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Defining Moment: Sir Bobby Charlton


Bobby Charlton made his 758th and final appearance for Manchester United on 28th April 1973, in a game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Bobby Charlton at fundraising event, 2010
Bobby Charlton at fundraising event, 2010. © FlickreviewR

His last game finished 1-0 to the home side, and although Charlton’s Man United swansong ended with a loss, it in no way diminishes what a fantastic career the Bobby Charlton had. Such was the enormous respect for Charlton, the Chelsea chairman presented him with a commemorative cigarette case before the match. Manchester United was not Charlton’s last club, however, as he spent a season at Preston North End as a player-manager, appearing 38 times and netting 8 goals for the club. Following this stint at Preston, Charlton moved to Irish team Waterford United, making just 3 appearances for the club, before finally hanging up his boots in 1976.

Charlton in Argentinian magazine El Gráfico, 27 June 1962
Charlton in Argentinian magazine El Gráfico, 27 June 1962 © El Gráfico

It could easily be argued that Charlton was destined to be a footballer. It was in his blood. Many of his uncles were professional footballers, as well as his older brother, Jack, who played for Leeds United. Aged just 15, Charlton signed with Manchester United after their chief scout watched him play a game for his school team. He started an electrical engineering apprenticeship after initially being signed, as his mother was unsure of him choosing football as a viable career path. However, he went on to turn professional just one year after being signed.

Munich Memorial Plaque outside Old Trafford Stadium. © Matanya, 2006
Munich Memorial Plaque outside Old Trafford Stadium. © Matanya, 2006

Charlton learnt much of his football under the tutelage of Matt Busby, famous for producing many talented footballers at the club after the Second World War. After impressing at youth level, He was handed his first team debut against Charlton Athletic in October 1956. He went on to become a part of the famous Busby Babes group of players. Unfortunately, this brilliant group of players were part of one of football’s greatest ever tragedies, the Munich air disaster. On 6th February 1958, the team was returning from a European Cup game in Serbia (then Yugoslavia), having played against Red Star Belgrade. Due to very poor weather conditions, and after numerous failed take-off attempts, the plane tragically crashed into a nearby house after clipping a fence at the end of the runway. Charlton managed to escape serious injury but sadly many of his teammates and fellow passengers were not so lucky. There were 23 fatalities out of the 43 people on board, 8 of which were Manchester United players. A minute’s silence, as a mark of respect and remembrance, is often observed before football matches around the anniversary of the crash. 

Wayne Rooney, England v Italy, 2012
Wayne Rooney, © The Madras, 2012

Whilst playing, Charlton set the all-time goal-scoring record in the league for both Manchester United (199) and England (49). He still holds these records to this day, although current Man United player Wayne Rooney is hot on his heels with 170 league goals for Manchester United and 47 goals for England. Charlton also set the all-time league appearance record for the club, with 606 appearances, but this has since been surpassed by Ryan Giggs who has made a massive 672 league appearances.

England's Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy. © David Wilson, 2011
England’s Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy. © David Wilson, 2011

Charlton was not only successful at club level, but also enjoyed a glittering career on the international stage as well. He was a part of the team that produced one of England’s greatest ever sporting achievements – the 1966 World Cup. Whilst Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore often gain most of the plaudits for England’s famous victory, Charlton’s contributions throughout the tournament must not be overlooked. He scored a total of 3 goals and was included in the team of the tournament, alongside Portuguese legend Eusébio and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer. Charlton can now often been seen attending football matches at Old Trafford and is a member of Manchester United’s board of directors. Although Manchester United has many a rival team, even the most ardent Manchester City fan would find it hard not to admire what Charlton has achieved on the football pitch. He is, and always will be, one of the true footballing greats and will remain in the sport’s folklore for many decades to come.


BY - Owen Holland

5 May 2015