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Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Monday, 11 April 2011 16:25 UK

John Motson on Sir Bobby

Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon
Thursday 28 April, 2100 BST, BBC Two

Charlton lifts the European Cup after a 4-1 win over Benfica
Charlton won the European Cup with United in 1968

John Motson
By John Motson

As a player, Sir Bobby Charlton was a footballing maestro and he remains an old-fashioned gentleman of English football, to rank alongside the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Sir Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Bobby Moore.

Indeed, there is no-one who would have a bad word to say about him.

He is a man of tremendous humility and dignity, and has never been involved in any controversy on or off the pitch.

Charlton first caught my eye only a few months after the Munich air disaster in February 1958. As a young boy, I had gone on holiday with my family to the North West of England, and my father took me to Old Trafford.

Wreckage from Munich air disaster
The Busby Babes were devastated in the Munich air Disaster, 1958

A new United side were taking shape under manager Sir Matt Busby and they beat Chelsea 5-2. The so-called Busby Babes were scintillating and Charlton scored a hat-trick.

Thereafter, I made a point of watching him whenever United came to London - they were the sort of team you persuaded your father to take you to see.

Charlton played right across the forward line for the Red Devils before settling into a central midfield position.

He was ahead of his time with his approach to fitness and I cannot recall him ever being injured for any length of time. One of his greatest attributes was his shooting. He could crack the ball with either foot.

People forget, but he was also a decent header of the ball. I can remember him heading a great goal at Wembley for example, in the memorable 1968 European Cup final win against Benfica.

Another thing about Charlton was his turn of pace. It was rarely appreciated, perhaps overshadowed by his other skills, but he was extremely quick off the mark.

I was at boarding school in 1958 when we heard the tragic news from Munich.

News came in slowly that only a handful of players had survived, their names read out on the wireles "Gregg, Foulkes, Charlton..."

Busby rebuilt that team around Charlton and it is remarkable to think that he went on to play for United for 17 years, became their record goalscorer and set an appearances record only recently beaten by Ryan Giggs.

Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon

For England, whilst Hurst and Moore are perhaps most vividly remembered from the 1966 squad, it was Sir Bobby's goals against Mexico and later Portugal that opened the doors to success.

He picked up the only booking of his career in the quarter-final against Argentina and tussled with Franz Beckenbauer in the final, a clash still remembered fondly by both men - that really is mutual respect.

In 1973, I was in the commentary box for Sir Bobby's last game in a Manchester United shirt.

Chelsea were again the opponents, just like during my childhood holiday. This time though, the Blues were at home and prevailed 1-0 thanks to a Peter Osgood goal.

But, before kick-off, Charlton was presented with a silver cigarette box by the then Chelsea chairman, which proves how revered he was, by supporters and opponents alike.

Charlton then took on a new challenge, one that brought us closer, as he sat alongside me as co-commentator during my early World Cups for the BBC.

Just as he was on the pitch, he was also a fantastic ambassador off it. He was passionate, hugely committed and opened all sorts of doors for my broadcasting colleagues with his name alone.

I remember one occasion at the 1980 European Championship finals in Italy when there were four of us waiting for a bus to take us to the match on which we were commentating.

Sir Bobby was getting restless, so he insisted on getting out a football and having a kickabout, two versus two. Needless to say, he had not lost his touch.

Lifetime achievement award for Charlton

At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, we worked together on one of the best games in the tournament's history as Italy beat Brazil 3-2 and at the end Sir Bobby's eye were moist.

He had become so caught up in the brilliance and emotion of the game that he was crying with pleasure. It was a sign to me of how important football was to him.

On another occasion, he gave me a book about the early laws of the game which was just a lovely, thoughtful present.

I do not think Bobby was ruthless enough to be a manager. I think he perhaps had difficulty dealing with players who were inferior to himself.

That is understandable given that he had played with them all - Duncan Edwards, George Best, Denis Law - and has since gone on to nurture more recent Old Trafford greats, the likes of Giggs, Eric Cantona and David Beckham.

Charlton is still very much involved with Manchester United's fortunes, as a member of the board of directors, and he was part of Manchester's 2002 Commonwealth Games bid and London's 2012 Olympic bid.

It is a real shame that he may now not see another football World Cup in England, despite his diplomatic efforts.

Sir Bobby is, quite rightly, treated like royalty all around the world and is a true icon of the game.

Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon

Thursday 28 April, BBC Two 2100 BST



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see also
Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon
27 Apr 11 |  Inside Sport
Ten to Tackle: Sir Bobby Charlton
13 Apr 11 |  Inside Sport
Munich tragedy remembered in film
21 Apr 11 |  Entertainment & Arts
Lifetime achievement award for Charlton
14 Dec 08 |  Sports Personality


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