Bobby Charlton was a once-off as a player but also as a person – we won’t see his like again for sure

by Gazette Reporter
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‘Jack came alive in front of television cameras and had a great charisma while Bobby was much more private but was a fun person to be around for those who knew him well and were trusted in his circle’

Like all of the footballing world, I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Bobby Charlton at the weekend. When they come to write the history of England and indeed world soccer, Sir Bobby will always be close to the top as he was a football player who was able to operate at the highest level while being a gentleman on and off the pitch.

I got to know him over the past two or three decades during my visits to Old Trafford. When I went there with the Snooker World Champions trophy in 1997 at the invitation of the then manager Alex Ferguson, I was delighted to meet Bobby and then former chairman Martin Edwards in the boardroom.

Bobby actually was a keen snooker fan and I invited him to be my guest at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield when I was playing there. As you may know, he was a particularly shy man and he thanked me profusely for my kindness but said he preferred to watch the big tournaments on television in the privacy of his own home.

That example alone showed that he was the antithesis of  George Best, one of the United trilogy with Bobby and Denis Law, who lived most of his adult life in the public eye. Those three stars were the players who drove United on post Munich when the Busby Babes were virtually wiped out in that horrific crash in Munich on February 6, 1958. Bobby, along with Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg were players who survived that black day in United’s history (as did Sir Matt Busby). 

It was almost beyond belief to think that a little over a decade later, all three – Bobby, Bill and Matt – would be at the heart of United’s first and greatest European Cup success against the Eusebio led Benfica at Wembley Stadium.

Bobby not alone captained Man United on the night but was the start player after scoring two goals from his midfield position.

In an England shirt too, it is hard to argue if there has ever been a better player. He scored 49 goals from midfield and got the two goals in the World Cup semi-final against Portugal which saw England progress to the final where they accounted for West Germany after extra-time.

It was only some time later than the manager Alf Ramsey revealed how great a team player Bobby was as he sacrificed his own imaginative and creative game at Alf’s asking to negate the influence of their schemer Franz Beckenbauer in the opponents team.

It is well known that while Bobby and Jack celebrated together on the Wembley turf, later in life the brothers became more estranged due to family circumstances. Jack became an honorary Irishman for his exploits with our teams in the eighties and nineties but he always doffed his cap to “our kid’ as he called Bobby for the natural skill and athleticism he possessed.

Jack came alive in front of television cameras and had a great charisma while Bobby was much more private but was a fun person to be around for those who knew him well and were trusted in his circle.

Peter Schemeichel told a story over the weekend of how he had a group of 12 or 13 Danish people in the United restaurant and just waved to Bobby who was eating at a table with a few other guests of his own.

Bobby interrupted his own lunch to walk over and spend 10 minutes welcoming everyone individually to United while asking them about themselves as well. That’s what made him a man apart, he was a true gentleman of the game and one who we can truly say will never see his likes again.

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