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Remembering Bobby Charlton: A story of tragedy and triumph


In the same week where Harry Kane surpassed his record for goals at Wembley, it was announced that Sir Bobby Charlton had passed away, aged 86 on Saturday 21st October.

Widely considered to be the greatest player England has ever produced, the legacy of ‘Sir Bobby’ must be revisited.

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Bobby Charlton at Manchester United vs Everton in 2016

The Busby Babes

Robert ‘Bobby’ Charlton came from a family full of footballing talent. His elder brother, Jack,  made 35 appearances for England and his mother’s cousin was Newcastle United legend, Jackie Milburn.

Bobby was the best of the lot. He emerged as one of the ‘Busby Babes’ – the famed group of talented footballers that came through the Manchester United academy in the 1940’s.

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Photo of Manchester United’s 1957 League winning side, featuring a number of the ‘Busby Babes’

This golden generation helped Manchester United to become the first English side to compete in the European Cup, with Charlton being an integral part of the team at 20 years old.

Tragedy in Munich

United’s maiden voyage in Europe would result in tragedy though, as 23 people would lose their lives as United travelled back from a match against Red Star Belgrade.

Charlton and teammate Dennis Viollet would decide to swap seats with Tommy Taylor and David Pegg before the flight, a decision that would ultimately save their lives with Taylor and Pegg losing their lives in the crash.

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Rescue workers investigating the wreckage after the crash

Charlton Immortalised

Remarkably, Charlton would feature in the FA Cup just 24 days later. United would not win the FA Cup or the European Cup that season, but the next ten years would see him lift both trophies and the World Cup.

Marked by a young Franz Beckenbauer for 120 minutes, the World Cup final was one of Charlton’s quieter days in front of goal. Despite this, England ran out 4-2 winners on the day and he was immortalised.

In a tournament of firsts for English football, the 1966 World Cup saw Charlton’s first yellow card in his career – illustrating his exemplary on-field discipline. He would go on to receive one more, in a league match against Chelsea.

His passing means that Geoff Hurst, who scored a hattrick in that final, is now the only surviving member of the 1966 World Cup winning squad.

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Bobby Charlton on the ball in the 1966 World Cup Final

Bobby’s Legacy

When he retired in 1976, Charlton left the game as England’s most capped player and Manchester United’s leading appearance maker and goal scorer.

After a spell managing Preston North End, Charlton joined the board of directors at Manchester United, a position he stayed in until the late 2010’s.

Whilst his astonishing records may not stand the test of time, Sir Bobby Charlton’s legacy as one of England’s finest ever players will endure forever.



  • Ed Dowling

    Ed is an Editor at the Sports Gazette. A much-maligned Tottenham fan, he mainly talks and writes about football in England and abroad. He is also a Senior Reporter for Nigeria's biggest sports radio station, Brila FM.