A gruff ex­te­rior hid a sen­si­tive and warm soul

World Cup win­ner ad­mit­ted his time as Ire­land man­ager ran 1966 close

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer Death Of Jack Charlton -

An out­pour­ing of af­fec­tion, which might have flat­tered roy­alty, was the pre­dictable re­ac­tion to the news that Jack Charl­ton, a great trav­eller in a crowded life, had made his last jour­ney on Fri­day evening.

For close on 60 of his 85 years, his was a name which res­onated across the con­ti­nents. And nowhere did it gen­er­ate a greater sense of warmth and ap­pre­ci­a­tion than in Ire­land.

The Charl­ton years, em­bel­lished in song and story, tran­scended sport. For those who strug­gled through the mis­ery of the 1980s, they rep­re­sented a light­house to a bet­ter and brighter life.

It was at a fu­neral ser­vice in Manch­ester for the late Bob Wil­liams, a news­pa­per col­league of mine who lost his life in tragic cir­cum­stances, that I first en­coun­tered Charl­ton on a per­sonal level in the 1960s.

As north­ern sports ed­i­tor of the Daily Tele­graph, Wil­liams cov­ered Leeds United’s games on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and I was greatly im­pressed by the fact that the great ma­jor­ity of the Leeds squad were present for the ser­vice.

That was an op­por­tune char­ac­ter assess­ment of the man and talk­ing with Jack later I was at once taken by his hon­esty. And that was a trait that I came to ad­mire when he ar­rived in Dublin in 1986 to take charge of an Ire­land squad which had un­der­per­formed in fail­ing to make the cut for the fi­nals of World Cups and Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

Ge­ordieland

What you saw is what you got, a true son of Ge­ordieland in the north east of Eng­land, who told it as it was, re­veal­ing a streak of hon­esty which was im­pos­si­ble to over­state.

On the face of it he was a gruff in­di­vid­ual who didn’t suf­fer pre­tence eas­ily. The re­al­ity was that he was a very sen­si­tive per­son.

Like many peo­ple in the north east of Eng­land, Charl­ton con­sid­ered that he had more in com­mon with the Ir­ish than those run­ning the coun­try from Lon­don.

And that feel­ing was re­in­forced in 1971 when he trav­elled with Leeds United for a friendly game in Water­ford. The flight was routed to Cork where a fleet of cars were on hand to trans­port play­ers, club of­fi­cials and sundry oth­ers to Water­ford.

It so hap­pened that the driver of the car in which Charl­ton was seated was a tri­fle thirsty and they had only gone a few miles down the road when he and his pas­sen­gers pulled into a pub for re­fresh­ments.

As Jack re­called it, there were at least three other pit stops be­fore ar­riv­ing in Water­ford suitably re­laxed.

Don Re­vie, the Leeds man­ager wasn’t best pleased to say the least, but the man who would later be­come the king of Ir­ish foot­ball was smit­ten by the in­for­mal­ity of it all and the man­ner in which the in­ci­dent was quickly writ­ten off.

For close on 10 years, he of­ten ap­peared to hold the coun­try in the palm of his hands as he led the Repub­lic of Ire­land squad to fi­nals of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Ger­many in 1988 and then the fi­nals of the World Cup which fol­lowed in Italy and the US.

Celebrity

To keep a small coun­try at the cut­ting edge of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball for so long was an as­ton­ish­ing achieve­ment for any man­ager and it earned him a rep­u­ta­tion which was the envy of many of his peers.

As a World Cup win­ner with Eng­land he was a celebrity long be­fore he was awarded the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing Ire­land to more fer­tile fields.

Long af­ter he left the FAI to set­tle into re­tire­ment at his home in New­cas­tle, he was still eu­phoric about the re­cep­tion he got from Ir­ish peo­ple.

He once said: “to win a World Cup medal with your na­tive coun­try is the supreme achieve­ment for any player but, in my case, the time I spent with Ire­land ran it close”.

“And one of the most re­ward­ing as­pects of the job was the way ev­ery­body in Ire­land got be­hind the squad, at that point, they were far and away the best sup­port­ers in the world.

“At a time when vi­o­lence was rife at foot­ball games across Europe and be­yond, our sup­port­ers were a credit to the coun­try and that gave me a sense of sat­is­fac­tion which equals any­thing achieved on the pitch.”

By the time he had fin­ished his term of of­fice in Dublin he would be re­garded by many as more Ir­ish than Bri­tish, a sharp con­trast to some of the scep­tics who had warned against the gam­ble of seek­ing a non-na­tional to man­age the team.

Con­grat­u­la­tions

A cou­ple of years ago on the oc­ca­sion of his birth­day I talked with him on the tele­phone and in­vited my grand­son to of­fer his con­grat­u­la­tions on the phone to the Big Man.

“We all sing songs about you, when we go to watch big games in the Aviva Sta­dium,” he told him, where­upon Jack asked him to sing one.

He launched into a not par­tic­u­larly skilled ver­sion of ‘We’re all part of Jackie’s army . . . ”

When he fin­ished Jack ap­par­ently handed the phone to his wife who in turn asked me what had gone on dur­ing the call.

“That ex­plains why he ap­peared to be so emo­tional,” was her re­sponse.

To win a World Cup medal with your na­tive coun­try is the supreme achieve­ment for any player but, in my case, the time I spent with Ire­land ran it close

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