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They shared the greatest day in English football history. They even shared a bed whilst growing up. But for Jack and Bobby Charlton, their relationship would grow more prickly when success came their way, as Youssef Amin explains.
July 30th, 1966. One of the most important days in English sporting history. Wembley Stadium packed with almost 97,000 spectators and 32million more watching at home. All these people were waiting in anticipation for England’s first World Cup final. Both Charlton brothers were starting, Bobby and Jack. So similar yet so different; so close yet so far apart.
Jack was starting in the centre of defence alongside talismanic captain Bobby Moore, while Bobby was in midfield given an advance role in Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ side. They were up against the West Germans who had players like Franz Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler out on the pitch. This was not going to be an easy task.
The game started off badly with Helmut Haller scoring for Germany after only 12 minutes. Geoff Hurst equalised soon after to rescue England’s hopes. The game rather petered out after that with both teams looking wary and cautious and scared of conceding. That was until the 77th minute when a deflected Hurst shot found Martin Peters who put England in front. Instead of downing tools, the Germans were rejuvenated. After a serious of rebounds in the box, the ball fell to Wolfgang Weber who calmly slotted it in at the death to force the game into extra time.
Bobby Charlton – one of world football’s superstars – had been relatively quiet, effectively marked out of the game by Beckenbauer, while Jack ably assisted Moore in keeping the German frontline quiet.
The English immediately started vigorously attacking in search of the winning goal. Charlton went close with a couple of shots, one which hit the post and the other which flashed just wide. Then came the infamous ghost goal after 11 minutes of extra time; Hurst’s swivelling shot crashed onto the bar and bounced on or just over the line. Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst decided to give the goal on the advice of ‘Russian’ (he was actually from Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union) linesman Tofiq Bahramov; the goal sucking all the life out of the West German players. Hurst completed his hat-trick with just a minute to go. England won their first, and to this day only World Cup.
One of the most iconic pictures of that day was the embrace of the two beaming Charlton brothers, the joy on their face apparent as they shared that beautiful moment together. Behind those delighted smiles though was a long story of jealousy, anger and betrayal between two of the most famous footballing siblings of all time.
Both had illustrious football careers, and what makes their story so compelling though is the troubled relationship between them.
Jack Charlton is the eldest of the two, born in Ashington on the 8th of May 1935. He played most famously with Leeds United where he won the League championship in 1969. A cultured centre-back who could also be very rough and ruthless, Charlton was a perfect fit for the famous ‘Dirty’ Leeds teams managed by Don Revie. Jack’s former team mate, Revie managed to get the best out of him, helping him to become one of the mainstays of a very successful Leeds team in the 1960s and winning 35 caps for the English national team.
Also born in Ashington, on 11th October 1937, and arguably the better of the two was Bobby Charlton; the dashing two-footed inside forward is considered one of the greats of English football. Spending almost all his career with Manchester United, the Busby Babe played 606 times for United, scoring 199 goals and until recently he was the top scorer in the club’s history. He also racked up 106 caps for England scoring 49 goals – both scoring records only recently surpassed by Wayne Rooney.
The pair played against and with each other numerous times during their career, although they have a notoriously rocky relationship which is very well documented. Despite winning the 1966 World Cup where they were supposedly on good terms, in the background their relationship was secretly unravelling due to a series of mitigating factors which would eventually lead to the brothers ending up on non-speaking terms.
Born to Bob and Cissie Charlton, the brothers grew up in a poor working-class environment – they spent a lot of time together, even sharing a bed at one point when money was very tight. Bob was a simple coalminer his whole life and Cissie – who was at the forefront of this bitter family feud along with Bobby’s future wife Norma – was a very sociable and emotional woman with a great interest in football due to her upbringing, coming from the famous Milburn footballing family in Ashington.
The brothers ended up growing distant with the differences in their personality apparent. Jack had inherited his mother’s gregarious and outgoing nature while Bobby had inherited the footballing genes of the family. This culminated with Bobby being whisked off to Manchester United after appearing for England schoolboys.
As for Jack, the future looked very different. After leaving school he seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps down the pit with little footballing opportunities on the horizon. He was desperate to get into the world of football though, and he eventually used his contacts to get a trial at Leeds United who were then in the Second Division.
The tragedy of the Munich air disaster in 1958 may have caused Bobby’s career to temporarily stall, but instead of giving up, he went back to Manchester United just three weeks after the crash. He needed coaxing out of his seclusion by friends and family, and was gradually helped out of his traumatised state, regaining his place in the United team being rebuilt from the ashes of the one that was decimated in the crash.
The disaster took its toll on Bobby. He came back a changed person, something many of his loved ones testified too. The affable personality was gone, and he would never smile the same way again.
Jack really was the apple of his mother’s eye and his bond with her was very special. He was always considered the more outgoing and extroverted of the two, something which brought him closer to his mother.
To the day of her death, Jack remained close to her. She had a significant influence over him, something she never managed to have over Bobby with Norma by his side.
The supposed trigger for this situation was when Bobby married Norma in 1961; a very strong and controlling woman and former model, she has been accused of taking over Bobby’s life many times by members of his family. They were also a bit jealous because they believed that he had deserted his family and betrayed his roots by marrying someone not from Northumberland.
Norma gradually took over Bobby’s life and this led to complete estrangement between him and his family. Eventually he had to choose between his them and his wife – Norma won.
Bobby rarely returned to the North East to visit his family in Ashington once he moved to Cheshire. Over time, even phone calls to his parents were rare and all ties were cut off. He even failed to visit their father on his deathbed with Bob asking Cissie to throw away any flowers they got from Bobby. He was also criticised later by Jack for not visiting their mother when she was in her final days.
The difference in attitude towards their parents widened the rift even further between the two brothers, with the toxic relationship between Norma and Cissie preventing Bobby from ever reconciling fully with his family which led to great disappointment from Jack’s side.
He believed his brother was a traitor who had betrayed his family for a woman he was smitten with. With Jack attacking Norma numerous times and calling her stand-offish and difficult, Bobby immediately jumped to the defence of his wife.
Leeds United vs Manchester United. 1968. One of the biggest rivalries in English club football and one which was of particular significance to the Charlton brothers. The tension between them was at its peak and they were bursting to play against one another.
The game itself was a fairly routine one for Leeds who would romp their way to the title that season with United finishing 11th. The duel between the two brothers was fascinating though and Bobby scored to equalise after Leeds’ Mick Jones had put them ahead. Jones eventually netted again to win the game for Leeds but not before Jack had come crashing in on Bobby leaving him on a heap on the ground without so much as an apology.
Both have written books and given interviews since in which they have attacked each other without a tinge of remorse. Neither have given regard to the fact that they are related by blood instead preferring to keep their distance.
They were no longer brothers, they were rivals.
This may sound like a script for a TV drama series, but it is a very sad real-life story of Britain’s most famous footballing brothers. To this day they have not forgiven one another and are not on speaking terms. That doesn’t look like changing any time soon and it is very possible that they will take their rivalry with them to their graves – something which is very tragic and, in hindsight, avoidable.