Jack Charlton


Jack Charlton, the man voted by the Irish as the greatest Englishman of all time, has died at the age of 85. Older brother to Bobby Charlton, and part of the Leeds United team that won multiple trophies in the Don Revie era, Jack Charlton was immortalised as one of the eleven men on the pitch in 1966 who won the World Cup for England. He played 21 years for Leeds, but was 30 when he got his first call up to the England team under Alf Ramsey, who foresaw his Leeds play as being crucial for the team he was trying to build at England level. He had worked in the mines, and turned down a police job interview to take up football. On the pitch, he was able to cover ground for captain Bobby Moore, allowing him to link up with the attack more. He won the World Cup, but injuries soon after started to curtail his time in the England team.

And in 1966, the footage shows him in tears at the final whistle, overcome by emotion. “What is there left to win?” he asked his younger brother. He answered this by winning the First Division title in 1969, the FA Cup in 1972, the League Cup in 1968, the UEFA Fairs Cup (ancestor of the current Europa League) in 1968 and 1971, two more Home Nations Championships, and, on a personal level, the Football Writers Award for Footballer of the Year in 1967. So you know, not much. His play was sort of the Gandalf approach to defending (thou shall not pass) which made him an iconic but sometimes controversial member of the Leeds team.

Soon after retiring in 1973, he became manager of Middlesbrough, taking a lower salary than offered in exchange for 3 days off a week to go fishing and hunting groose. His team swiftly won promotion to the top flight by a fifteen point margin, and stayed up for 3 consecutive seasons in the First Division before he left and applied for the England managers job. The FA never bothered to respond to him, so Jack Charlton decided only to take jobs offered to him from then on. Then he became manager of Sheffield Wednesday for six seasons, promoting them to the Second Division and keeping them there against budget cuts.

And so in 1986, the man who might well pass for a stereotype Englishman got the one job in football which seemed completely out of bounds for any Englishman. He became manager of the Republic of Ireland national football team. He swiftly proved that opposites attract best, leading the Irish to their first ever European Championships, at which they beat England and came within seconds of a Semifinal place before losing out to eventual winners Holland. In 1990, he decided to double down on the achievements front, leading the Republic of Ireland to the World Cup quarterfinals in their debut in the competition. His success was aided by his willingness to invoke the grandmother rule, by which English born players with Irish grannies could play for the national team even if they’d never been in the country before. This did lead to the hilarious moment when it was later revealed that top scoring Irish player Tony Cascarino had misread his grans passport, and was in fact, as Irish as Jair Bolsonaro.

The 1992 Euros were missed by a single goal, but qualification for the 1994 World Cup was achieved, and a crowd of seemingly 75, 000 American Irishmen watched Charlton’s men record the single greatest victory in Irish football history, when they defeated Italy 1-0. This was the Italy of Maldini and Baresi and the great Roberto Baggio, who were to just lose out in that years World Cup final, just to put the exclamation mark on the Irish achievement. Despite a well publicized meltdown in the mid day humidity of Orlando in June, when the Irish lost 2-1 to a temperamental Mexican side, and Charlton got a big fine from FIFA for getting into an argument with the FIFA officials over their delaying of substitutions, Ireland made it to the last sixteen. Where once again, they came just short against the Dutch Dream Team. Charlton hoped to take his Irish side to Euro 96, which was hosted in his homeland, but he lost a playoff narrowly, once again to the Dutch, who ended his dreams for a third team in a decade. Sepp Blatter also fell out with him, which only made Jack even more fans.

After which, he retired, and focused on his fishing, and his feud with brother Bobby, which was thawed when Jack handed Bobby the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Personality of the Year Award ceremony in 2008. It was all over some small domestic issue, but aren’t all family disputes? In 1996 he was made an Honorary Irishman, and in 2019 he was given the freedom of Leeds. He didn’t however get the knighthood bestowed to his brother, because defenders don’t get those.

However, Jack Charlton wasn’t just a football legend and a remarkably underrated manager. He was also master of the quip, and the press haven’t paid tribute with this many stories, most of them true, since the late great Yogi Berra had his last picnic. Classics including ordering Mick McCarthy to “mark Lee Van Cleef”, mistaking the Dutch player for the bad guy in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and the time Tony Cascarino got off breaking curfew by getting laid as his manager “loved big tits”. The lousy time remembering names might explain his description of the teamsheet as “two big lads at the back, the big guy in midfield and the other big lads up front”. The time he threatened to punch a reporter who claimed he was unpatriotic by managing Ireland, and the team he ended a post match press conference by claiming he was “dying for a beer” are also legendary.

But the best true story has three parts. It’s from 1990, and Charlton’s Ireland are about to face Italy in the World Cup quarterfinals, and get a chance to meet Pope John Paul II. The Sistine Chapel is quite sleep inducing when listening to a long Latin lecture (or so I hear, none of us have fainted in the Vatican, honest…) and so Jack was beginning to doze off when the Pope moved his hand to bless the Ireland squad. Mistaking the move, Charlton got up and waved back. He and the Pope then began to chat about goalkeeping, JP2 having been an goalkeeper in his early days.

And then Italy beat the Irish when Celtic keeper Bonnar flapped at a cross. And after consoling the keeper and watching him enter the showers out of earshot, Jack Charlton turned to the rest of the squad and quipped: “Even the Pope could have fucking saved that one!”

In a game full to the brim with “characters”, Jackie Charlton was one of the biggest and funniest, and he’ll be missed, even by those who do not support the English football team.

Charlton was picked by 11 teams, including Lord Gravedigger and several theme teams. Lord Football’s Usual List of Ill People also scored off the elder Charlton brother, and they are currently in 9th place in the league table. Ten years ago they debuted and finished 9th, their best placing to date, so maybe apt?

Only one thing is left to say before this becomes in danger of becoming “Jack Charlton: The Novella”: how many more folk is “gravely ill since 2010” Nobby Stiles going to bloody outlive?

Jack Charlton
8 May 1935 – 10 July 2020
11 teams