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Jack Charlton: The England World Cup hero who Ireland loved

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It is hard to find a more popular Englishman than Jack Charlton in Ireland. It is harder to find a more loved Geordie in Leeds than Jack, and with all due respect to his illustrious brother, Bobby, Jack is also likely the favourite Charlton of the masses.

On Friday night at his home, amongst his loved ones, the England World Cup winner breathed, aged 85, his last after more than a year-long fight with lymphoma. He left behind a legacy of footballing and managerial greatness.

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Jack Charlton is famous for being part of the England side that won the 1966 World Cup on home turf but there is so much more to his career than that summer afternoon out at Wembley.


A one-club man like his brother, Bobby, Jack made 773 appearances for Leeds United and was part of Don Revie’s side that earned promotion from the second division and went on to win the top-flight title in England.

Jack Charlton also went on to have an illustrious career as a manager that culminated in one of the most popular ten-year reign as Ireland manager. His was a life that was truly well-lived.

Jack Charlton – The hard-nosed defender and a Leeds United and England legend

Jack Charlton had great careers in England and Irish football and was one of the few men who is equally loved in both countries. However, unlike his younger brother, Bobby Charlton, success came much later in his career.

Bobby was undoubtedly the more talented Charlton and was a schoolboy star who was chased by the biggest names in English football. Jack took the longer route to success but succeed he did and how!

He spent all his career at Leeds but it was not until he was 29 that Don Revie’s Whites were promoted to the First Division. The former defender had to bide his time to finally play at the top level of English football.

But Jack Charlton made the most out of his ability and was part of one of the great sides of British football at Elland Road.


Under Revie’s tutelage at Leeds, Jack Charlton won a league title in 1969, the 1968 League Cup and the FA Cup in 1972. The combative Leeds United side were not very popular outside their own city during their time at the top but never finished outside the top four of the First Division until Jack’s retirement in 1973.

They finished second in the league five times during that period, and as one of the defensive pillars of that team, Jack Charlton proved his ability to shine at the top level after waiting for years in the shadows of his younger brother, Bobby Charlton.

The former defender also had to wait to make a mark for England as nothing came easy for Jack. He was almost 30 years old when he made his first appearance for the Three Lions against Scotland in April 1965, in a game where he set up Bobby’s goal in a 2-2 draw.

Bobby Charlton was the established star of that England side but Jack got his timing perfect to make it to the 1966 World Cup squad.  He went on to partner captain Bobby Moore at the heart of England’s defence in the finest hour of English football and became a World Cup winner on home soil.

Following his retirement in 1973, he took charge of Middlesbrough in the second division when he was only 38 and went on to win the league in his first year.

He established Boro as a top-flight side before joining Sheffield United in the third division with whom he won promotion and nearly took them to the top flight with a team that had emerging stars in Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and later, Paul Gascoigne.

The most famous Charlton in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland never qualified for a major tournament when Jack Charlton took charge of the team in 1986 after another failure to qualify for that year’s World Cup.

As Ireland manager, he was perfectly positioned as the anti-establishment figure to English football. He applied for the England manager’s job to replace his old mentor, Don Revie in 1977 but apparently the FA didn’t even bother to reply.

As Ireland boss, he got the opportunity to give a few black eyes to England and he grabbed it with both hands.

Jack Charlton changed the way Ireland played football and went on to encourage a generation of Anglo-Irish footballers, born in England with Irish heritage, to represent the nation of their ancestors.

He argued that those families migrated to England mostly out of economic necessity, sometimes life and death situations, and not because they fell out of love with their country, and a number of quality players did respond to his call.

When his side played England in Cagliari in the 1990 World Cup, a match the ended in a draw, only three from Ireland’s team were actually born in the country. Six, including Paul McGrath, who grew up in Dublin, were English-born.

Kevin Sheedy was born in Wales and Ray Houghton in Glasgow. Tony Cascarino, from Kent, would later go on to admit that his Irish ancestry was completely contrived to allow him to play in that team.


However, all of them identified the notion of Irishness that Jack propagated and their performances on the pitch represented the grit and determination of the Irish nation.

Jack Charlton’s Ireland side also defeated England in the 1988 European Championship but both teams went out in the group stage itself.

But success was round the corner and Jack’s players responded to his style of management and qualified for the 1990 World Cup. They went all the way to the quarter-finals of the tournament where they lost to hosts Italy.

The team were much loved both in Ireland and England and even met the Pope during their time in Italy.

Ireland again qualified for the 1994 World Cup, and with England failing to book a ticket to the United States, the Three Lions supporters cheered on their former hero and his side.

They beat Italy 1-0 in the first game and only went out of the tournament in the second round against the Netherlands in the sweltering summer heat of Florida.

Jack Charlton was a major success as Ireland manager and was much loved by the Irish masses, but after his side lost to the Netherlands in a Euro 1996 play-off qualifier, he resigned.

He was only 60 but never went on to manage another team.

Jack and Bobby – An uneasy relationship

For years, Jack Charlton played behind the shadows of his more illustrious brother, who played for Manchester United.

The Busby Babes, the Munich air disaster, the rise from the Ashes and the European Cup win in 1968 – people are aware of the romantic story of Bobby Charlton and his time at Manchester United.

But behind him was an elder brother, who worked tirelessly in the second division at Leeds and only got success as a player in his later years.

Apart from the heated rivalry between Leeds United and Manchester United and normal sibling competitiveness – the relationship between the two Charltons was deeply uneasy.

Growing up in the village of Ashington, Northumberland, the man who had a massive impact on the lives of the Charlton boys were their maternal grandfather, Tanner Milburn, a famous football and sprint coach.


All four of Milburn’s sons went onto become professional footballers, but none of them were as successful as his grandsons.

Reminiscing their childhood and how the brothers grew up together, Bobby Charlton wrote in his autobiography, The Manchester United Years,

“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 twenty or so before throwing me off. It was, I supposed, the right of the elder brother.”

It underlined a complicated relationship, first as young boys, then as professional players and always as sons of the formidable Cissie, their mother, who was a keen football fan as well.

The two brothers famously fell out after Jack perceived a superior attitude of Bobby’s wife Norma towards Cissie. The split came into light in Jack Charlton’s autobiography, and the public allegations further drove the brothers apart.

In a remarkable interview to the BBC, the elder Charlton was again critical of his brother. Later in life, Bobby acknowledged that it was always an uneasy relationship between him and Jack.

However, in their later years, the relationship between the two improved and Bobby wrote in his autobiography in 2007:

“We are brothers and we have shared so much, and I’m grateful that we are still able to be together.” He added, “Jack has a good heart and there is no question that along the way he too has been hurt.”

Jack Charlton went on to say that Bobby is the greatest player he ever saw.

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