National Hero: Leeds United’s Jack Charlton helped England win the World Cup in 1966 and also played in Mexico in 1970. He shared his memories with Leon Wobschall.
JACK CHARLTON may turn eighty next May with his dug-out career long gone, but he will watch England’s World Cup fortunes this summer through the discerning eye of a manager first and fan second.
The Leeds United legend, now living in retirement back in his native north-east, played in the most high-profile game that any Whites player has ever played in and prospered back on that day-in-a-million at Wembley back on July 30, 1966.
His career with England may have only began in the autumn of his playing days at the age of almost thirty, with his cap count limited to just 35, but in his five years with the Three Lions, he packed more in than most seasoned international players manage during a decade and a half.
Time’s winged chariot has ensured that Charlton’s memories of that magic English summer of 1966 are fading ones, but in the stream of this country’s sporting consciousness that July afternoon represents our finest hour to many.
It’s something that England fans have desperately craved ever since, only to be disappointed at every turn with bitter days in Leon, Madrid, Mexico City, Turin, St Etienne, Shizuoka, Gelsenkirchen and Bloemfontein etched in many supporters’ souls.
The next chapter unfolds in Brazil over the next few weeks’, hopefully longer, starting with an appointment in the Brazilian jungle in Manaus against Italy on Saturday night.
Charlton will be watching events unfold avidly and wishes his country well – in the searing heat.
Much has been made of the sweltering conditions and humidity that will greet England players in Manaus, with Charlton’s Republic of Ireland famously wilting in the torridly hot weather in the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
At the time, Charlton was scathing at the lack of water breaks for his players and thankfully two decades on, they will be as much part of this World Cup as goalline technology and the Caxirola – the new Vuvuzela and musical instrument of choice for football fans descending on Brazil.
It remains to be seen if England are the embodiment of cool on the pitch, with Charlton hopeful, if not too expectant.
Charlton told the YEP: “Obviously, we won it back in 1966 and it was a terrific time for everyone in the country.
“It would be lovely to win it again and I will looking at the games with England wondering what is going on and who should be where. I will act just like a manager does!
“But it will be difficult out there in Brazil.
“The staff there will know all about the heat in Brazil and hopefully the players will be looked after and I would love to see England go a long way. But we’ll see.”
In 35 outings for his country, Charlton tasted the sensation of defeat just twice – a 3-2 loss to Austria in October 1965 and the infamous 3-2 Wembley reverse to Scotland in April 1967.
By and large, the giant United centre-half proved a lucky charm for England, sampling victory in 25 of his 35 internationals, although he is the first to acknowledge his haul of appearances could have been more sizeable.
In between helping England lifting the World Cup and try and defend it in Mexico four years later, Charlton found himself battling it out with Everton’s Brian Labone for the honour of partnering Bobby Moore – having been preferred to the Toffees skipper in 1966.
Next time around, Labone featured in three of England’s four matches, including the dramatic 3-2 quarter-final exit to West Germany in Leon, with Charlton overlooked after being picked by Sir Alf Ramsey for the final group game against Czechoslovakia in Guadalajara, which took place 44 years ago tomorrow.
That was the last time Charlton, then turned 35, played for England with Labone recalled against the Germans, with the United stalwart confirming to Ramsey on the flight home from Mexico after the quarter-final exit that it was time to step down.
Charlton said: “We lost to the Germans and Alf for some reason didn’t play me. So I did retire after that tournament.
“But the times with England, 35 caps, meant a lot to me and if I’d been younger, I might have played more.
“You just left things with Alf and if he didn’t call you up, you just don’t bother, you stay where you are.
“But he was alright with me.
“Overall, I couldn’t complain. I didn’t lose many and you don’t remember tje games you lost and I don’t remember losing anyway.”
While Charlton was afforded World Cup glory with England, his club team-mate Norman Hunter, wasn’t so lucky and had to wait until Mexico four years later for his first taste of the greatest footballing show on earth on the pitch.
Hunter was part of Ramsey’s 22-man squad in 1966, but as a squad member with another Leeds player in Paul Reaney named in the provisional 40-man squad in April 7, only to fail to make the final cut.
For all their exploits on the club stage, several Leeds players struggled for senior England recognition during that time, with Hunter’s sole appearance in 1970 coming as a late sub in the shattering quarter-final exit to the Germans.
One United star afforded the lion’s share of the limelight in Latin America that summer was left-back Terry Cooper, who impressed against the most feted international side of them all time in the legendary Brazilian line-up of ‘70 and even secured praise from the player widely acclaimed of the greatest of them all to Pele.
The Samba special described Cooper’s performances in Mexico as ‘world-class’, although for many United fans it was a case of more’s the pity that Reaney wasn’t also afforded the stage to strut his stuff on the global stage and forge a similarly dynamic and buccaneering presence on the right-hand side of England’s back four due to a broken leg.
A man perfect to comment on the credentials of Reaney, Cooper and Hunter is Charlton, who felt that Reaney and Hunter in particular didn’t have the best of luck.
He said: “Paul and Norman didn’t play very often. George Cohen played right full-back and George was a good player who was very quick and it was unfortunate for Paul.
“I always thought Norman was just on the outside. But he played for England in the World Cup once and his time was in the seventies.
“TC as we used to call him played regularly in Mexico. He was a good player on the ball, but his tackling wasn’t as good as it could have been.
“But I liked Terry, he was a good player. He didn’t interfere with me, when he came in at left full-back!”