Thought For The Day – Tuesday 14th November 2023
The Gentleman of Sport
As we focus on the many challenges, and opportunities, ahead, there is much we can learn from our elders and previous generations, what they did and how they did it.
Good values are timeless and our personal and collective history matters.
Sir Bobby Charlton C.B.E. was the gentleman of sport.
He showed the greatest character, decency, kindness, resilience, responsibility and respect in his iconic and inspirational life.
Sir Bobby was from Ashington in the North East of England. The park there today remembers where him and his brother, Jack, played. In the early days, he played football in the street with a tennis ball. All the young Sir Bobby wanted to do was to go to school and play football.
Aged twenty, Sir Bobby survived the Munich Air Disaster that killed twenty three people, including eight of his wonderful teammates, the leader of which was Sir Bobby’s friend, the great Duncan Edwards, on 6th February 1958. As he lay in hospital, Sir Bobby was read the list of players who survived and those who had passed away. In his life, Sir Bobby would often ask, with his voice breaking: “Why did I survive. Why me? I was just lucky”.
Sir Bobby was determined to help rebuild the club. He would continue the legacy of the iconic “Busby Babes.” In time, League Championships followed. Ten years later, with the trio of Best, Law and Charlton at the heart, he captained a rebuilt Manchester United team to their European Cup, being overcome with emotion after the final whistle. It was a victory for those who had been lost.
Two years earlier, Sir Bobby played a vital role in England winning the 1966 World Cup, celebrating with and embracing his brother, Jack, at the end of the final. In the final, Sir Bobby had been given the selfless job of marking one of the other team’s players, a role he never complained about once. This outstanding player and person was always about the team.
Sir Bobby was a wonderful player, who passed, tackled and shot with brilliance, who was booked just twice in his career and never sent off, and who broke appearance and goals records for club and country. Sir Bobby was a quiet man of impeccable manners and modesty who never swore.
He always followed the team talk of his club manager Sir Matt Busby, who nurtured his talent and had been very seriously ill in hospital after the Munich Air Disaster: “All those lads you see going to the factory in Trafford Park, they come to watch you on Saturday. They have boring jobs, so you have to give them something decent they will enjoy.” Service before self.
In retirement, Sir Bobby continued to be the statesperson in his local, national, international and global community and charity work and in leading the club, and epitomizing the ethos of the club, he loved off the field.
Throughout, he was humble, inclusive, decent, devoted and dignified.
When a stand was named at Manchester United in his honour in 2016, Sir Bobby, with tears in his eyes, said he did not deserve the honour. He could not believe it.
Sir Bobby Charlton transcended his sport for what he achieved and how he achieved it. People know the name Sir Bobby Charlton even though they do not follow football or sport.
Yesterday, at Manchester Cathedral, was the Funeral of Sir Bobby Charlton, who passed away on 21st October aged 86. Sir Bobby’s wife, Lady Norma Charlton, walked behind the coffin of her husband of 62 years. Sir Bobby’s grandson, William, 22, gave a very moving and beautiful tribute:
“As his grandson, I’ve been inspired not so much by his greatness as by his goodness. He was a deeply private and humble man. But he would also happily step away from privacy to give others a wonderful experience. Both he and my grandmother have shown us what devotion truly means. Thank you for the stories, the laughter. And thank you for lifting us all up, to encourage us to follow our dreams, no matter how lofty they are. We are all so extraordinarily lucky to have had you.”
Former manager of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who recently lost his wife Cathy very suddenly, said after the service: “Sir Bobby was a wonderful, humble man. I am at Manchester United because of Sir Bobby Charlton.”
From His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, from a prince to players and people, they came to pay their respects, at the stadium, by his statue, on the streets and in the service.