August 05, 2020

Jack Charlton: How football legend captured hearts on both sides of the Irish Sea

July 11, 2020

Few have won the affection of football fans in quite the same way as Jack Charlton.

A member of England's 1966 World Cup-winning team, long-time Leeds United player and later celebrated Republic of Ireland manager, Charlton was loved by both English and Irish fans.

Following the football legend's death at the age of 85, two Sky News correspondents reflect on how he won the hearts of both nations.

By Enda Brady, news correspondent

They say you should never meet your heroes because you'll only be disappointed.

I met mine when I was on work experience at my local newspaper in County Wexford in the autumn of 1992 and he changed my life.

Jack Charlton was the most famous man in Ireland, the hero of Italia '90, the manager who masterminded our win against England at Euro '88.

And I'd found out that he was up the road from my hometown of Enniscorthy fishing in a river.

At 15 years old I was desperate to be a reporter and landing an interview with "Big Jack" was just too crazy a thing to happen for a schoolboy Ireland fan like me, but it did.

After much driving around with my father (a local Garda), I found Charlton drinking tea and eating sandwiches in Redmond's pub in the small town of Bunclody.

He gave me an interview, chatted away about our upcoming qualifier against Spain and was an absolute gentleman.

People in Ireland adored him because he gave us belief.

We had had so many talented footballers and missed opportunities over the years, but he crashed into our lives, told us to believe in ourselves and trust him. We gave him our hearts and he gave us the world.

The night before the World Cup quarter-final against Italy in Rome in 1990 is my favourite Jack Charlton anecdote.

The players were getting ready for bed when word went round that Charlton had got hold of a keg of Guinness from the Irish embassy and the team would be allowed two pints each.

The Italian police watched in amazement as the Irish partied - 24 hours before the biggest game of their lives. Needless to say, we narrowly lost 1-0.

That was Jack Charlton's style. He enjoyed the craic, even though he was an outsider to begin with.

But in the world of international football, so were we. And he took us on a journey that we will always, always be grateful for.

By Nick Powell, sports editor

And then there were five.

Now the only survivors from England's 1966 World Cup winning 11 are Jack Charlton's younger brother Sir Bobby, 82, Sir Geoff Hurst, 78, Roger Hunt, 81, George Cohen, 80 and Nobby Stiles, 78.

Hurst's goalscoring earned the biggest headlines, but as the 1966 final reached the 89th minute, the defence had conceded only two goals all tournament.

Then came West Germany's dramatic equaliser, extra time, Hurst's hat-trick - and the rest is hysteria. "Some people are on the pitch," and all that.

The people on the pitch may have seen Jack Charlton kneeling on the turf.

"I was saying a little prayer," he said.

He was giving thanks to have been part of it all. He had only made his England debut the previous year, just short of his 30th birthday.

Not blessed with the flair of his brother ("our kid", Jack called him), nor the silky skills and golden locks of his central defensive partner, captain Bobby Moore, Charlton was an old-fashioned no-nonsense centre half of the "they shall not pass" variety.

Tall and athletic enough to be almost unbeatable in the air, strong in the tackle, smart in positioning, he was manager Sir Alf Ramsey's undisputed choice as number five.

He was modest in public but in private he knew his own worth, which was recognised in the award of Footballer of the Year in 1967.

The English public never forgot.

As the FA said in tribute: "He was guaranteed an affectionate and warm welcome wherever he went."

Absolutely right.

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