Jack Charlton was Leeds United's 'policeman on duty' and will forever cast giant shadow over Elland Road

Jack Charlton chose football over a career with the Northumbria Police Board yet still went on to become the ‘policeman on duty’ for Leeds United.

Saturday, 11th July 2020, 8:56 am
Updated Saturday, 11th July 2020, 9:02 am
LEGEND - Jack Charlton was one of the all-time great Leeds United players and a stalwart of the Revie boys. Pic: Getty

It was the late Norman Hunter who coined that nickname for his fellow Geordie, World Cup winner and Whites defensive partner.

Charlton, 85, died on Friday following a long-term ilness, with his family by his side, and became the third Whites legend to pass away since April.

The loss of Hunter and Trevor Cherry had already been mourned by the club, who will feel the bitter blow of Charlton’s passing every bit as keenly.

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WINNERS - Don Revie and Jack Charlton had their moments at Leeds United, but together they brought glory to Elland Road. Pic: Getty

Affectionately known as Big Jack, he initially resisted the advances of the Elland Road outfit, opting instead to pursue a life in the mines alongside his father.

But a dose of the harsh reality of working underground was enough to send him back to a club who had already been well served by the footballing royalty he called family.

Uncles Jack, George and Jimmy Milburn had all played for the Whites, his mother's cousin was Newcastle United and England great Jackie Milburn and in 1953, the year Jack Charlton made his Leeds debut, brother Bobby joined Manchester United.

An interview in Morpeth to join the police as a cadet happened to fall on the same weekend as a trial for Leeds, against Newcastle United's youth team, and by making the latter his preference he set in motion a career that would leave an ever-lasting mark on English and Irish football.

Charlton was 15 when he joined Leeds United and 38 when he left.

He worked his way up from the youth team to the thirds, whose games he said were the making of him, and became the club's highest salaried young professional on £14 per week.

His April 25 1953 first team debut, a 1-1 draw at Doncaster Rovers, would have been followed by more run outs in Division Two the following season, had it not been for a two-year National Service stint in the Household Cavalry that got in the way of his early Leeds United career.

The 1955/56 season saw his return to full-time football with Leeds. Charlton and John Charles, a player he described as the most effective he ever saw, helped the Whites to escape Division Two.

Top flight football is often described as the Promised Land for Leeds United, but despite finishing eighth the following season, they and Charlton were to go through somewhat of a wilderness period.

Relegation in 1960 was followed by a disappointing campaign in the second tier and although the promotion from the playing ranks to the manager's office of Don Revie would ultimately be the club's greatest appointment, there was initial friction between Charlton and his new boss.

Revie felt the defender had a chip on his shoulder. Charlton was frustrated at being played up front.

The simmering tension could have led to a parting of the ways.

Had Billy Shankly offered the full £30,000 Leeds were demanding for the centre-half's services or if Matt Busby had not decided that he would try a home-grown player in the heart of the Manchester United defence, Charlton's story might have been very different.

"I've caused havoc at Elland Road because I was coming to see you," he said, in Busby's office.

"It was you who told me not to sign a new contract with Leeds, I'm going to go back and apologise to them and sign a new contract and bugger you - I'm not coming here!"

So he returned to Elland Road, sought out his manager and put pen to paper on the contract he had previously refused to sign.

As Charlton put it, so succinctly: "Everything took off from there."

Leeds United marched back into the First Division and onward to glory.

Charlton, dubbed a linchpin by Hunter, became the defensive organiser in a team that were notoriously horrible to play against and nigh on impossible to beat.

"There was never nobody at Elland Road that was really nasty," said Charlton.

"We just matched the people that we played against. If they were a bit silly, we would be better than them. We would be stronger than them.

"We were competitive and we had to be more competitive than the people we were playing against. And we were."

Leeds were more than competitive, they were imperious at times under Revie.

Charlton celebrated a Second Division title, First Division title, FA Cup, League Cup, two Fairs Cups and a Charity Shield, in which he scored the winner on his 500th appearance.

Goalscoring was something of a sideline for the defender, who hit the net 96 times in his 773 Leeds outings.

A bit of a nuisance for his managers, thanks to a rebellious streak, he was just as annoying for goalkeepers at corners.

Like many of the Revie boys, Charlton counted the ovation they received from the Anfield Kop - from fans who had dubbed him 'the big dirty giraffe' - after pipping Liverpool to the championship, as a particular highlight.

Another was the news, delivered by Revie, that at the age of 29 he had been picked for England.

"So from then I not only had only had a career at Elland Road, I had a career with England as well," he said.

"I had probably the six busiest years of my life then."

Revie had long been of the opinion that Charlton was good enough and his player would prove him right, playing 35 times for his country and lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy along with his brother Bobby at Wembley in 1966.

His storied playing career was just the first chapter, Charlton - encouraged into coaching while still a young man at Elland Road by ex Leeds player George Ainsley - would go on to manage Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and the Republic of Ireland.

His decade in charge of the Irish national team included qualification for the 1994 World Cup in the USA, where they beat Italy en route to the final 16.

He and wife Pat, who he married in 1958, became only the seventh and eighth people to ever be awarded honorary Irish citizenship.

"This is one of the best days of my life, maybe, even the best," he said.

"I am conscious of the honour which has been conferred on Pat and myself and we both feel privileged and proud."

As a player he was a one-club man, but he will be remembered as a character beloved in two countries, a hero of the people, with the Freedom of both Dublin and of Leeds.

A straight talking storyteller who provided the inspiration for tales told by so many others, his popularity in the game will be evidenced by the flood of tributes that follow his passing.

His family has lost a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Football has lost Big Jack, but he will always cast a giant shadow over the sport and his Elland Road home.