R.I.P😭: DEATH WHY? Two Liverpool senior players died in a plane crash this morning on their way to international duty – this is coming from JURGEN KLOPP 

R.I.P😭: DEATH WHY? Two Liverpool senior players died in a plane crash this morning on their way to international duty – this is coming from JURGEN KLOPP 

 

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Sir Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster before conquering Europe and the world – he made Man Utd the power it is today

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The legendary midfielder overcame tragedy to become one of the best players of all time and the best ambassador United could have hoped for

 

“Words will never be enough” is how Manchester United’s social media team announced the death of Sir Bobby Charlton, aged 86. It was a fitting way to describe the life of the majestic midfielder, who had cheated death, experienced the most torturous pain imaginable and then come back to lead his club to European glory and inspire England to win the World Cup.

 

Charlton was born in 1937 in the mining community of Ashington, Northumberland and made his life in Manchester, rising to the very peak of world football, becoming the all-time top scorer for both club and country. He spent the latter part of his life basking in United’s many successes, the best ambassador the club could have asked for.

 

But the telling of the story of his life must always begin with its most shocking and pivotal moment, on the icy runway at Munich-Riem Airport on February 6 1958.

 

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Munich Air Disaster Tribute Manchester United

‘Why should it be me?’

Aged 20 at the time, Charlton was one of the youngest members of the United team that were on their way back to Manchester from Belgrade after booking their place in the semi-finals of the European Cup. Their plane stopped in Munich to refuel, and after two aborted attempts to take off, it crashed into the runway, killing 23 people. Charlton was the last survivor to be found, still strapped into his seat when he was discovered 40 yards from the plane wreckage.

 

Charlton suffered a deep cut to his head and was rushed to hospital. When he woke the next day, the person in the bed next to him read a report of the crash and gave what Charlton later described as a “terrible roll call”, reading out the name of each person who had died. Eight of them were Charlton’s team-mates, and three of them his closest friends: Eddie Coleman, David Pegg and Tommy Taylor.

 

Charlton, unlike some of his surviving team-mates, suffered no broken bones, but the psychological scars remained for the rest of his life. Although he was able to play again a month after the crash, he had considered stepping away from the game completely.

 

“In so many ways I was part of the horror, but I was also, in the strangest way, detached,” Charlton wrote in his autobiography. “It was almost as if I was disembodied, a silent, traumatised participant in a terrible dream I could neither act in, nor escape from.

 

“I thought ‘Why me?’ Why am I here with nothing other than a little gash on the head and all these other friends had been killed? I felt it wasn’t fair, why should it be me? It was such a momentous event, for so many young people to die just on the verge of the great success that was ahead of them, and I couldn’t understand why. We walked away. A few days later you realised the enormity of what had happened, then you started thinking about how lucky you’d been. I was so lucky.”

 

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Sir Bobby Charlton | Man Utd’s 20 greatestGetty

Mission accomplished 10 years on

Charlton’s team-mates had perished while on a mission to win the European Cup. As one of the few survivors, along with his manager Matt Busby, he was intent on completing the mission and winning the competition.

 

Ten years after the disaster, as club captain, Charlton did just that, lifting the coveted trophy at Wembley after beating Benfica 4-1 in the 1968 final after extra-time. Fittingly, Charlton scored the first goal and the last. When he went to collect the trophy, though, there was little joy on his face and his first thought was to go and present it to Busby.

 

Charlton participated little in the festivities and sought solace in the changing room while his team-mates celebrated on the pitch. “I wasn’t happy that night, I was just drained at the end of it,” he recalled. “We’d spent so much time for this event to happen and we were desperate we weren’t going to lose and we didn’t lose. The first thing you thought about it when it was over was Matt Busby.”

 

Bobby CharltonGetty

Football as escapism

Charlton may have grown up watching Newcastle and legendary Magpies striker Jackie Milburn, who was his second cousin, but he became besotted with Manchester United. He joined the club aged 14 and grew into a tough player by playing against adult factory workers. He was suffering from a sprained ankle when Busby asked him to make his debut against Charlton Athletic, but he played through the pain and scored twice.

 

He helped fire United to the league title in his first season and was a crucial part of the great ‘Busby Babes’ side that was overwhelmingly comprised of youth players raised in the club’s academy. He saw his generation reflected in the next great United side under Sir Alex Ferguson.

 

“Young players is what Manchester United was all about,” Charlton said. “In 1949, Matt Busby brought in young players, which was unheard of in the hotbed of football, no one could understand it. Young players always got their opportunity here, that was the case with Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson and it continues.”

