Sir Bobby Charlton turns 80

first_img… a moving tribute to Britain’s greatest football heroBy Michael HoganTHERE are few sights more thrilling throughout the history of football than Bobby Charlton galloping through midfield, unleashing his ferocious shot from 30 yards and the crowd erupting in ecstasy as the net bulges.“We got to savour plenty such moments during tribute documentary Sir Bobby Charlton at 80 (BBC One). I’d like to think an apt 80 goals were shown but I was enjoying it so much, I lost count.The first gentleman of the beautiful game becomes an octogenarian today, hence this classy film celebrating his incomparable career. The emotional hearts of its narrative were the two contrasting events which shaped Charlton’s life – indeed, shaped British football.First, he witnessed tragedy. Charlton’s voice cracked with feeling as he described surviving the 1958 Munich air disaster which killed 21 people – including eight of his young teammates, poignantly dubbed ‘the Busby Babes’.Goalkeeper Harry Gregg evocatively described the crash: “There was daylight and darkness, banging and sparks, things hitting us in the head.” Gregg pulled Charlton from the wreckage by his trousers. Charlton woke up 50 yards away the plane, still strapped into his seat. These interviews were simply shot in intimate close-up. You could see lips wobbling and tears in eyes.As the archive clips turned from black-and-white to full colour, Charlton became a crucial figure in the club’s recovery. Turning despair into triumph, he led a rebuilt team to two league titles and the European Cup.He was the talismanic connection between United’s two fabled eras: the Busby Babes and the Best-Law-Charlton team. As player-turned-pundit Gary Neville put it: “He defined Manchester United’s principles and values. He’s ingrained in the fabric of the club. He’s our hero, our beacon, our light.”The second key event, of course, was the 1966 World Cup. Charlton was the lynchpin of the England team that won the trophy on home soil. More than half a century later, it was a treat to hear him talking us through his three goals in the tournament, like a modern-day Match of the Day interview. “It was paradise,” Charlton recalled, misty-eyed. ‘Magic’.Charlton remains a pivotal figure at Old Trafford as a club director, ambassador and close confidant to a succession of managers. He’s still working away as he approaches his milestone birthday, devoting much of his time to his Find a Better Way landmine charity.Illustrious talking heads including Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Geoff Hurst, Denis Law and Gordon Banks queued up to pay tribute to the man they simply call ‘Sir Bobby’ – or, in the case of his brothers Jack and Tom, ‘Wor Bob’. Several remarked on how well-known he is worldwide. Even when people can’t speak English, they can excitedly shout, “Bobby Charlton! Bobby Charlton!”Such is his exalted status that only last week, he was guest of honour at St George’s Park, where the FA named England’s training pitch after him. Charlton gave an inspirational talk to the current Three Lions squad. In return, they gave him a shirt with number 80 on the back.Despite the fame and silverware, Charlton remained self-effacing to a fault – just a down-to-earth family man from the mining village of Ashington.He held goal-scoring records for both England and United until recently, yet you wouldn’t know it from the modest way he spoke about his career. He met triumph and tragedy and treated those two imposters just the same. We’ll never see his like again.Charismatic French favourite Eric Cantona – bushy-bearded and heavy-browed, resembling a grizzled Gallic lion – got the first and last words: “He was a legend for all of us. All around the world, they respect Bobby Charlton. No-one will forget him. That’s the destiny of great men. His life is like the script for a movie and I can’t understand why they don’t make it.”Well, here they sort of did. Happy birthday, Sir Bobby! (The Telegraph)last_img