Jack Charlton was football royalty but with the common touch

Big defender became a World Cup hero with two different nations

England defender Jack Charlton holds aloft the World Cup trophy at Wembley in 1966. Picture: PA Wire.
England defender Jack Charlton holds aloft the World Cup trophy at Wembley in 1966. Picture: PA Wire.

Jack Charlton, who has died at the age of 85, was one of football’s great characters.

Not the most naturally gifted of players, he nevertheless collected a World Cup winners’ medal alongside his younger and more celebrated brother Bobby as England triumphed in 1966, and was a key member of the Leeds United side which threatened to take both the domestic and European game by storm during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But if Bobby enjoyed the greater share of the limelight – they fell out later in life before reconciling – it was Jack who proved more suited to management.

Revered in Middlesbrough after guiding the club into the old first division as champions, it was on the international stage that he rose to prominence with the Republic of Ireland. Charlton’s love affair with his adopted country and its football fans proved a marriage made in heaven as a nation which came to know him simply as ‘Big Jack’ revelled in the success he brought, the Republic establishing themselves as a force in world football and their manager as a household name all over again.

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Born in the Northumberland colliery village of Ashington on 8 May, 1935, the eldest child of miner Bob and his wife Cissie, a cousin of north-east football royalty Jackie Milburn, he learned his football with Ashington YMCA and Ashington Welfare before joining the ground staff at Leeds in 1950.

He went on to make a record 629 league appearances for the Elland Road club before eventually hanging up his boots just weeks before his 38th birthday.

During more than two decades at Leeds, punctuated by a spell on national service with the Horse Guards, he won the First and Second Division titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup twice and was named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1967.

But it was with England, for whom he earned 35 full caps, that he wrote himself into the history books.

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He was fast approaching 30 when he made his full debut in a 2-2 Home Championship draw with Scotland in April 1965 and, a little more than a year later, played his part in what remains perhaps the most famous day in England’s sporting history. One of the abiding images of the 4-2 World Cup final victory over West Germany on 30 July, 1966 is that of the 6ft 3in defender sinking to his knees at the final whistle before embracing his younger brother.

Jack celebrated the victory by partying in a random person’s house in north London, ending up sleeping on the floor. That was typical of the man who kept the common touch despite his fame. “I got a lift back the following morning and my mother was playing hell as I hadn’t been to bed all night,” Charlton recalled. “I said, ‘Mother, we’ve just won the World Cup!’”

Following his retirement as a player, he was appointed manager at Division Two club Middlesbrough in May 1973 and won promotion at the first attempt before ending his four-year spell on Teesside and then taking up the reins at Sheffield Wednesday. He spent almost six seasons at Hillsborough and later had brief spells back at Boro and with Newcastle before Ireland came calling in February 1986.

In almost a decade at the helm, Charlton built a side to be reckoned with as he made use of the qualification rules to boost his squad with players born outside the country and moulded them into a team which feared no one, even while sometimes struggling to remember their names.

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Mercurial midfielder Liam Brady recalled: “Jack Charlton’s first words to me were, ‘You’re number eight, Ian’. I said, ‘Ian Brady was the Moors murderer, Jack’.”

It was at Italia 90 that Charlton enjoyed his finest moment as a manager, Ireland eventually bowing out to the hosts in the quarter-finals. They were at it again in the US four years later as Scottish-born midfielder Ray Houghton fired them to a glorious 1-0 win over Italy. His resignation in December 1995 brought an end to a remarkable era.

A man who combined his football with a love of outdoor pursuits – Charlton was as happy fishing and shooting as he was in the dug-out – he suffered ill-health in later life but remained a popular figure with fans across the generations.

He is survived by wife Pat, whom he married in 1958, and their three children, John, Deborah and Peter.

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