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Obituary: Jack Charlton

Leeds United and England legend was taken to nation's heart when he led the Ireland team


Heroes: Leeds United’s Jack Charlton and Johnny Giles after winning the FA Cup in 1972. Photo: PA

Heroes: Leeds United’s Jack Charlton and Johnny Giles after winning the FA Cup in 1972. Photo: PA


Heroes: Leeds United’s Jack Charlton and Johnny Giles after winning the FA Cup in 1972. Photo: PA

Jack Charlton's importance to the Irish people went beyond football. He lifted the pride of the whole nation at a time when it had been mired in a gloomy economic recession.

The life-size statue of him at Cork Airport with a salmon in his hands shows how warmly the former manager of the Irish team was regarded.


Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates a World Cup victory over Italy in New Jersey in 1994. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates a World Cup victory over Italy in New Jersey in 1994. Photo: Sportsfile


Ireland manager Jack Charlton celebrates a World Cup victory over Italy in New Jersey in 1994. Photo: Sportsfile

We took him to our hearts and even honoured his fishing hobby. He was a household name and could not walk down any Irish street without being stopped over and over again for autographs.

Charlton could have been a miner instead of a footballer. He was born on May 8, 1935 in Ashington, Northumberland, the eldest of four boys.

His father Bob was a miner. Charlton's footballing skills came from his mother Cissie's side of the family - her cousin was Jackie Milburn, the celebrated Newcastle striker who won 13 caps for England. She also had four brothers who were professional footballers and was an avid football fan herself.

Young Jack was always up to some money-making scheme - delivering newspapers, selling chopped wood, making pig swill and selling fish he had caught.

He was, he later said, "always getting into scrapes. I was the best fighter in the street". "Jack," his mother confirmed, "was full of devilment."

He was educated at Hirst North Primary School but, unlike his brother Bobby, did not prosper academically.

Where Bobby won a place at Bedlington Grammar School, Jack failed his 11-plus and went on to Hirst Park secondary modern.

On the pitch, he was already being wholly outshone by his younger brother, who played for England schoolboys and was courted by a host of clubs.

Jack was not even in the frame for his county side, let alone his country. Rather it was his size, strength, and family ties to the club that tempted a Leeds scout to approach him after a game for Ashington YMCA.

But, warned off by Cissie, who did not think him good enough to become a professional, Jack turned the offer of a trial at Elland Road down. Instead, as his school career ended, aged 15 he headed for the pits, working in Linton Colliery with his dad.

Initially his work kept him above ground, but as soon as he was sent into the mine itself, he realised that it was not the job for him. After a single day underground, he resigned. "I've seen it, I've done, I've had enough," he told his colliery manager. "I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life, but it won't be that."

He was on the point of joining the police when another offer of a trial arrived from Leeds. Three of his uncles had played for the club, and one was still in the squad.

His first manager was Major Frank Buckley, notorious for his foul-mouthed tirades.

Leeds were then in the Second Division and, as a 16-year-old in the third team, Jack played in the Yorkshire League, often against miners whose tackling was fearsome. This toughening regime, he would later say, was the making of him.

The day after his 17th birthday, he was offered a contract, £14 a week plus a £10 signing-on fee. He played his first game for the first team on April 24, 1953, against Doncaster Rovers.

He went on to make a club record 773 appearances for Leeds, most of them under legendary manager Don Revie, and scored 96 goals.

His club honours included a Second Division title, First Division title, FA Cup winner, League Cup winner, Charity Shield winner and two Inter Cities Fairs Cup winners.

In 1965, just days before Jack's 30th birthday, Leeds beat Manchester United in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and after the game the news came through that Alf Ramsey had picked him for the England squad.

According to Leo McKinstry, in his book Jack and Bobby, Jack was unable to restrain himself from running into the dejected Manchester United dressing room to give the glad tidings to his brother. "That's terrific," Bobby said, before another United player added: "Now f**k off out of here."

"That's the kind of tact I'm famous for," noted Jack, who went on to score six goals for England in 35 matches.

Jack and Bobby were part of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup, and Jack bought his parents a house with his £1,000 winnings.

He later admitted he had a strained relationship with Bobby and wrote in his autobiography that he felt Bobby began to drift from the Charlton family after his marriage to Norma, who did not get along with their mother.

Last year he said their relationship was "Okay like. If he's up at a game in Newcastle, I go to meet him and we chat about family things. Neither of us is getting any younger".

When Charlton retired from playing, he managed Middlesbrough where he won the manager of the year award in his first season.

Next he managed Sheffield Wednesday and then Newcastle United before being asked by the FAI in 1986 to become the first non-Irishman to take over the Irish team.

Ireland had never even qualified for a major tournament before he took over. When the team finally did so, at the 1988 European Championship in West Germany, their first match was against England. In the first of many giant-killing acts to come, Ray Houghton's looping headed goal ensured that Ireland won 1-0.

At the celebration that followed, a crooning Liam Brady swayed up on to a chair with a guitar he was unable to play. "Irish" Jack had helped to condemn the nation with which he won the World Cup to an ignominious exit.

Ireland qualified for the World Cup finals in 1990, in Italy, where they reached the quarter-finals. Four years later, the team qualified for the World Cup again, this time in the US.

"We trained hard and we played hard but if the lads wanted to go for a pint and relax, I made time for that too," Jack said of his management style.

He knew when he took over the job that Ireland were unlikely to beat the best teams in the world, "so we invented a game that was totally different to everything world football had seen before.

"They've given it a fancy name because they don't want to tell us that we started it but we did. They might call it 'pressing'. We called it 'put people under pressure'," he said.

His break with the Irish team in 1996 came as a shock to the nation.

"I didn't retire, I got sacked, really," he said. "I went to a meeting and was told that they didn't want me any more. I thought they might give me more time to make up my mind.

"I just went to a meeting as a manager and came out of it and I wasn't the manager.

"They voted me out and I wasn't happy about that. I thought it was all a bit tough, when you think about what we'd achieved."

He decided to retire from football management but continued to give after-dinner speeches, "just telling the stories".

Throughout his career, Charlton received many honours, including being named the Football Writers' Association's footballer of the year in 1967 and being awarded an OBE from Queen Elizabeth in 1974.

He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and made a Freeman of Leeds in 2009.

But it was in Ireland that he was showered with praise for his outstanding work with the Irish team. When he retired, he was granted honorary Irish citizenship - the highest award the State can give.

Two years earlier he had been made a Freeman of the City of Dublin and given an honorary doctorate by the University of Limerick.

A stained glass pane with the initials 'JC' hangs over his fireplace. It was given to him by friends at the Hill 16 pub in Dublin.

During a visit to Dublin in June 2015 with his wife Pat for the opening of the Jack Charlton suite at the new Aviva Stadium, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He said the experience was "overwhelming".

In recent years, his health deteriorated and when he developed problems with his balance, he was told he had to stop driving.

He still attended events but was no longer able to stand and speak to the crowd.

His passion for fishing was also affected as he could no longer enjoy the sport alone.

Charlton is survived by his wife Pat (whom he married in 1958), his three children John, Deborah and Peter, and his grandchildren.

Sunday Independent