 

The son of a coalminer, Charlton was highly receptive to Busby’s insistence that his team should offer a form of entertainment and escapism to the factory workers who paid their hard-earned money to see them play. “He said ‘Don’t be afraid go for it. If you’re a man that works on a shop floor and the one highlight is to see the team play, you should be able to give people something they can’t do themselves,” Charlton remembered of his former manager.

 

Charlton, famed for his energy, grace, power and especially his thunderous shot, spent 17 years at United, playing 758 games and scoring 249 goals. As well as the European Cup, Charlton lifted three league titles and one FA Cup. He remained the club’s longest-serving player for more than 30 years, until surpassed by Ryan Giggs in 2008, and their top scorer for more than 40 years until his tally was beaten by Wayne Rooney in 2017.

 

Wayne Rooney Sir Bobby Charlton England

A legend for England too

He was equally influential for England. He struck twice in the 1966 World Cup semi-final against Portugal to book their place in the final against West Germany, where he was tasked with keeping an eye on Franz Beckenbauer.

 

“England beat us because Bobby Charlton was just a little bit better than me,” was how Beckenbauer recalled the final, also declaring that Charlton had “the lungs of a horse”.

 

The 1966 World Cup was extra special as Charlton won it along his brother, Jack. The pair did not enjoy the best relationship, however, as a result of Jack siding with their mother when she did not take a liking to Bobby’s wife, Norma.

 

Charlton scored 49 goals for England and remained top scorer until Rooney took that accolade in 2017, before Harry Kane overtook them both five years later.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 1998-99Getty

‘The whole world stood still’

After leaving United, Charlton had an unfulfilling spell as player-manager with Preston North End, but he returned to Old Trafford as a director and ambassador in 1984. He was a loyal ally to Ferguson, standing behind the Scottish manager when he was most under pressure. “I owe my life at Manchester United to you,” Ferguson later said to Charlton during a speech in 2016.

 

Charlton travelled to practically every United game and witnessed first hand their many triumphs, the pinnacle of which was the 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich to complete the treble.

 

“I’ve never been so happy in my whole life, I’ve never felt like that,” he said. “When [Teddy] Sheringham equalised, I can’t remember much. I remember apologising to people for jumping over them, very important FIFA officials. While I was telling myself to keep cool, we got a corner. [Ole Gunnar]Solskjaer knocks the ball into the net and as the ball hit the net it was as though the world stood still.

 

“I thought this is what paradise is all about. I do not remember what I did for five minutes. My family were up there, I dashed back and suddenly the world was great again and I thought there’s gonna be nothing ever better than this.”

 

Louis van Gaal, Sir Bobby Charlton | Manchester United | Premier LeagueGetty Images

‘Man Utd’s greatest representative’

Charlton’s career and personality shaped United and propelled them to become the global behemoth they are today, recognised around the world for their success as well as their connection with young players.

 

“He’s Man United’s greatest representative around the world and has been for 50 to 60 years. He was one of the Busby Babes, he was part of that tragic Munich air crash, he survived it and lost a lot of his team-mates and colleagues and came through,” said Gary Neville.

 

“What Sir Bobby Charlton did was a great example of how you can have a great ambassador of the club, someone who was a legend of the club who does it very well in the boardroom, represented Man United in the right way. He was the golden thread from Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, two golden eras in Man United’s era, and he was the constant through both of them.”

 

A constant theme in all the tributes is the fact that Charlton truly represented United globally and was as much a part of the club as the badge or Old Trafford itself.

 

“A legend and true pillar of Manchester United, whenever people think of the club around the world, they think of Sir Bobby Charlton,” said David de Gea. Raphael Varane added: “We as players at this special club stand on the shoulders of giants every day, and Sir Bobby was the biggest of them all. His impact will live on for generations to come.”

 

Denis Law Bobby Charlton George Best

Forever part of the club’s fabric

Charlton’s death leaves a gaping hole at United, but he will forever be part of the club’s fabric. The North Stand, the biggest inside the stadium, was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton stand in 2016. Charlton also has a statue outside Old Trafford alongside George Best and Denis Law, directly opposite a bust of a smiling Busby.

 

The United Trinity statue is the first port of call for the thousands of people who visit the stadium each day, and it was there that the club placed a wreath within moments of announcing the legend’s passing bearing the message: “In loving memory of Sir Bobby Charlton, a great player and even greater man. With deepest gratitude for your service. From everyone at Manchester United.”

 

Charlton did not enjoy people talking about him, but he loved to talk about United, especially the devotion they inspired around the world. “It doesn’t matter whether we win or we lose, people’s affection for this place is something really different. There’s nowhere like it. It’s a phenomenon, a cult,” he said.

 

Never a truer word was spoken, and Sir Bobby Charlton is the reason why.

 

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