Sign up to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter sent straight to your inbox for free
Sign up to Miguel’s Delaney’s free weekly newsletter
Sir Bobby Charlton, the World Cup winner and European Cup winner who is one of England and Manchester United’s greatest-ever players, has died at the age of 86.
Charlton, who won the 1966 Ballon d’Or, became the record goalscorer for both United and England in a career where he became known for his sportsmanship and dignity as well as his flair on the ball and his ferocious shot.
A survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, Charlton went on to lift the European Cup a decade later, captaining Sir Matt Busby’s team and scoring twice in the 4-1 win over Benfica in the final.
Two years earlier, he had been a fundamental part of the only England team to win the World Cup, scoring both goals in the semi-final win over Portugal and playing in a team alongside his brother, Jack. They remain one of just two sets of siblings to win the World Cup.
The son of a miner in his native North East and a teenage prodigy, Charlton joined United at 15 and scored twice on his debut as a 19-year-old. He was one of the “Busby Babes”, the team of youthful talents who played attacking football, but eight of his teammates were killed in the plane crash in Munich.
Charlton, who was on the flight, survived and went to form a famous attacking trio with George Best and Denis Law. He played 758 games for United – then a record, and a total since only topped by Ryan Giggs – and scored 249 goals, which only Wayne Rooney has beaten. He won three league titles and the FA Cup in his United career.
He made 106 appearances for England, also a national record at the time, and was in the squad in four World Cups, playing in three. His total of 49 goals was the most by any England player until first Rooney and then Harry Kane overtook him.
Charlton subsequently managed Preston and, for almost four decades, was a United director, playing a part in appointing Sir Alex Ferguson in 1986. He was diagnosed with dementia, which his family announced in 2020.
The team will wear black armbands tonight in their Premier League fixture at Sheffield United and the pre-planned minute’s silence will be expanded to pay respects to Sir Bobby.
A book of condolence will be open to fans and the public tomorrow (Sunday, 22 October) from 10am in the International Suite at Old Trafford.
United said in a statement: “Manchester United are in mourning following the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of our club.
“Sir Bobby was a hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world.
“He was admired as much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer; Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game.
“A graduate of our youth Academy, Sir Bobby played 758 games and scored 249 goals during 17 years as a Manchester United player, winning the European Cup, three league titles and the FA Cup. For England, he won 106 caps and scored 49 goals for England, and won the 1966 World Cup.
“Following his retirement, he went on to serve the club with distinction as a director for 39 years. His unparalleled record of achievement, character and service will be forever etched in the history of Manchester United and English football; and his legacy will live on through the life-changing work of the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation.
“The club’s heartfelt sympathies are with his wife Lady Norma, his daughters and grandchildren, and all who loved him.”
Sir Geoff Hurst, who played a key role in the World Cup-winning team alongside Sir Bobby, paid his tribute on X, formerly Twitter:
“Very sad news today. One of the true greats Sir Bobby Charlton has passed away. We will never forget him & nor will all of football. A great colleague & friend, he will be sorely missed by all of the country beyond sport alone. Condolences to his family & friends from Geoff and Judith.”
Former England captain Gary Lineker said: “For me England’s greatest ever player.
“You can only judge players that you have seen in your lifetime and I was lucky enough to see Bobby Charlton play when I was a young boy. It’s a very sad day, he was one of my heroes, one of many people’s heroes.
“It’s difficult to judge the ‘best ever’, but he was synonymous with English football all over the world for such a long time.
“You could go somewhere that no one spoke English but people would know Bobby Charlton. That was a true testament to the fame he had and a testament to his ability.”
David Beckham, who followed Sir Bobby in captaining club and country, took to Instagram to pay his tribute.
“It all began with Sir Bobby. Sir Bobby was the reason I had the opportunity to play for Manchester United,” wrote Beckham .
“I will be forever grateful to a man I was named after, someone I looked up to and was a hero to many around the world not just in Manchester and our country where he won the World Cup in 1966.
“A true gentleman, family man and truly a national hero… Today isn’t just a sad day for Manchester United & England it’s a sad day for football and everything that Sir Bobby represented.. Our thoughts go out to Lady Norma , there daughters and grandchildren x Rest in Peace Sir Bobby. @manchesterunited@england today our hearts are heavy.”