Leeds United Nostalgia: Why Jack Charlton would be a legend in any era

Jack Charlton.
Jack Charlton.
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A radio report last week poked fun at the idea that many Leeds United legends would be unsuited to modern football.

It centred on the trappings of modern football, on how much importance is now placed on a silky touch and ‘being a footballer’. Leeds’ style of play for much of the 20th century, they said, was archaic and, apparently, worthy of ridicule.

Jack Charlton after winning the World Cup in 1966.

Jack Charlton after winning the World Cup in 1966.

All this was said in the build-up to Thursday’s Elland Road friendly against Costa Rica.

The likes of World Cup winner Jack Charlton, they chuckled, wouldn’t have got any of his 35 caps, the last of which came 48 years ago this week, ahead of footballing geniuses like Phil Jones and Harry Maguire.

Like so many Leeds players down the years, Charlton seems to have been denounced as a lump of a player, a 6ft 3ins bully whose studs weren’t just for the turf.

The footballing was done by the likes his brother, and whilst there is no doubt that ‘Wor Bobby’ was the far greater of the two Ashington siblings, Jackie’s image as an oaf is an unfair one.

Jack Charlton celebrates after winning the Fairs Cup final in 1971.

Jack Charlton celebrates after winning the Fairs Cup final in 1971.

He played the game hard, there’s no questioning that. The story goes that then-Leeds boss Raich Carter took a 17-year-old Charlton to one side moments before his debut and muttered only: “See how fast their centre forward can limp.”

But as any lucky Whites fan old enough to be able to remember will tell you, Jack Charlton could play.

Two years national service after his debut put his career on pause but played a big part in his personal development, and he returned to West Yorkshire a first team starter for 1955/56 season. Replacing John Charles after the Welshman’s move to centre forward, Charlton quickly became a fan favourite.

Much of this was down to his uncompromising attitude, but also his ability with the ball at his feet. Charlton was calm and unfussy, but when a pass was there to be made, he rarely missed.

A difficult period followed, with the young Charlton frequenting the working men’s clubs of West Yorkshire a little too often for the club’s liking. He lost his place in the side for a time, but as with so many players of that era, marriage settled him down and improved him as a player.

He stayed with Leeds during their relegation to the second tier.

He had a dalliance as a centre forward under Don Revie and attracted heavy interest from Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Matt Busby’s Manchester United. Remarkably, he was playing in that division just two seasons prior to the World Cup win that would immortalise him.

Leading one of the finest Whites defences in history and back in the top tier, Charlton was a latecomer to the international scene, making his 1965 debut at the age of 30. Seen by Alf Ramsay as the perfect foil for Bobby Moore, he became an instant fixture in the side’s preparations for the home World Cup in 1966.

The rest, as they say, is history. Lifting the trophy alongside his brother made the pair one of the most iconic sporting siblings of all-time. Jackie retired in 1973 with an impressive 95 goals in 773 appearances for the club he played his whole career for. Tied with Billy Bremner, he is the all-time record holder for first team appearances.

A successful career in management followed and his love affair with the World Cup continued as he led a plucky Irish outfit to the grandest stage of all in 1994. Uncompromising in his approach to management as he was with an opposition attacker in his eyeline, many supporters see it as a shame he never managed Leeds.