‘Sir Bobby Charlton was the best player in the world’

* As the England World Cup winner and Manchester United legend dies aged 86

* Sir Bobby was a hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world

* He was admired as much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer

Maravi Express

Sir Bobby Charlton, the Manchester United legend who was a key figure in England’s 1966 World Cup victory, died on Saturday at the age of 86.


Charlton won 106 caps for England and scored 49 international goals a  record for his country at that time and uring a 17-year first-team career with United he won three league titles, a European Cup and an FA Cup.

Charlton’s family said he “passed peacefully in the early hours of Saturday morning” and as tributes poured in, he was hailed as “England’s greatest player” and “an undisputed legend”.

A report by the BBC says Charlton’s stature in Sir Alf Ramsey’s England side led to him being given a special role in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley and was one of the team’s key attacking talents — scoring three times in the earlier rounds, including two in a 2-1 victory over Portugal in the semi-final.

He was asked to man-mark West Germany’s playmaker Franz Beckenbauer and in an earlier interview with the BBC, he as quoted as saying: “I had waited my whole life to play in a World Cup final and I am asked to man-mark, which I had never done before.

“But when the whistle went, Franz Beckenbauer came straight to me — he had been given the same instruction.”

The BBC said while coach Ramsey was concerned about the potential impact Beckenbauer might have on the final, the West Germany manager Helmut Schon had the same fears about Charlton.


The pair effectively cancelled each other out — Charlton acknowledged that neither player “had much impact on the final”. But the tactic gave other England players, such as hat-trick hero Hurst, the chance to make their own mark on history.

And Beckenbauer saw at close quarters just why his manager had been so concerned. He said: “In this game I realised how difficult it is to follow him and to mark him because in my opinion, in 1966 in the World Cup, he was the best player in the world.”

In November 2020, it was announced Charlton had been diagnosed with dementia and the BBC reported that died surrounded by his family, who said in a statement they wished to “pass on their thanks to everyone who has contributed to his care and for the many people who have loved and supported him”.

In its tribute, Machester United said Charlton was ranked as “one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of our club” — adding: “Sir Bobby was a hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world.

“He was admired as much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer; Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game.

“His unparalleled record of achievement, character and service will be forever etched in the history of Manchester United and English football and his legacy will live on through the life-changing work of the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation.


“The club’s heartfelt sympathies are with his wife Lady Norma, his daughters and grandchildren, and all who loved him.”

Erik ten Hag’s current United team wore black armbands for Saturday evening’s Premier League game at Sheffield United, with home and away supporters applauding in a tribute ahead of kick-off.

Charlton’s death leaves Sir Geoff Hurst — the striker who scored a hat-trick in England’s 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 final — as the sole surviving member of the triumphant team.

Sir Geoff Hurst

Hurst posted on Xexternal-link, formerly Twitter: “Very sad news today. One of the true Greats Sir Bobby Charlton has passed away. We will never forget him and nor will all of football.

“A great colleague and friend, he will be sorely missed by all of the country beyond sport alone. Condolences to his family and friends.”

Charlton’s older brother Jack, who died in July 2020, and their fellow World Cup winner Nobby Stiles, who passed away in October 2020, had also both been diagnosed with dementia.


An Old Trafford legend

Born in Ashington, Northumberland on October 11, 1937, Charlton joined Manchester United as a schoolboy in 1953, turning professional the next year and making his first-team debut against Charlton Athletic in October 1956, aged 18.

In February 1958, he was a survivor of the Munich air crash in which 23 people died, including eight of his United team-mates. The accident had a profound impact on the rest of Charlton’s life.

“There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t remember what happened and the people who are gone,” he said on a visit to Munich many years later. “Manchester United at that time were going to be one of the greatest teams in Europe.

“The accident changed everything. The fact that the players are not here and are never going to be judged is sad. They’ll never grow old.”


He became a focal point of manager Sir Matt Busby’s rebuilding effort. Joined by Denis Law and George Best, Charlton inspired United to a first European Cup win in 1968, scoring twice in the final against Benfica.

He had been awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1966 after playing every minute of England’s World Cup victory and Charlton went on to break United’s scoring and appearance records — netting 249 goals in 758 games to cement his status as one of British football’s all-time greats — before leaving the club in May 1973.

Those long-standing records were eventually broken, with Ryan Giggs finishing on 963 games and Wayne Rooney scoring 253 goals.


After leaving Old Trafford, Charlton spent two years as manager and player-manager at Preston North End before resigning in August 1975. In the following year, he played briefly in the Republic of Ireland before moving into the boardroom at Wigan Athletic, where he also had a spell as caretaker manager.

In June 1984, he became a director at United and 10 years later he was knighted, having previously been awarded an OBE and CBE.

Charlton came second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 1958 and 1959. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Achievement award.

United renamed Old Trafford’s South Stand in his honour in 2016 as it became the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand and a wreath has been laid at the United Trinity statue at Old Trafford on behalf of the club, with a book of condolence to be open to fans and the public from Sunday.

The bronze Trinity statue immortalises Charlton, Best and Law. Talks continue about how best to commemorate Charlton’s life ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League game against Copenhagen in Manchester.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have learned of the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton,” said the Football Association through England’s X account.

“An integral part of our 1966 FIFA World Cup winning campaign, Sir Bobby won 106 caps and scored 49 times for the Three Lions. A true legend of our game. We will never forget you, Sir Bobby.”

England manager Gareth Southgate added: “One of our most iconic players, Sir Bobby Charlton’s impact on our only World Cup triumph is there for all to see.


“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 its sadness at losing an undisputed legend.”

Former England captain and Manchester United star David Beckham was given the middle name Robert as his father so admired Charlton.

David Beckham and Sir Bobby

Beckham said: “Today isn’t just a sad day for Manchester United and England, it’s a sad day for football and everything that Sir Bobby represented. Today our hearts are heavy.”

Beckham’s former club and country team-mate Gary Neville, speaking on Sky Sports, remembered Charlton as “England’s greatest player and greatest ambassador”.

Neville said: “He used to come into the changing room after a match – win, lose or draw — something when I was a player at the club you maybe would take for granted — but this legend would be walking around your changing room saying ‘well done’ or offering his commiserations.

“He was the golden thread through from Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, two golden eras in Man Utd’s history and he was the constant through both of them.”

European football’s governing body, UEFA said: “On behalf of the entire European football community, we are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the game’s true greats. Rest in peace, Sir Bobby.”—Reporting by the BBC