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34 Years and Counting… The Legend Sir Bobby Charlton

1 World Cup: 1966
3 League Titles: 1957, 1965, 1967
1 European Cup: 1968
1 FA Cup: 1963
1 European Footballer of the Year: 1966
1 Football Writers Association Player of the Year: 1966

International career:
106 caps (two players in history have more caps for England), 49 goals (highest ever goalscorer for England). Only English player to feature in four World Cup squads.

United career:
759 appearances (most appearances ever made for United), 249 goals (highest ever goalscorer for United)

Sir Bobby Charlton encompasses everything which is great about football. His ability, his loyalty, his dedication, his honours list, his passion, he has it all. To have such a great man as an ambassador for our club truly makes us privileged, and our club, and this country, owe him a great deal. It has been thirty four years since he left United, and thirty seven years since he retired from playing for England, yet he still has pride of place in the record books for club and country.

If we go back to the beginning, we can see Charlton had no choice but to pursue a career in football, coming from a line of footballers, three of his uncles playing for Leeds, amongst other clubs, and his mum’s cousin, Jackie Milburn, proved as a legend for Newcastle.

Charlton signed for United when he was fifteen years old, turning a professional just as he became seventeen in 1954. Charlton was a part of the Busby Babes, the team which should have dominated English football for the next ten years or more. He made his debut in 1956, whilst undertaking his National Service in Shrewsbury, alongside team mate Duncan Edwards. He won the FA Youth Cup with United in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

United won the league in Charlton’s first season with the first team, but were robbed of the Double, after Villa’s McParland viciously followed through minutes in to the game on United’s keeper, Ray Wood, breaking his cheek bone and leaving him concussed. These were before the days of substitutions, so Jackie Blanchflower, our centre half, filled in between the sticks. United lost 2-1, but they would see, along with Charlton, their share of glory in the coming years.

First though, they were to endure great tragedy, as the Munich Air Disaster claimed the lives of our youngsters. Having reached the semi finals of the European Cup the season before, as the first English team to succeed so significantly in the competition, United were looking to win the trophy in 1958. United played away in Yugoslavia against Red Star Belgrade, Sir Bobby scoring two goals in a 3-3 draw, taking United again to the semi finals.

With an important game against Wolves to look forward to at the weekend, the Busby Babes boarded their flight home, with the visions of a Treble awaiting them come the end of the season. As we all know, that flight never landed back home. Charlton, who was just twenty years old, and feeling uneasy with the two aborted take offs preceding the fatal attempt, swapped places with Tommy Taylor (a true great in the making). It was this move which spared Charlton’s life, at the expense of Taylor’s, but it wasn’t plain sailing. Harry Greg, then the most expensive keeper in the World, saved Charlton by dragging him by the trouser waistband from the plane, despite feeling he was too late, and that Charlton was actually dead. (Greg also single-handedly saved the lives of Sir Matt Busby, Dennis Violet, and Jackie Blanchflower).

Charlton was treated in hospital for cuts to the head and severe shock, after captain Byrne, and team mates Taylor, Pegg, Jones, Whelan, Colman and Bent were all confirmed dead at the scene. Duncan Edwards died two weeks later, Sir Matt Busby was inches away from death on several occasions, and was read his last rites twice.

Charlton had played in a team full of such promise and hope, and it all fell apart at the seams. With the loss of nine players, United went on to lose to AC Milan in the semi finals of the European Cup, fell away in the league, and lost in the FA Cup final.

As the years rolled by, Charlton established himself as a great attacking player and goalscorer for both club and country. Finally, in 1963, Charlton picked up an FA Cup winners medal, and two years later, Sir Matt’s work was starting to pay off, with the league title coming back to Manchester.

The World Cup followed a year later, with Charlton shining in the run up to the final. He scored England’s first goal of the tournament against Mexico, a completely self made goal, which started with Charlton picking up the ball in his own half, and ended with a beautiful strike in to the top corner.

England then went on to beat France, then Argentina, and faced Portugal in the semi-final. Charlton scored both goals in England’s 2-1 victory, the second of which in the form of another scorcher.

(apologies for the odd commentary)
The rest, as they say, is history, with England going on to win the World Cup, something which moved Charlton to tears, and lots of them!The following year, United won the league again, their second in three years, pipping Forest to the post. Charlton was a United and England hero and had been the cornerstone to Sir Matt’s rebuilding of the squad. As captain, in 1968, he lead United through the European Cup, with no other English teams yet to leave their mark. Ten years had past since that dreadful day in February, when Manchester mourned not only the lives of our lost players, but the lost potential. Charlton was just a lad back then, and now he was a man, eager to add the final trophy to his collection of honours.

United beat Benfica in the European Cup final, with the game finishing 1-1 after Charlton scored in the 53rd minute. Three minutes in to extra time, George Best made it 2-1, Brian Kidd taking it to 3-1 a minute later. A further five minutes saw Charlton score his second of the game, and the final goal of the game. United were crowned Champions of Europe.

Charlton has now been associated with the club for over half a century, working as an ambassador for football in his role as director for United. As great teams have come and gone, domestically and internationally, Charlton’s name still shines brighter than everyone else’s.Ryan Giggs has just over thirty games to go before he equals Charlton’s record, and with a new deal in the pipelines, barring injury, Giggs is set to do just that. Last month, Charlton spoke out about this possibility, and sounded like a true fan, rather than a man whose glorious record was about to be smashed. “I would love it if Ryan got the record,” he said. “It would be so fitting and I would be pleased to have the opportunity to go onto the pitch and present him with something. In fact, if they didn’t ask me, I would pester them until they did. When I finished, I could not believe anyone would play more games than that. I did so much running, for so many years, I just didn’t think it would be possible. But Ryan is almost there now. To physically put your body through what he has is very difficult and that is why I am so delighted for him.”

