Bobby Charlton, the Manchester United player who won the World Cup with England and went on to become a much loved and hugely respected ambassador for club and country, died on Saturday, aged 86.
His death was announced by Manchester United in a statement.
Charlton known for his powerful shooting and distinctive hairstyle won three league titles, the European Cup and an FA Cup during a 20-year career with Manchester United. He was also an integral part of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup.
Dignified, unassuming and regarded as United’s greatest ever servant, Charlton appeared 758 times for the club, scoring 249 goals. Both records stood for a long time until Ryan Giggs overtook the former in 2008 and Wayne Rooney the latter nine years later.
"Manchester United are in mourning following the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of our club," the club said in a statement.
Born on October 11, 1937 in Ashington, Northumberland, Charlton joined United as a schoolboy in 1953 and was a star of the team that won the FA Youth Cup three times in a row between 1954 and 1956.
He made his first-team debut in 1956 days before his 19th birthday and scored twice in a 4-2 victory over Charlton Athletic. By the end of the season he had become a regular member of the team that brought the league trophy to Old Trafford for the fifth time.
But it was a game the next season that shaped Charlton’s life. In February, 1958 Charlton scored twice in a 3-3 draw at Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup quarter-final.
On the way home, United’s plane crashed at a snowy Munich airport, killing 23 people, including eight team mates.
Charlton survived with minor injuries but the tragedy that devastated the team known as the Busby Babes because of their relative youth forced him to mature quickly and he soon became a central figure in the squad rebuilt by coach Matt Busby.
"Having survived the trauma of the Munich Air Disaster when aged just 20, he played as if every game was for his fallen colleagues, recovering from his injuries to reach the pinnacle for both club and country," the United website said.
A decade later United did just that, becoming the first English team to win the European Cup as Charlton scored twice in a 4-1 victory over Benfica after extra-time in the final at Wembley.
Englishman Charlton, Scotsman Denis Law and Irishman George Best formed a devastating United forward line which was, and remains, one of the most potent ever assembled to torment an opposition defence.
Charlton remained at United until 1973 before moving to Preston North End, where he spent two years as player-manager. He enjoyed brief spells with Waterford in the Irish League and in Australia before retiring to become a director at Wigan Athletic and caretaker manager during the 1982-83 season.
Before that he had written his name in the history books by helping England win the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
Charlton, playing alongside his central defender brother Jack, started all six England games, scoring three times, most crucially in the semi-final when his double gave England a 2-1 victory over Eusebio’s Portugal.
The triumph capped an extraordinary season in which he was also named the Football Writers’ Player of the Year as well as European Footballer of the Year.
"That day locked into my heart and my consciousness so strongly that I knew, as it was happening, that it would never dim," he said of the 4-2 win over West Germany in the final.
Charlton played 106 times for England, a massive number in a time when internationals were less frequent, and his record of 49 goals stood for 45 years until broken by Rooney, one of his successors at Manchester United.
Prematurely balding and with a comb-over that made him instantly recognisable the world over, Charlton was never less than impeccably dressed and his old-world gentlemanliness was often at odds with the younger and flashier players appearing in a game that changed rapidly as money poured in.
His gravitas, footballing knowledge, and love of the game – and especially Manchester United – never wavered.
Charlton was named a director of United in 1984 and remained a regular presence at Old Trafford for decades, where a stand was named in his honour in 2016. In 1994, he was knighted for his contribution to the game, having previously been awarded an OBE and CBE.
His wife Norma announced her husband was suffering from dementia in 2020.