Jack Charlton, who has died aged 85, was – with his brother Bobby – a pivotal member of England’s World Cup-winning side of 1966; but there the similarities between the two men ended.
Where introspective Bobby, at 5ft 9in, was a nimble, attacking midfielder, Jack, 6ft 3in, was a robust – some said positively agricultural – central defender; while Bobby settled alongside the silken talent of George Best at Manchester United, Jack teamed up with Norman Hunter at Don Revie’s Leeds United.
On the football field Jack Charlton’s reputation always suffered by comparison with his brother, but as soon as the pair had walked up the aisle of the aircraft carrying the defeated England side back from the 1970 World Cup, and announced in turn their international retirements, the situation was reversed.
Each was soon embarked on a managerial career; and when it came to motivating and organising players from the touchline, rather than the centre circle, it was rumbustious Jack, not the reserved, taciturn, Bobby, who thrived. While Bobby faltered at the helm of Preston and Wigan, Jack became a revered manager of the Republic of Ireland, leading a talented group of players to significant over-achievement on the international stage.
Ireland had never even qualified for a major tournament before Jack Charlton took over in 1986. 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 (Charlton allowed the players to let their hair down “with a few pints”), 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.
John Charlton was born at Ashington, Northumberland, on May 8 1935, the eldest of four sons. Bobby would be born two years later. The boys’ father, Bob, was a quiet, determined coal miner and spent his entire working life underground (even missing the 1966 World Cup semi-final for fear of losing a day’s pay). The household was dominated by their mother, Elizabeth (née Milburn), always known as Cissie. While Jack seems to have inherited her outspoken personality, Bobby took after the father whose name he bore.
Crucially, Cissie Charlton ensured that football ran in the blood of her sons. Her great-grandfather, grandfather and father had all played for top-ranked Northumberland sides, and all four of her brothers played professionally. Her cousin was Jackie Milburn, the celebrated Newcastle striker who won 13 caps for England.
Jack grew up wandering the countryside around Ashington, trapping small animals and fishing, a passion that would endure his whole life. 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 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, he headed for the coal pits.
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.
Having seen the realities of coal mining, Jack Charlton was quick to accept this second offer. “I knew it was right nepotism,” he admitted later. But anything was better than being a 6ft-plus miner. He started on the ground staff weeding the pitch. He would eventually make 773 appearances for the club.
His first manager was Major Frank Buckley, notorious for his foul-mouthed tirades, which, watching on from the stand, he would issue at the players through a megaphone. After a series of complaints from residents who lived within earshot of these expletives, he was eventually separated from the megaphone.
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. But his league career was almost immediately interrupted by National Service, which he did with the Horse Guards at Windsor.
Just a private, he was nonetheless made captain of the Army team, and had his first taste of management, organising training and securing fellow players “cushy” jobs and winning the Cavalry Cup in West Germany. But his success in the Army ensured that the diligent young man who had left Leeds returned over-confident and arrogant. Charlton took to dressing down team-mates on the pitch, and his popularity plummeted. “Nobody liked him, really,” said Albert Nightingale, the Leeds striker.
Part of the problem was that training was non-existent, consisting solely of running up the long side of the pitch and walking the short, before a seven-a-side game in the tarmac car park. “Nobody taught you anything, and nobody learned anything,” said Charlton. “It was ridiculous and I got bloody fed up with it.”
Despite this, Leeds won promotion to the First Division in 1956. Having sold their star player John Charles to Juventus for a record fee of £65,000, Leeds struggled in the top flight.
When the team played Manchester United, Jack was forced to defend against his fleet-footed brother. On one occasion, at Elland Road, Bobby nutmegged Jack, who turned with the words “come back you little bugger”.
Such encounters, perhaps mercifully, were terminated when Leeds when relegated. But despite their differing success, Jack was not jealous. “It didn’t worry me one bit when our kid began to get write-ups as the greatest thing since the Archangel Gabriel,” he said in 1970. “All I was jealous about was the club he joined – their success, their traditions, the way people thought about them as a team. That’s the way I wanted people to think about Leeds.”
He had finished a training session and just emerged from the bath when, on February 6 1958, the Leeds secretary Arthur Crowther burst in to inform the players that a plane carrying the Manchester United team had crashed at Munich. Jack rushed home to Ashington; it was only when he saw an edition of the Evening Chronicle carrying a sub-headline “Charlton among the survivors” that he learned that Bobby was still alive.
Initially the crash brought the brothers closer, but soon, Jack acknowledged, “there was a barrier between us that I have never been able to fathom.”
Leeds were relegated in 1960, and the following year appointed Don Revie, a centre-forward who had joined in 1958, as player-manager. In his first season in charge the club only avoided relegation on the last day of the season. But over the next two years he transformed the team’s fortunes, founded on a solid central-defensive partnership between Charlton and Norman Hunter.
