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Wor Bobby
by Clint Wayne
2007-10-11 09:12:40
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Had he not been so modest and introvert, there was a time in the late 1960s when Bobby Charlton could have claimed, with some justification, that he was the most famous living Englishman and as he celebrates his 70th birthday today he is still held in the highest esteem by his generation.

In the space of a few years he had been instrumental in both England winning the World Cup in 1966 and Manchester United becoming the first English team to win the European Cup in 1968. He went on to become England’s most capped player and top goal scorer.

But it was more than just his tremendous achievements that sparked this worldwide recognition and admiration, it was his exquisite skills of grace, speed, athleticism and a thunderbolt shot that made him a dangerous threat even when more than 30 yards from goal. Every time he was in range of goal you could feel the anticipation race through the crowd and seldom did he leave you disappointed.

Memories of his goal against Mexico in those 1966 finals will remain with me forever as he strode majestically forward from the halfway line. His reputation for long-range finishes was then the stuff of legend, everyone braced themselves for a shot - and Bobby obliged unleashing an unstoppable shot from 35 yards into the top corner. In 2000, it was voted the greatest England goal of all time.

His iconic hair style or lack of it was almost as legendary as its owner. The more he lost the longer it seemed to get until a few strands of hair were groomed from one ear to the other across the biggest parting in history.

Bobby Charlton stood for something that the whole world admired. He was a gentleman, the ultimate in old-fashioned sporting heroes, a boyhood idol that I loved with his Bobby Charlton Football Annual being my ‘bestest’ Christmas present and that was long before I first saw him play and score on my first visit to Wembley in 1964. I am no Manchester United supporter, far from it, but Bobby Charlton crossed those partisan lines with ease.

He showed honesty and respect to his opponents, had the utmost integrity, never showed dissent and never argued with referees. In fact when he gained his unwarranted and only booking late into his career there was public outrage and it made the six o’clock news. He was the perfect role model, the essence of British sportsmanship and his status as the greatest ambassador in the history of British sport rested unequivocally and unrivalled on his shoulders.

Born into a pure footballing family, both his brother Jack and his uncle Wor Jackie Milburn both played for England plus three other uncles played for Leeds United, his career was almost tragically cut short as he was one of the few lucky survivors of the horrific 1958 Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of seven ‘Busby Babes’ including the truly world class Duncan Edwards.

Bobby Charlton was to become pivotal in Matt Busby’s team re-building which culminated in that 1968 European Cup success at a packed Wembley against a talented Benfica including the wonderful Eusebio. As I watched enthralled like millions of others on television he scored two of their four goals on the night including an extremely rare header. As he lifted that magnificent trophy and hugged Matt Busby with tears running down his cheeks you just couldn’t help but empathise with the great man.

Scoring on his England debut with a thumping volley, his exploits with England are legendary. He scored 49 times for his country including a ferocious Charlton cracker on his 100th game, I was there, and Wembley loved it. Alf Ramsey built his 1966 ‘wingless wonders’ team around Charlton and it was he who sent England through to the final with two long range ‘belters’ against Eusebio’s Portugal. Bobby wasn’t just a great goalscorer with a blistering shot with either foot but a player who also did his share of the hard work – a real team player.

Winning the World Cup in 1966 was his greatest achievement and it also won him the European Player of the Year Award. Had Sir Alf Ramsey not made the match-changing mistake of substituting him with England leading West Germany two one, in the 1970 World Cup Quarter Final in the searing heat of Mexico to save him for the Semi Final then who knows what the outcome could have been? He announced his retirement from international football on the flight home.

Knighted by the Queen in 1994 he remains both England’s best loved footballing idol and my own boyhood hero. Both as a man and as a footballer his was perfection personified.

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Asa2007-10-11 09:17:45
It is not without a sense of irony that our cover yesterday featured a disgrace to the world of sport, while today celebrates the birthday of a true professional athlete.

Kevin2007-11-11 16:59:10
I´m Liverpool fan, but Sir Bobby was a great man on the pitch and still one off it.

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