The world of football has united in tribute to Manchester United and England legend Sir Bobby Charlton, who died on Saturday.
Bobby Charlton was diagnosed with dementia in 2020, and a family announcement said that he had “passed peacefully in the early hours of the morning”.
Bobby Charlton was part of Manchester United’s so-called ‘Holy Trinity’ alongside club legends Denis Law and George Best.
In a distinguished 17-year career at Old Trafford, he won three league titles, an FA Cup and a European Cup. He scored 49 goals in 106 appearances for England, famously helping them to victory in the World Cup in 1966. He scored twice in a famous 4-1 extra-time win against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final as Sir Matt Busby’s team became the continent’s first English champions.
He was England’s record goalscorer until 2015, when Wayne Rooney surpassed the Ashington-born attacking midfielder’s tally of 49. Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster in 1958 which tragically claimed the lives of 23 people, including eight of his United team-mates.
Former England striker Gary Lineker told BBC Radio 5 Live “For me, [he is] England’s greatest ever player… You can only judge players that you have seen in your lifetime and I was lucky enough to see him play when I was a young boy. He was one of my heroes, one of many people’s heroes.
“I was always nervous and in awe of him, but he was so gentle as a man he always put you at ease. He was always so kind.
“He was unique. Wherever you go in the world, even if they didn’t speak the language, they knew two words – Bobby Charlton.”
Former Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer said: “When you read about everything he has done in the game, how many trophies he has won, appearances he has made and goals he has scored, he could have been excused for having a little bit of arrogance about him, but there was absolutely none of that. If you hadn’t watched a game of football and didn’t see him play, you would just see him as a normal guy. I don’t think you will ever hear anyone say a bad word against him.
“He was not only a great goalscorer but a scorer of great goals. If anyone is wanting to look at how to strike at a football, look at Sir Bobby Charlton.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said: “The privilege of meeting him on several occasions allowed me to understand his personal pride and emotion in having represented England, and simply confirmed in my mind his standing as one of the gentlemen of the game.
“The world of football will unite in sadness at losing an undisputed legend.”
Manchester United’s website posted a details tribute which said: “Nobody embodied the values of Manchester United better than Sir Bobby Charlton. Having survived the trauma of the Munich Air Disaster when aged just 20, he played as if every game was for his fallen colleagues, recovering from his injuries to reach the pinnacle for both club and country. In a 17-year playing career with the Reds, he played 758 games and scored 249 goals – both of which were longstanding records until, respectively, Ryan Giggs in 2008 and Wayne Rooney in 2017 surpassed his feats.
“Highly coveted by clubs across the country, the young Charlton, nephew of the great Newcastle United striker Jackie Milburn, joined Matt Busby’s Manchester United as a schoolboy in 1953 and turned professional with the club in October 1954.
“After winning the FA Youth Cup in 1954, 1955 and 1956, his first-team debut came on 6 October 1956, against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, and the youngster made an immediate impact. He scored twice in the Reds’ 4-2 league victory, despite carrying an injury. “Mr Busby asked me if I was okay,” recalled Sir Bobby. “I actually had a sprained ankle, but I wasn’t going to admit to it and I crossed my fingers and said ‘yes’.”
“Despite his dramatic bow, Charlton didn’t command a regular place until the latter stages of the 1956/57 season, notching 10 goals as Busby’s ‘Babes’ won the league title – the fifth in the club’s history. Competition for a first-team spot was intense, but a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers during the next campaign certainly helped his cause – and Busby found it harder and harder to leave out the powerful young forward.
“In February 1958, Charlton scored twice in United’s 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade as the Babes sealed a place in the semi-finals of the European Cup. Disaster struck on their return, when the aeroplane taking the squad home crashed in Munich after refuelling. Twenty-three people, including eight of his team-mates, perished and Charlton was among those injured. However, his wounds were relatively minor and he was back in action within a month, eventually helping the Reds to reach the FA Cup final. United lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers at Wembley, but Charlton and co returned in 1963 to win the same trophy by beating Leicester City.
“The England international proved to be an integral component of United’s rebuilding process after Munich, plying his trade across the field while the rest of the side was constructed. A permanent switch to a deep-lying forward role brought the best from him, and he was vital as Busby’s men won league titles in 1965 and 1967.
“Shortly before the 1966 World Cup, Charlton was named Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year in quick succession. He went on to play a starring role as Alf Ramsey’s side won the tournament, scoring twice in the semi-final win over Portugal. Charlton earned 106 caps in total – three as captain – and his tally of 49 goals stood as an England record from May 1970 until September 2015 when Wayne Rooney broke it with his 50th strike.
“Although winning the World Cup is seen as the pinnacle of achievement in football, Charlton’s finest hour at club level came in May 1968 when he captained United to European Cup glory at Wembley. He scored twice in the 4-1 final win over Benfica but famously missed the post-match celebrations, instead conducting a solitary remembrance of the friends he had lost in the Munich tragedy 10 years earlier.
“The skipper continued to entertain United fans as part of the famed Best-Law-Charlton triumvirate before he retired in 1973. He then spent two years as manager and player-manager at Preston North End before resigning in August 1975. Bobby briefly played for Waterford in the Republic of Ireland in 1976 before accepting a boardroom position at Wigan Athletic, where he took over as caretaker-manager during season 1982/83.
“In June 1984, Charlton became a director of Manchester United. Ten years later, he was knighted, having previously been awarded the OBE and CBE. In 2016, Old Trafford’s South Stand was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand.”
A respected ambassador for the club, English football and the beautiful game across the world, Sir Bobby Charlton passed away on 21 October 2023. The deeply saddening news was announced just a few hours before his beloved Manchester United played a Premier League match against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. The fixture went ahead, just as the great man himself would have wanted.