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Complicated brotherly relationship impacted both Jack and Bobby

Sam Wallace


Jack and Bobby Charlton’s relationship was often difficult. Photo: PA

Jack and Bobby Charlton’s relationship was often difficult. Photo: PA


Jack and Bobby Charlton’s relationship was often difficult. Photo: PA

Jack Charlton was born before the war into arguably the greatest dynasty English football. His life spanned so many eras that it was possible to think of it in two great parts; as player and then manager.

For the great Leeds United defender, there were the years as a one-club footballer, amassing 773 appearances for the team that Don Revie took from the Second Division to champions of England in time for Jack to make the England World Cup squad of 1966. Then later there was a 23-year managerial history culminating with his decade in charge of the Republic of Ireland when the nation's football team achieved more than it had ever done before or has since.

A second cousin of the legendary Newcastle forward Jackie Milburn, Jack Charlton had one of the great careers of English and Irish football. He was an England World Cup winner on that great summer's day in 1966.

An outspoken, single-minded man of the people who was adopted by the Irish nation as one of their own and took the team to two World Cup finals and the 1988 European Championships. Yet he also had to live his life as the older brother of English football's greatest son, Bobby, 82.

The relationship between the two men was always complicated, first as young boys, then as professional players and always as sons of the formidable Cissie, their mother, who was a keen football fan and pushed her four boys hard.

Jack and Bobby famously fell out over what Jack perceived as the superior attitude of Bobby's wife, Norma, towards Cissie, a split that would come to define their lives. When Bobby at last addressed it in his two most recent volumes of memoirs he acknowledged the pain that it has caused the family.

Jack and Bobby were children of the north-east who grew up during the war, the sons of a miner, Bob - not a footballer himself but a tough man who gloried in the nickname 'Boxer'. It was a much-loved family tale that Bob senior had won the money for their mother's engagement ring in a bare-knuckle bout at a miners' gala. The boys grew up in the village of Ashington, Northumberland, and the man who dominated their lives was their maternal grandfather, Tanner Milburn, a renowned football and sprint coach. All four of Tanner's sons had become professional footballers although none would reach the level of his grandsons.

Jack and Bobby and their two other brothers, Gordon and Tommy, would roam the countryside around Ashington where Jack developed his love of fishing. As Bobby would later reflect in his autobiography The Manchester United Years, their bond was strong but complicated.

"As boys we had good times together and also, like most siblings, those when we used to fight. Sometimes we would agree to carry each other when we walked long in the fields; I would support him for a hundred yards, then he would take me for 20 or so before throwing me off. It was, I supposed, the right of the elder brother."

It was an astonishing life for Jack whose achievements as a player did not come as easy as they did to his brother Bobby, by far the most talented of the Charlton boys and a schoolboy star who was pursued by every great professional club of the era.

For Jack, success took much longer and he was 29 when Revie's Leeds finally returned to the top flight as Second Division champions for what would be the most successful spell of Jack's career.

Under Revie, Jack won a league title in 1969, the 1968 League Cup and the 1972 FA Cup and went close to trophies many more times. The combative Leeds side of the era, much disliked outside of Elland Road, never finished outside the First Division top four in the nine seasons up to Jack's retirement in 1973. They were league runners-up five times in that period. Finally Jack was competing in the top flight of English football again, against his much more celebrated younger brother Bobby whose career at Manchester United also finished in 1973.

Bobby was the more elegant, glamorous player, but both had their uses for Alf Ramsey, the England manager who had announced that his team would win the 1966 World Cup on home soil. Jack was almost 30 years old when he made his debut against Scotland at Wembley in April 1965, setting up one of Bobby's goals in a 2-2 draw. By then Bobby was the established star of the team in an era of the English game in which there were many great players and characters. But Jack had timed his run into the team perfectly and it would be him who would partner the captain, Bobby Moore, in the centre of defence for England's greatest hour.

He was a different character to his brother for whom the weight of stardom and also the trauma of seeing so many friends and teammates die at Munich in 1958 would always hang heavy. Jack's early career had been beset by managers' doubts over his dedication and his weakness for a night out. The two brothers approached the game very differently, and when both found their playing days over it was Jack who would enjoy much greater success as a manager.

On retiring as a player he took over Second Division Middlesbrough at the age of 38 with a team that included the young Graeme Souness, and won the league in his first year, establishing the north-east side as a top-flight team. His next job was at Sheffield Wednesday, then in the Third Division, with whom he won promotion to the Second Division and very nearly took them up to the First Division before resigning.

He had one year in charge of Newcastle United, the 1984-1985 season, when they were newly-promoted to the First Division and a team was emerging that included Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and later Paul Gascoigne. He quit the following summer, frustrated with supporter criticism.

As manager of Ireland, Jack was perfectly positioned as the anti-establishment figure to English football. He had once applied for the England manager's job, but didn't even receive a reply from the FA. Eleven years later in Stuttgart, Jack would have some revenge to ignite the greatest era in Irish football.

Jack quit as manager after Ireland lost a Euro 1996 play-off qualifier against Holland at Anfield in December 1995. He was only 60 but would never manage again. His autobiography that following year, published at the height of his fame, was sharply critical of Bobby and Norma and would force the brothers further apart. He gave a remarkably open interview on their lives to Sue Lawley on the BBC's Desert Island Discs in which he was again critical of his brother. Later in life Bobby would acknowledge that it was never an easy relationship.

In his autobiography of 2007, Bobby wrote that relations were by then good enough that Jack would drop in to see him when in Manchester. "We are brothers and we have shared so much, and I'm grateful that we are still able to be together," Bobby wrote. "There were moments, especially after Norma was criticised in public, when I might have exploded . . . However, life goes on . . . Jack has a good heart and there is no question that along the way he too has been hurt."

There was an enormously moving moment between the pair when Jack presented Bobby - or 'our kid' as he referred to his younger brother - with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

"When we were kids and we'd go to the park and play. I would go home for dinner and he'd stay on all day," Jack told the audience with barely a dry eye in the house. "Bobby Charlton is the greatest player I've ever seen and he's my brother."

In his later years, Jack suffered from dementia and withdrew from public life. He had three children, John, Deborah and Peter, with his wife Pat. His brother Bobby survives him, one of only five of that great 1966 World Cup-winning side who remain.