Under Revie’s stewardship training routines became more sophisticated. The players became fitter, their tactics better. Jack Charlton blossomed from bruiser to on-field organiser. “We were supermen,” he said. In 1964 Leeds were promoted back to the First Division, and over the next decade they never finished out of the top four. Jack Charlton was finally part of a club that could rival Manchester United.
In 1965 Leeds beat United in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and after the game the news came through that Alf Ramsey had picked Jack Charlton, then almost 30, 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 United dressing room to give the glad tidings to his brother. “That’s terrific,” Bobby said, before another United player added: “Now ---- off out of here.”
“That’s the kind of tact I’m famous for,” noted Jack.
Bobby had made his England debut in 1959. Having lived in his younger brother’s shadow for so long, Jack now achieved plaudits of his own. He became recognised as the finest centre-half in the country alongside Bobby Moore, tough and particularly strong in the air. His job for England was simple: win the ball at the back and give it to Moore.
His first game for England was against Scotland on April 10 1965, a 2-2 draw in which he played creditably. The Charltons were the first siblings to play for England since Frank and Fred Forman had taken the field together in 1899. Several more assured performances followed, notably in a 1-0 victory against West Germany, and he cemented his place in the World Cup squad.
Bobby Charlton ignited England’s campaign with a blistering shot against Mexico in the group stage, then the team edged 10-man Argentina in a deeply unpleasant quarter-final. After the whistle, with England in the last four, the Argentines threw a chair through the door of the England dressing room. “Send them in,” Jack shouted as the police arrived. “I’ll fight them all.”
The semi-final against Portugal was a contrast for the brothers. Bobby ran the game and scored both England goals; Jack handled a Torres header and gave away a penalty. But the side held on to claim a place in the final, and then the tournament itself. At the moment that England won the cup, Jack sank to his knees and buried his head in his hands. “I don’t think I actually said a conscious prayer. It was just relief at the end of two hours of football. I was knackered.”
His club career began to echo that international success. In 1967 he was named Footballer of the Year; the following year Leeds won the League Cup and Fairs Cup. In 1969, the club were First Division champions.
But as his power and speed began to diminish he became less effective, and by the time England travelled to Mexico in 1970 to defend their world title, he was no longer first choice centre-half for the national side. His final game was the 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the group stage; he was on the bench when England lost to the hosts in the quarter-final.
A few months later he provoked a storm of outrage when he remarked on television that he had once had a “little black book” of players upon whom he intended to get revenge for bad tackles. The Football Association found him not guilty of any wrongdoing after he insisted that the press had misquoted him; he later said that there had never been an actual book, though he did have a list of players in his head.
After the World Cup he played on for three years with Leeds, adding an FA Cup-winner’s medal to his haul of honours in 1972. The following season, after struggling to recover from injury, he retired aged 38.
He moved immediately into management with Middlesbrough. Having led the club to promotion to the First Division he put defence first to keep them there. Despite success and a growing reputation, he was frustrated by the team’s inability to challenge for a major trophy and resigned in 1977.
Undoubtedly he was not helped in this by his instinctive frugality (some called him outright stingy), which hampered the recruitment of new players. One young star he refused to sign, at £60,000, was the striker Andy Gray.
Coincidentally the England job came free in the summer of 1977, as Don Revie left in disgrace having negotiated a lucrative job in the UAE while still under contract. Charlton applied for the job, but did not even receive a reply to his letter; his long association with Revie evidently ruled him out of contention.
Charlton felt he had been treated with contempt, telling the News of the World that his life “had been messed up”. “That was the job I always wanted,” he later confessed.
Instead of leading the national side in the 1978 World Cup he returned to club football with the Third Division side Sheffield Wednesday, who he soon helped to promotion. He left in 1983 for Middlesbrough, briefly, then Newcastle, his only undisputed failure as a manager.
The club could not compete financially with other big teams, and Charlton’s obsessively defensive brand of football alienated fans. In 1985, at a pre-season friendly, the Newcastle crowd chanted “Sack Jack”. In the stands, Charlton’s wife was almost reduced to tears. After the game, brushing aside all attempts to make him reconsider, he resigned. Within months he had been recruited by the Irish FA.
Charlton remained with Ireland until 1996. Despite beating England in 1988, the side was also eliminated at the group stage. At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Charlton led his talented squad to a quarter-final, which they lost 1-0 to the hosts. To get so far was an unparalleled success for the national side, whose players and manager were hailed heroes on their return.
In the subsequent World Cup, in 1994 in the US, Ireland beat Italy in the group stages, losing to a talented Dutch side in the second round. In the same year Charlton was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin. He resigned after Ireland failed to qualify for Euro 96.
It was, in effect, a retirement. Thereafter Charlton’s involvement in the game was limited to television appearances. He devoted himself to the passions of his childhood, fishing and the outdoors. A statue of him at Cork Airport features him in his fishing gear.
He was appointed OBE and made an honorary citizen of Ireland, and in 2019 was made a Freeman of Leeds.
Jack Charlton married, in 1958, Pat (née Kemp), with whom he had a daughter and two sons.
Jack Charlton, born May 8 1935, died July 10 2020