Sir Bobby Charlton - My greatest goal
- Credit: Archant
One of the greatest footballers of all time, Cheshire’s own Sir Bobby Charlton could rest on his laurels. In an exclusive interview with Cheshire Life he explains why he is raising funds to help rid the world of landmines
It is exactly 60 years ago on October 4 since Bobby Charlton signed professional forms for Manchester United and thus began one of the most illustrious footballing careers.
That impending anniversary had slipped Sir Bobby’s mind until I mention it. His passion for game and club is undimmed, but his attention is on a new goal now.
‘Someone is killed or maimed by a landmine every two hours,’ says Sir Bobby. ‘There are 110m active landmines in place, and to clear them using current technologies would cost an estimated $30bn and take over a thousand years.’
It was on trips to Sarajevo and Cambodia, organised by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, that Sir Bobby saw the awful damage done by landmines to people and communities, and came to understand the enormous task of removing that threat.
Sir Bobby talks with horror and incomprehension at how landmines are so often found under trees - the very places where people tend to seek shelter - or on football fields, where the most likely victims are children at play.
‘Most of the people injured and killed were kids,’ he says. ‘When I was coming home, I thought, this is crazy. I thought there must be a better way of doing this.’
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And so the title of the charity Sir Bobby founded three years ago was Find A Better Way. The charity - based at Booths Park, Knutsford - has been able to coax donations of over £4m from the business world. Relationships have been forged with universities, including the University of Manchester, and cash is now committed to research to improve landmine detection techniques (much the same as they were in the Second World War) and improve the lives of victims. In partnership with Imperial College, London, FABW is funding training in amputation techniques for doctors from countries affected by landmines. The charity also wants to bring victims help in the form of affordable prosthetics.
You wonder how a man approaching his 77th birthday on October 11, and with an important role as an ambassador for Manchester United, could also find time and energy to launch a charity with such ambitious aims.
‘Manchester United has always been my passion, and I’d got to the stage I was on the board,’ he says. ‘But midweek, I had all the time I wanted. I have all my friends in Manchester in the business community. The response I got from my pals was fantastic.
‘I’m happy doing this, and it’s an inspiration when you see the work going on. It’s just magic. I never in my wildest dreams thought we could do so much.’
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that the Charlton name, with its echoes of halcyon days for English football, can conjure such generosity. And yet the might of his football achievements is matched only by his modesty off the pitch.
He was there in English football’s finest hour - the 1966 World Cup victory against West Germany, and also at one of its darkest, surviving the 1958 Munich air disaster to become a lynchpin in a new generation of Busby Babes. Apart from the OBE, CBE, the knighthood and the freedom of the city of Manchester, Sir Bobby has that rare distinction of seeing a statue raised to him in his lifetime: he is one of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Reds greats, along with Denis Law and George Best, outside Old Trafford.
More than 40 years after he played his last game for Manchester United, Sir Bobby remains the most prolific goal-scorer of all time for club and country: 249 for Manchester United and 49 for England. Both records may one day fall to Wayne Rooney.
‘I can’t think of anyone more likely to do it,’ Sir Bobby muses. ‘I’ve already said so to him when we pass in the corridors at Manchester United. He’s always very polite, asks “How are you?”. He’s a great lad, and I’ve a lot of time for him. I’ve told him ‘”If you break the record, I’ll be delighted to present it to you at Old Trafford”.
‘He will do it. I don’t worry too much. I’m quite surprised it’s taken so long for somebody to catch up.’ n
For more about Sir Bobby Charlton’s charity, see www.findabetterway.org.uk
Why I love Cheshire
Cheshire has been home for Sir Bobby Charlton since 1953. He and wife Norma once lived in Lymm, but with two daughters, Suzanne and Andrea, they sought somewhere bigger, and Norma spotted a house in Knutsford coming up for auction.
‘I had to ask my accountant how far I could go. He said I could go to £43,000,’ says Sir Bobby. ‘That was a fortune then. Anyway, we went to the auction and, at £59,000, I was still bidding.’
Forty years on, he says: ‘I love Knutsford and everything it stands for.’
Inevitably, one of Cheshire’s other attractions for this diehard Red is that it is just down the road from Old Trafford.
1937: Robert Charlton born on October 11 in Ashington, Northumberland, son of a colliery coal cutter
1953: Spotted by a Manchester United scout while playing for East Northumberland Schools. Joined the Reds as an amateur, signing professional forms the following year.
1958: On February 6, Manchester United were returning from a European Cup match when the plane crashed on take-off. The Munich air disaster claimed the lives of 20 of the 44 people on board, including eight players. Bobby survived
1959: Met Norma Ball at a Manchester ice rink, married in 1961.
1966: England won the World Cup final 4-2 against West Germany, with both Bobby and brother Jack in the team.
1968: Bobby captained Manchester United to 4-1 victory in the European Cup final against Benfica, scoring two of the goals.
1973: Retired from Manchester United after 758 appearances, a record bettered only by Ryan Giggs.
1984: Appointed to board of directors of Manchester United.
1994: Bobby becomes Sir Bobby.
2008: Sir Bobby receives BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.