Jack Charlton obituary

Leeds United footballer and member of the victorious 1966 World Cup England squad, he went on to manage the Republic of Ireland

Jack Charlton, who has died aged 85 after suffering from lymphoma and dementia, spent a large part of his life in the shadow of his younger brother, Bobby, whom he always referred to as “our kid”. But he had a stellar footballing career in his own right, winning a World Cup medal with England in 1966 and multiple honours with the formidable Leeds United side of the late 1960s and early 70s.

Unlike his brother he also became a successful big-club manager after retiring as a player, peaking with a remarkable and colourful 10-year stint in charge of the Republic of Ireland, taking them twice to the World Cup finals, including, in 1990, to a quarter-final.

Such success could not easily have been predicted in Charlton’s early years, when he was an ungainly, somewhat undisciplined defender. But two heavyweight managerial figures – Don Revie at Leeds and Alf Ramsey with England – saw plenty in the raw lad from north-east England that was worth nurturing. As a result he had a rather late flowering that allowed him to pick up winners’ medals not just in the 1966 World Cup but in the First Division (1968-89), the FA Cup (1972), League Cup (1968) and, in 1968 and 1971, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (later replaced by the Uefa Cup).

Jack Charlton, left, with his brother Bobby in 1965.
Jack Charlton, left, with his brother Bobby in 1965. Photograph: PA

He was an integral member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad and, like his brother, played in every match of the finals. When he asked Ramsey before the tournament why he had been chosen to play for England when there were plenty of better players who could have been picked in his position, Ramsey replied: “I don’t necessarily always pick the best players, Jack, I pick the best players to fit the pattern.”

The England manager was a fan of Charlton’s heading and tackling ability, but acutely aware of his limitations in terms of ball distribution and would drum home the message that Charlton’s main job was to get the ball and then give it to Bobby Moore, who was a markedly more cultured centre-half.

Jack was born in the Northumberland coal-mining town of Ashington into a family with footballing pedigree: four of his uncles from the family of his mother, Cissie (Elizabeth, nee Milburn), played professionally, and Cissie’s cousin was Jackie Milburn, who played for Newcastle United and England.

But it was some time before Jack envisaged football as a career, and in his early years he shared the view of the determined Cissie – who coached and played street football with her boys – that he would not be good enough. Thus it was that when Leeds United offered him a trial in his mid-teens, he turned them down. However, after leaving Hirst Park school and spending an unhappy period in the mines, where his father, Bob, worked, Jack took a different attitude when Leeds came to him again at the age of 16. He was taken on to the staff of a club that was, at the time, an ill-run Second Division outfit with a shabby stadium and primitive training routines.

Jack Charlton in training at Leeds United in 1969.
Jack Charlton in training at Leeds United in 1969. Photograph: PA

A gangling left-back who had not yet made the transition to centre-half, Charlton made his debut with one game at the end of the 1952-53 season, aged 17. When he turned 18 he was called away from Leeds on national service with the Household Cavalry, based largely in Windsor, Berkshire. He was much changed by his two-year stint there, flourishing as captain of the football team and gaining a new self-confidence. On his return to Leeds in September 1955 this sometimes manifested itself as arrogance, both towards the players and managerial staff.

Marriage in 1958 to Pat Kemp, a shop assistant in Leeds, helped him to settle down. But it was only when Revie came to manage Leeds in 1961 that Charlton really began to mature.

Jack Charlton, right, and Paul Madeley of Leeds, taking on Larry Lloyd and Kevin Keegan of Liverpool in 1972.
Jack Charlton, right, and Paul Madeley of Leeds, taking on Larry Lloyd and Kevin Keegan of Liverpool in 1972. Photograph: Getty Images

Revie at first was appalled by his attitudes, but as manager was able to change them quite radically, eventually astonishing Charlton by telling him that he had improved so much that he might even play for England.

Peter Lorimer, the Scottish right-winger famed for his powerful shot, said that when he came to Leeds in 1962, “the older players did not rate Jack at all. That was where Don Revie did a great job with him. Once Don got hold of Jack, he turned him into a great player, a total professional.”

Despite standing at 6ft 3in, Charlton had earlier been an oddly clumsy header of the ball, but now became dominant in the air and formidable on the ground.

Leeds made swift and steady progress under Revie, who added a crop of young players – including Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney, Paul Madeley and Eddie Gray – to the existing talents of Charlton and Billy Bremner.

In 1963-64 they returned to the First Division with Charlton to the fore; increasingly – and innovatively – he would come up field to get his head to the ball at set pieces, or to lurk at the near post with intent, flicking on corners or disconcerting the opposing goalkeeper. Leeds were runners-up in the First Division in the next two seasons, with Charlton voted footballer of the year in 1967, and they finally won the league, for the first time in their history, in 1968-69, with Charlton missing only one match.

A one-club man throughout his playing career, Charlton would also take part in no fewer than four FA Cup finals during the Revie era, though he was only once on the winning side when, in 1972, Leeds beat Arsenal 1-0. His League Cup winners medal had also been gained against Arsenal, in 1968, and his Inter-Cities Fairs Cup honours came courtesy of wins against the Hungarian club Ferencváros in 1968 and Italy’s Juventus in 1971.

Charlton’s progression at Leeds eventually led to a late blossoming and highly successful international career with England, for whom he made his debut just two days short of his 30th birthday – against Scotland at Wembley in 1965, when his long crossfield ball enabled Bobby to score, though he would later confess that his impressive pass had actually been “a mistake”.

