‘Ireland was a great fit for Grandad,’ Charlton funeral hears

Final curtain comes down on England’s honorary Irishman at service in Newcastle

Hundreds of people have gathered in Ireland and England to pay their respects to World Cup winner and former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton. Video: Reuters/Spectee

 

There was, recalled Emma Wilkinson, only one living creature who ever “got the better” of her grandfather Jack Charlton, and that was his dog Sally. Every evening he’d let her out “for a pee”, and every evening she’d refuse to come back in because she wanted to go fishing with him. So Jack would have to put on his gear, even his waders, to con her in to thinking they were setting off. Only then would Sally come through the door.

The small group of mourners at the private funeral service at Newcastle crematorium laughed loudly, as they did when Emma reminded them of the time his car broke down while towing a pink caravan through the North York Moors, him standing uncomfortably at the side of the road waiting for help.

And then there was his lifelong failure to “get to grips with inflation”. “He could never understand how fish and chips could cost three pounds,” she said. “You should have seen his face when we suggested he get Grandma an iPad for Christmas.”

Charlton’s final journey had begun earlier in the morning when his funeral procession left the family home in Dalton, Northumberland, a police escort leading it through Ashington, the former mining town where he was born in May, 1935, hundreds of people lining the streets to salute “wor Jack”.

The cortege stopped outside Hirst Welfare Centre where Charlton and his younger brother Bobby played football as children, before moving on to the crematorium.

You could, no doubt, have filled a couple of Wembley Stadiums with all the people who would have wished to attend his funeral to pay their respects, but due to coronavirus restrictions only close family were able to be at the service.

There was a distinctly Irish feel to this farewell, beginning with the strains of Danny Boy filling the air as the family arrived, to the laughter that rose with every memory shared, to the occasion feeling much more like a celebration of a life lived well than a gathering to mourn its passing.

As another of Jack’s granddaughters, Kate Wilkinson, put it in a poem she read:

“You can shed tears that he’s gone, or you can smile at how he lived . . .

you can close your eyes, and pray that he will come back,

or you can open your eyes, and see all that he has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him,

or it can be full of the love that he shared,

you can remember only that he’s gone,

or you can cherish the memory and let it live on.”

Standing in front of a coffin draped in the scarves of both England and Ireland, the vicar noted that Jack was “a nation’s champion” in both countries, a theme Kate picked up on.

She talked of his initial regret that he’d never got the England job, but later seeing it as a blessing because if he had been given it, “he’d never have got to manage the Irish team - a role that gave him 10 extraordinary years”.

“Ireland was a great fit for Grandad,” she said, “the people, the craic, the fishing, the Guinness, and a bit of football thrown in. We’ve been overwhelmed by the kind messages from Ireland. One that stuck out was that Grandad did the near impossible and transcended politics, he was the ‘English Irishman’. He was a proud Englishman, and he was a proud honorary Irishman.”

Emma paid tribute to Jack’s widow Pat, “his right-hand woman and greatest supporter”, while his grandson Tom recalled his “infectious laugh and the glint in his eye”.

“The man everyone met was the man we knew, he was a people man and treated everyone the same. While the reflections on all his achievements have made us proud, it’s the reflections on his character that have made us proudest of all. Grandad, we’ll miss you, and we’ll love you forever.”

The curtains closed in front of the coffin. Safe home, big man.

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