeling in football, to counteract the worst possible one from Munich.

The success kept coming on an individual level, as he won the FWA Footballer of the Year award, and the Ballon d'Or, a prize he would finish runner-up for over the next two seasons as well.

1967 saw more silverware come Charlton's way as he helped them to another league title, and more individual success also came as he was awarded the captain's armband of the club he loved so dearly.

If '66 was the crowning glory of his international career, 1968 was the equivalent of his club career.

Ten years after the Munich disaster, Charlton and United reached the European Cup final, becoming the first English club to do so. Charlton scored twice as United completed a decade of recovery after Munich in the perfect way, beating Benfica 4-1.

A few weeks after this historic win, Charlton created more history by scoring his 45th England goal, passing Jimmy Greaves as the highest scorer in England's history.

That year also saw Charlton be part of the England squad that finished third at the European Championships.

On April 21, 1970, Charlton captained his country on his 100th cap, scoring as England overcame Northern Ireland.

He was selected for that year's World Cup, making him the only English player to be selected for four World Cup squads, a record that still stands today. Charlton's last cap came in the quarterfinal as England faced West Germany.

Charlton had once again been suppressing Beckenbauer, and many believe that taking Charlton off was what led to England's eventual defeat. On the plane home, Charlton announced his retirement from international football.

At the time of his retirement, Charlton has won 106 caps and scored 48 goals, both records at the time, and the goalscoring record is still intact.

After Manchester United fell out of England's elite, Charlton left the club in 1973. He left having scored 249 goals in 758 games. The appearance record has recently been broken by Ryan Giggs, but, as with his England records, the goalscoring record is still comfortably the most ever.

He went on to manage, and eventually play for, Preston North End for one season, and had a brief spell at Waterford United before finally hanging up his boots for good.

He was knighted in 1994, and still remains an active part of the Manchester United board.

A true great of English football, who has played on the same pitch as some of the greatest ever, this has been a tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!