R.I.P. Big Jack

BBC Radio 5 - Football Legends - Jack Charlton (29/9/97)

It’s nearly 2000 Leeds appearance between the three of them, well over for total appearances when you take in caps for England and the clubs the other two played for.

But Jack was a one club man. Leeds from the moment he stepped out of the pit, deciding it was definitely not the job for him, and chose to attend his trial match instead of going for an interview to join the police, through the ground staff then into the first team in the old second division, then into the first division.

A club record 773 appearances, from his debut in 195 where he reputation as the hard man may have started when he asked the manager, Raich Carter not one noted for over coaching, what he should do was told “See how fast their centre forward can limp”.

It wasn’t until Revie arrived at the club that things started to turn around for them and after initially not taking to Charlton, partnered him up with the young Norman Hunter in pairing that would be in place for the next decade, alongside Reaney at right-back and Sprake in goal, until Charlton’s retirement in 1973. A decade when they really should have won more than they did.

From the year they got back into the First Division to Charlton’s retirement they never finished outside the top four in the league but Jack only won one league title, in ’68–’69, to go with one F.A. Cup and one League Cup. Four times they were runners up in the league, three times in the Cup.

Then there was England. Jack will always be remembered as one of the XI. One of the ones that actually delivered for England, in ’66. Being picked just before the tournament, at nearly 30 years, but being one of the mainstays of that victory.

But Charlton is probably the prime example of why the managers that followed Sir Alf have failed…

I asked him [Alf Ramsey] ‘Why me?’ and he said ‘Well, Jack, hay ‘ave a pattern of play in may mind, an’ hay pick the happropriate players to fit into that pattern. Hay don’t always necessarily pick the best players [a pause] Jack’. Jack Charlton

Those that came after Sir Alf were obsessed with getting all their star names on the pitch not actually picking a team.

After retirement he was straight into management, where he was more of a success than his star player brother. Starting with Middlesbrough, then Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United. Before the Ireland job.

Football in Ireland was a foreigners sport. But Jack got the country in love of the game. Firstly by picking players not from Ireland. Hell, if your granny could point at the place on a map you qualified to play for them… even if she couldn’t in Tony Cascarino’s case.

Fate would have it that his tenure with Ireland would see them face England repeatedly. The job he really wanted, thought he should have but wasn’t even given the courtesy of a reply when he applied for it in the 70s. Seen as too close to Don Revie after his former boss had walked out and was persona non grata at the F.A.

He got Ireland to their first tournament, Euro ’88, where they beat Robson’s woeful England to help condemn his former side to bottom of the group. A draw with the eventual runners up, USSR, and a one nil loss to the eventual winners, Holland, saw them finish third in the group.

He followed that up by getting them into their first World Cup, Italia ’90. Where again they met Robson’s woeful England in the group section. This time a one all draw, widely regarded as one of the worst games of football ever seen at a World Cup. Three draws saw them get through to the next round, where they put out Romania on penalties before losing by a single goal to Italy, in the quarter final.

They met again in qualifying for the next tournament. Two one all draws, in which they were the better team against Graham Taylor’s woeful England almost saw them through to their third straight finals, but a late England equaliser against Poland saw them finish second in the group, with only the winner going through to Euro ’92 in Sweden.

For the first time they completely avoided England at the ’94 World Cup, both in qualifying and at the finals in the US, what with Taylor’s woeful England not managing to qualify. There an opening win against Italy was followed by a loss and a draw, which saw them through to the next round where they were beaten by the Dutch.

In what would turn out be Jack’s last campaign they would have faced England yet again, but finishing second in their qualifying group they lost a play-off against the Dutch. Who of course went on to face the hosts England in the group stage of Euro ’96. Would Venables’ England have beaten Jack’s Ireland 4-1 that night?

Charlton retired shortly after that loss and would never work in the game again. Spending his time fishing and getting free pints in every pub he went into in Ireland.

Sadly he was yet another of that generation of players to suffer from dementia. So many of the England team from ’66 have it or had it, along with so many from the post-war period through to recent times.

He’s the 12th member of Sir Alf’s ’66 squad to pass, the sixth of the XI that brought glory. A giant of the English game.

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