Jack Charlton obituary: Former Ireland manager who inspired the nation

Charlton was held in rare affection by Irish and English football supporters alike

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton waves to the crowd after his side were knocked out by Italy in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Olympic Stadium, Rome on June 30th, 1990. Photograph:   Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton waves to the crowd after his side were knocked out by Italy in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Olympic Stadium, Rome on June 30th, 1990. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

 

Jack (John) Charlton
Born: May 8th, 1935
Died: July 10th, 2020

Few players or managers have enjoyed World Cup glory with two countries but Jack Charlton, who died last week aged 85, was held in rare affection by Irish and English football supporters. The World Cup stage may have brought the best remembered moments of his career but Charlton also had no shortage of success at club level during nearly 45 years as a player and manager.

Charlton, a tall, no-nonsense central defender, was part of Alf Ramsey’s England team which won the World Cup in 1966, playing in the same side as his brother Bobby. As a manager, he took Ireland to their first World Cup, in Italy in 1990, and led them to the quarter-finals of the tournament, which remains the country’s best performance.

Charlton’s tactics made even the best teams uncomfortable but his greatest achievement was to get his players to implement his plan with gusto

Born in the Northumberland colliery village of Ashington on May 8th, 1935, the eldest child of miner Bob and his wife Cissie, a cousin of Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn, he learned his football with Ashington YMCA and Ashington Welfare before joining the ground staff at Leeds in 1950. It was an association which was to prove both lengthy and hugely successful.

After leaving school, Charlton had briefly worked, like his father, in the mines at Linton colliery but it was not for him and he was on the brink of joining the police force when he went to Leeds United in 1952. Despite his boyhood affection for Newcastle United, Leeds was an obvious choice given his uncle Jimmy Milburn played for the club at the time and two other uncles, Jack and George Milburn, had also played there .

Marriage in 1958 to Pat Kemp, a shop assistant in Leeds, helped him to settle down. But it was only when Don Revie came to manage Leeds in 1961 that Charlton really began to make his mark in football.

His early years, with Leeds in the second division, had offered little sign of the glory that was to come under Revie. At one point Charlton met with Manchester United manager Matt Busby to discuss a transfer which would have seen him team up with his brother at Old Trafford. But he stayed with Leeds until he retired from playing in 1973 and, with his rugged defending and leadership role on the field, was part of the team which won the English league title in 1969 and FA Cup in 1972. He also enjoyed success in European football as Leeds won the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, later the Uefa Cup and now the Europa League, in 1968 and 1971.

Charlton’s England career began relatively late. He was almost 30 when he made his debut against Scotland at Wembley in 1965 but, as with his tackling, the timing was perfect. Just over a year later, playing alongside captain Bobby Moore and with his brother in midfield, Charlton became a World Cup winner as hosts England beat West Germany 4-2 in the final.

At the final whistle the 6ft 3in defender sunk to his knees before embracing his younger brother. He subsequently said: “There’s a picture of me at the end down on my knees. I don’t remember if I was saying a prayer or just knackered.”

Charlton had a strained relationship with Bobby but the pair had an emotional reunion in Liverpool at the BBC Sports Personality Awards in 2008, when Jack presented his sibling with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

He retired from international duty after the 1970 World Cup and following three more seasons with Leeds he ended his playing career and moved into management with second division Middlesbrough. In his first season in charge, ‘Boro won the title by 15 points earning promotion to the top flight where Charlton established them before leaving in 1977. He applied for the England job after Revie’s departure but said he never received an answer to his application.

Charlton dropped into the third division to manage Sheffield Wednesday and it was there that he adopted the direct, physical style that was to prove so effective later with Ireland. The club won promotion in 1980 but, despite a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, he was unable to take them to the top flight and left in 1983 for a short spell at Newcastle.

He took over the Irish national side in 1986 after a strange appointment process where he was only third in the first round of voting. He soon showed he would do it his way. At his introduction in Dublin in February, Charlton stormed out after arguing with a journalist and upbraiding the FAI’s general secretary. “If points have to be made,” he later explained, “they are more effectively made on day one”. His manner, like his style of play, split opinion but had the merit of being unambiguous. His “put em under pressure” philosophy became a song and a catchphrase for a nation.

Barely 15,000 fans attended his first match, a 1-0 home friendly defeat by Wales but by the time of Charlton’s departure he had earned honorary citizenship after leading the country to two World Cups and a European Championship, inspiring unheard of public jubilation and a cultural expansion.

Against Scotland at Hampden Park in 1987 he fielded an unorthodox lineup and achieved Ireland’s most significant away win for nearly 40 years, paving the way for Ireland’s first appearance at a major tournament. Euro 88 began with an extraordinary triumph against their oldest rivals, England, the country with whom Charlton had won the World Cup. Despite this, Ireland failed to progress beyond the group stages.

Charlton’s tactics made even the best teams uncomfortable but his greatest achievement was to get his players to implement his plan with gusto. This was even though many of them were asked to play against the instincts that had made them successful at club level, from John Aldridge being converted from a goal-getter to a ball-fetcher, Ronnie Whelan being made more a runner than a passer and Paul McGrath (like Mark Lawrenson before him) being recast as an outstanding midfielder rather than a world-class centre-back.

While other teams were cloistered away, Ireland’s players were allowed to party in the same pubs and clubs frequented by fans. When they trained it was with a definite purpose but little sophistication: their preparation for the anticipated heat of the 1990 World Cup in Italy involved running around wearing three tracksuits and a big overcoat.

'He changed everything about Irish football . . . Jack came in and changed that mentality . . . His legacy within Ireland is absolutely huge'

“Under Jack we were mostly ramshackle and part of what made us tick was the disorganisation and the joy we got from pretending to the world that we weren’t to be taken seriously,” Niall Quinn wrote in his autobiography. Being seen to work hard and have fun, while gaining good results, made them lovable. A nation was happy to identify with them and he spent much time here indulging his passion for fishing, particularly in Mayo.

Ireland’s first appearance on the biggest stage, the World Cup, came in Italia 90. Despite drawing all their games in the group stage at the finals, Ireland went through to meet Romania in the last 16, beating them on penalties after a goalless draw, before losing 1-0 to Italy in the quarter-finals. The team – and their manager – captured the imagination of the Irish public and four years later, in the United States, they beat Italy in the group stage before losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in the last 16.

Thousands throng O’Connell Street to greet the Republic of Ireland team upon their return from the World Cup in Italy in 1990
Thousands throng O’Connell Street to greet the Republic of Ireland team upon their return from the World Cup in Italy in 1990

“He changed everything about Irish football . . . Jack came in and changed that mentality . . . His legacy within Ireland is absolutely huge,” said midfielder Ray Houghton.

In Ireland’s opening match of the 1994 World Cup in New Jersey, Charlton’s team reached their sporting and cultural pinnacle. New York practically became the capital of Ireland that day as millions of Irish people tried to get tickets for a meeting in the Giants Stadium with Italy, another country that had a huge exclave in the US. In the end there were far more Irish in the crowd of 75,000 and Houghton again ignited sessions that are still talked about today.

Ireland did not win another game at USA 94, where they ultimately suffered from the heat and a lack of quality in a couple of key areas.

Charlton would have liked to have concluded his reign by taking his team to a tournament in his native country but Ireland, with precious players missing or waning, failed to reach Euro 96.

After defeat by the Netherlands in a play-off in December 1995, fans sang him a ballad that felt like farewell. Then, immediately afterwards, his time as Irish manager ended, just short of his 10th anniversary.

Charlton is survived by Pat and his children, John, Deborah and Peter, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. – Guardian/Reuters