Sir Bobby Charlton, often regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time and certainly one of the greatest english football players to have lived. He survived the Munich air crash in 1958, one of the worst tradegies there has been in the history of the beautiful game, a tragedy that took the lives of 23 members of Manchester United Football Club. Charlton did sustain minor injuries in the crash but managed to play on after and was expected to be one of the players who would help to rebuild Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United team following the disaster.
Since that fateful disaster he has been fortunate to have had a glittering career for both club and country winning practically all there is to win in both forms of the game and in the process becoming regarded as one of the greatest midfield players to have ever lived, renowned for his powerful long range shots, attacking instincts, passing abilities as well as being excellent with both feet. During his glittering career he became top scorer for England with 49 goals and top scorer for Manchester United with 249 goals to his name.
Charlton was born in a small mining town in the North of England called Ashington in 1937. He was the younger brother of another famous England footballer Jack Charlton who played his entire career for Leeds United along with representing England with his brother. Its fair to say that the Charlton family had football in its blood. Bobby Charlton managed to play at England school boys when he was 15 and managed to score 2 goals. It was here that he was scouted by Joe Armstrong for Manchester United. He signed his first contract there at the age of 15 in 1953 and was taken under the wing of Jimmy Murphy and Matt Busby and became part of a phenomena known as the Busby Babes. He progressed through the youth setup at Manchester United and eventually Matt Busby give him the chance to play for the first team in 1956. In his first season playing in the first team he made 14 appearances and qualified for a Championship medal at the club.
In this period Manchester United had qualified for the pioneering European Cup tournament and in February 1958, they beat Red Star Belgrade and were through to the semi finals of the tournament. On route back home to Manchester the teams plane had to stop in Munich to refuel and this of course is where the terrible situation of the Munich air disaster happened, claiming 23 lives of the 44 passengers on board the plane.
Bobby Charlton rejoined the team after the fateful air crash in a Manchester United FA Cup clash against West Bromwich Albion. That same season, following the crash, United reached the FA Cup final where they met a Bolton Wanderers side, who of course had no sympathy and ensure that they ran out winners and beat Manchester United 2-0.
Charlton’s United eventually returned to success in 1963 when they defeated Leicester City in the FA Cup final, with a 3-1 win, Sir Bobby’s first winners medal of his career. Certainly a significant day for both Charlton and Manchester United with this cup win coming 5 years after the disaster occurred. Manchester United and Matt Busby’s success continued further with Manchester United picking up 2 first division league titles in 3 years, in 1965 and 1967.
Charlton’s crowning success during his time at Manchester United came 10 years on from the Munich crash in 1968, when they picked up the European Cup in a highly emotional night at Wembley stadium where Manchester United defeated Portuguese giants Benfica 4-1 after extra time to allow them to finally lift that trophy they craved.
Sir Bobby was just a great a player at country for England as he was on home turf for Manchester United, he scored on his opening debut for England and never stopped scoring since. He first World Cup appearance for England came in 1958 in Chile where England reached the quarter finals. Home advantage came into play in 1966 in Charlton’s third World Cup for England and our prospects of winning looked good. Sir Alf Ramsey’s England side at the time included stars for Charlton to play alongside inducing Sir Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Jimmy Greaves and his brother Jack Charlton. Expectations were high for the England side, they would play all their games at Wembley and its fair to say the nation were more than behind them. After a tentative start a magnificent goal by Charlton against Mexico really gave the England side confident that they would be able to go all the way and win the tournament.
England faced Argentina in the quarter finals of that tournament and went though to the semi finals after Sir Geoff Hurst grabbed the three lions a crucial goal that would see them through to the semi finals after a brutal encounter with the Argentinians. They faced Portugal in the semi finals a side with players of the calibre of Eusebio. Charlton scored 2 in that semi final to put England through to the final of the 1966 World Cup. In that final England had to face off a strong West German where Sir Bobby Charlton finally met his match in German defender Franz Beckenbaur in the game they certainly cancelled each other out with great play at marking one another. Despite England going 1-0 they came back to win the match 4-2 after extra time with a hat trick for Sir Geoff Hurst, still the only ever hat trick in an FA Cup final.
Its fair to say that Bobby Charlton has lived the footballers dream, despite huge adversity in his career. He’s won most major honours in the game, he’s now a member on the Board of Directors for Manchester United. He given his knighthood in 1994 and its fair to say he’s an icon of British football and possibly Manchester United’s greatest ever player!