Jack Charlton: Tributes paid to ‘sporting icon’ and ‘father figure’

‘Big Jack’ left ‘legacy of outstanding leadership’ says President Higgins

Tributes from the world of football and wider society have poured in for former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin describing him as an "iconic figure" in both England and Ireland.

Charlton died at the age of 85 after a lymphoma diagnosis last year and having suffered from dementia.

In a statement on Saturday morning, Mr Martin extended his sympathies to Charlton’s family and friends describing the former manager as “one of the great characters of the football world”.

“ He was an iconic figure on and off the pitch, in England and Ireland... We thank Jack for his honest, workmanlike and no-nonsense contribution to football and to Irish life.”


President Michael D Higgins said Charlton “leaves a legacy of outstanding leadership of a group of players of many diverse talents, which he moulded into the successful team that captured the imagination of the nation.

“It was not just the success on the field of play, Jack’s endearing popularity also had much to do with the warmth and personality of the person who quickly became such a legendary sporting icon.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Charlton as “Ireland’s most beloved English man” - a description also used by Tánaiste and former taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Charleton had “really lifted the nation” during a period when we didn’t have much to cheer about, didn’t have much to be proud of, and didn’t win much, Mr Varadkar said.

He was “Ireland’s most loved Englishman”, the Tánaiste said, telling Richard Curran on RTÉ Radio 1 that he could remember watching the penalty shoot out with Romania during Italia ’90 in the front room of his parents house.

As tributes poured in from his former clubs and the Premier League announced black armbands will be worn by players at all matches this weekend, pundits Eamon Dunphy and John Giles acknowledged the role Charlton played in popularising the game in Ireland.

Giles, who played with “Big Jack” in Leeds, said “we never agreed on football but he gave leadership... He would not stand for any nonsense”. While he was critical of Charlton’s management style for the Republic of Ireland, Giles said he always respected his former teammate’s stance, adding that Charlton brought interest in soccer in Ireland to unprecedented heights.

“I never believed in Jack’s principles” on how the game should be played, Giles told RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor Show. “I believe with the players we had we could have done better, and I believe that to this day.” However, Giles added “I always respected what he believed in.”

Dunphy said Charlton “believed in a style of play that was crude but very, very effective”. He had no doubts “and he took all doubt out of the players’ minds” but more importantly he took the country on a “glorious adventure” over 10 years.

Players’ reaction

Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Ray Houghton said Charlton should have been knighted after helping England win the 1966 World Cup.

Charlton, who later handed Houghton his international debut in his first match in charge of Ireland against Wales in March 1986, was “a larger than life character,” the former Liverpool player said.

While Charlton’s younger brother Sir Bobby was among a number of England stars to receive knighthoods in the years after they lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, Jack did not, which left Houghton incredulous.

“The word legend is used too much in football but not for Jack, for what he’s done domestically with Leeds, winning the World Cup, which he should have been knighted for, I’ve still never understood that, I think that’s an absolute disgrace and the fact that he did so well with Ireland.

“He changed everything about Irish football because there was a stage where we hadn’t qualified for tournaments, we had some great players and very good managers but didn’t quite get over the line.

“Jack came in and changed that mentality, got us through two World Cups and one European Championship. His legacy within Ireland is absolutely huge.”

Mick McCarthy was appointed Republic of Ireland captain by Charlton and went on to succeed the former defender as manager of the national side in 1996.

“It’s a real shock that he’s passed away and I’m very, very sad,” McCarthy told talkSPORT.

“It was the happiest time of my career, he made it simple for me and I’ll always remember him for that.

“I wasn’t the best player in that team, nowhere near. But he saw something in me and I’ll never forget him for that.”

John Aldridge, Houghton and McCarthy's former Republic team-mate, tweeted: "Absolutely gutted that Big Jack has passed away! What a football man, loved and adored, specially in Ireland. The best manager I was lucky to play for.

“The times we had on and off the pitch were priceless! My thoughts are with (wife) Pat and the family! RIP my good friend. Never forgotten!”

The Premier League announced players will wear black armbands and there will be a minute’s silence in all matches this weekend in tribute to Charlton. - Additional reporting PA