Jack kept his place from that point onwards, timing his arrival nicely for selection in all six of England’s games at Wembley in the 1966 World Cup finals. He had an assured tournament, although in the semi-finals against Portugal he gave away a late penalty when punching out a ball that had eluded the keeper, Gordon Banks, and in the final he was unlucky when, in the dramatic last moments of normal time, with England 2-1 ahead, he gave away the free kick that enabled Germany to score a somewhat fortuitous equaliser.

But England prevailed, and on the final whistle a tearful Bobby moved over to hug Jack, telling him: “Nobody can ever take this moment away from us.”

Thereafter, niggling injuries and the rise of the Everton centre-half Brian Labone restricted Jack’s appearances for England. In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico he played just once, as stand-in for Labone against the Czechs in Guadalajara. He then retired from international football, having played 35 times and been on a losing England side only twice.

Charlton’s career at Leeds ended in 1973 at the age of 38, with 629 league and 773 total competitive appearances, both still club records.

Having obtained his FA coaching badge many years before, he took the logical step on retiring from active football of becoming a manager, and in the same year he took up the reins at Middlesbrough, then in the Second Division.

He had instant success, combining authority with compassion, a tracksuit manager never happier than when coaching, eager to try new systems and a disciple of the long ball. That season Middlesbrough were promoted as champions, 15 points ahead of the runners-up. The next three years saw Boro settle into the top division.

In 1977, failing to get the England role he craved, Charlton kept his promise to remain for only four years by leaving Boro. Then, surprisingly, he took over at Sheffield Wednesday, a great club struggling in the Third Division. Passionate, dictatorial, unorthodox and considerate by turns, taking players to stay with his parents in Ashington for training, Charlton saved Wednesday from humiliating relegation, turned the team round with long-ball methods, and reached an FA Cup semi-final in 1983 three years after gaining promotion to the Second Division. But he resigned that year, saying people were not smiling at him in Sheffield any more.

Jack Charlton, as manager of the Republic of Ireland, in Palermo, Italy, in 1990.
Jack Charlton, as manager of the Republic of Ireland, in Palermo, Italy, in 1990. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile/Getty Images

For a while he indulged his passion for fishing and shooting, but he stayed out of football for less than a year before agreeing to manage Newcastle United in 1984. However, at St James’ Park he seemed to have lost something of his drive and things went wrong from the outset.

A team that had been used to playing open, flowing football rebelled against Charlton’s cruder “route one” long-ball game. Results were poor. Fans jeered him. Not even the emergence of the brilliant young Paul Gascoigne, whom he so admired, could provide comfort, and he resigned the following year.

However, rescue was at hand when in 1986 he was made manager of the Republic of Ireland. Tough as ever, Charlton quickly made enemies and turned his back on one of Ireland’s few accomplished players, the elegant Arsenal centre-half David O’Leary.

Yet his methods worked. Moving two talented centre-backs, Mark Lawrenson and Paul McGrath, into midfield, and using numerous players with somewhat remote connections to Ireland (Tony Cascarino), Charlton got results. Against all odds, they qualified for the 1988 European Championship finals in West Germany. And in their first match of the finals, in Stuttgart, they beat England 1-0 through a goal by Ray Houghton, a Scot. Slight anticlimax followed, though the Irish still emerged with honour: they drew with the Soviet Union and were narrowly defeated by Holland.

Having qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Ireland opened with a 1-1 draw against England, and progressed into the sudden-death round. There they met Romania in Genoa, where O’Leary took them through by converting their final penalty in a shootout. Italy in Rome in the quarter-final was expected to be a bridge too far, but Charlton had his men drinking Guinness while preparing for the game, and Ireland probably played their best game of the tournament, even though a goal by Toto Schillaci eliminated them. Back they went to an astonishing welcome in Dublin, Charlton now an Irish idol. When he signed a cheque in any pub, it would be kept and not cashed.

Ireland failed at the last gasp to qualify for the 1992 European Championship finals. But, making light of the persistent criticism of their “primitive” tactics, they made it to the 1994 World Cup finals in the US, where they beat the mighty Italy 1-0 in their opening game. They eventually advanced from the group stage to play Holland, who put them out of the last 16.

By now the team were growing old together and they failed to qualify for the 1996 European Championship finals. Although Charlton had recently been awarded honorary Irish citizenship – in the UK he had been appointed OBE in 1974 – he was called to Dublin and dismissed.

Now there was time for more hunting, fishing and appearances on television. One of those was on the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year show in 2008, when Jack was invited to present Bobby with a lifetime achievement award.

It was a significant and poignant moment, as in middle age the brothers had fallen out bitterly and badly, largely over their mother’s coldness to Bobby’s wife, Norma, and Jack’s subsequent accusation that his younger brother visited Cissie infrequently before her death in 1996. As only the second brothers to have won World Cup medals together, and as hugely popular and respected figures both, it was a reconciliation that many in the footballing world – and beyond – had hoped for.

Charlton is survived by Pat and his children, John, Deborah and Peter.

Jack (John) Charlton, footballer and manager, born 8 May 1935; died 10 July 2020

• This article was amended on 13 July 2020. The Charltons are not the only brothers to have won World Cup medals together, as an earlier version said; Fritz and Ottmar Walter did the same with West Germany in 1954. And it was just before the end of normal time, not the end of the first half, that West Germany scored to make it 2-2 in the 1966 World Cup final.


Brian Glanville

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