Although Giggs is still short of Charlton’s goals (141 goals for Giggs, compared to the 249 of Charlton) and appearances, he has lifted more league titles than any player in the history of English football, and as Charlton said, it would be extremely fitting for him to be the man to push the barrier higher. United have been blessed to have such dedicated and committed players over the years, and whilst thirty three years have past since Charlton set the standard, it seems almost impossible for another player to achieve such a record with a club as big and successful as United, if/when Giggs goes on to do so this season or next.

However, it’s not just Charlton’s United record at stake this season, but also his England record too. With Michael Owen recently returning from his latest spell of injury, he is just ten goals short of becoming the highest scoring player ever for England. Despite his constant injury worry, he is only twenty seven, and Charlton believes it won’t be long until that record is beaten too.

“Michael is certain to beat my record as long as he keeps fit and does not get any more injuries,” he said. “That would please me immensely because he is a great little player. I admire anyone that has bounced back from a career-threatening injury like Michael has. I never had a serious injury, but it must have been lousy for him – so I’m really delighted for him now.”

That is what is so special about Charlton, his desire to see his club and country succeed. In the day of the modern footballer, wrapped up in his own success and praise, his own goals and records, his own glory and adoration, Sir Bobby is a true devotee of the game and the team.

His records should be beaten this season, and whilst it will be sad, it has to be said they will go to two worthy winners. However, the sheer length of time it’s taken for any player to get anywhere near his achievements prove what a great he is.
So here’s to Bobby Charlton, the legend. Thirty four years and counting…

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. AbuDavid says:

    You’ve got me a lumpy throat with that- a true great is Bobby and damn right his two records are going to two very worthy, model professionals who put the current crop of players to shame.

  2. Bogside says:

    United > England you say yet your first 2 videos are England videos and you finish with how great it is for Sir Bobby to have done so well for Utd and England.

    I also noticed no mention of his ticket touting? Or his disastrous spell in management at Preston? His dislike of Best? His lack of friends in the dressingroom generally?

    There’s many of us Stretford Enders who’d disagree with a lot of what you’ve said here.

  3. Scott the Red says:


    Just because I personally don’t choose to get myself all excited about England, it does not mean that his achievements for England aren’t incredible. I don’t see what you are trying to get at.

    What his managerial career or relationship with Best has to do with what he has achieved on the football pitch is beyond me too, to be honest with you.

    And there’s no disagreeing with the man’s record. Much like Gary Neville, for example, who isn’t Mr Popular inside Carrington, but who still embodies what United is all about.

  4. Bogside says:

    I’m soryy but BC is one of the least popular United “legends” ever.

    He disgraced the club with his Cup Final ticket debacle and there’s many a 30/40 year old who met him in the 70′s/80′s before he was a club director who tell many a sad tale about his relationship with/treatment of fans.

    He made his name for England as much as he did for United and as I stated at the start United>England!

  5. Bogside says:

    All I was looking for was a balanced view from a Utd perspective – not some rose tinted (red tinted??) opinion that could have been written by a London hack.

    I don’t disagree with his achievements but I do disagree with the author’s one sided opinion. Or is there a follow up article on the way that exposes the dark side.

    Such one sided views are possibly OK when the man dies and out of respect we accentuate the positives but should a part-timer really be portraying such a one-sided view??

  6. Scott the Red says:

    As I just said, I couldn’t give a toss about his popularity, just as I couldn’t give a toss about the popularity of Neville. Being a great footballer isn’t about being a lovely bloke. Wearing the shirt with pride doesn’t mean you’re gonna be a top fella.

    Sir Bobby Charlton has had an incredible career, both for his club and country, and that is nothing to be sneered at. Whether you think the guy is a wanker or not, it has nothing to do with the incredible goal and appearance tally he’s gathered. Whether you think he’s a wanker or not, it has nothing to do with the fact he loves our team.

    I whole heartedly agree, UNITED > England. Bigging up the fact Charlton has got the greatest goalscoring record for England is not bigging up England.

    To be honest, I don’t see what your problem is.

    Without him, we’d be singing “We’ve won it one time, we’ve won it one tiiiiiime…”

    The article isn’t about the good vs evil battle taking place inside Charlton. The article is about his great records and how they will soon be beaten. When talking of his great records, I see no reason to chat on about all the bad things he’s ever done, as it has no relevance. If you want to do a write up on Bobby Charlton: The Truth, then go ahead. But that’s not what this is, or what it was intended to be.

  7. bogside says:

    The article has in it’s title “The Legend of Bobby Charlton” so how was I not to think that this was not an article about him as a man or player rather than the two records he has……

  8. Bogside says:


    I just realised that you are the author Scott so I understand your defensiveness

  9. Scott the Red says:

    Well you’ve read the article now, so I thought it would be quite clear that the focus is on his records and feelings about the club, not Bobby Charlton the man :) “34 years and counting…”

    Take it easy, and g’night.

  10. Jen says:

    I agree with way up at the top AbuDavid… I loved this article. Was interested to see such an angry red in bogside though. Regardless of what you think of Charlton’s personality, he has done for United what no one else has. I also want to note that I don’t agree he has to die to have his downsides overlooked. Need I say how close he came to doing so? Personally, I think your comments to the aforementioned border on disgusting. Best to leave your anger where it was.. bottled up deep inside so it can continue to fester.

    Brill article.. love the videos. Keep em coming, Scott.


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