FAREWELL BIG JACK CHARLTON 1935-2020



The Charlton brothers were such a fixture of my childhood, especially Jack, to whom my father was close. They adored each other. Jack and Pat, Mum and Dad were quite the foursome, gadding about Spain in their younger days. Some memories.

Jack and Bob fell out spectacularly after their mother Cissie died in 1996. Jack was affronted that his brother hadn't gone to see her before she faded. He blamed Bob's wife Norma for that. There was history, isn't there always. Bobby later wrote about the rift in his autobiography, which made things worse. Jack, of course, recalled things differently. He went to the papers and spilled his side, branding Bobby's girl 'hoity-toity'. They made up in grief at the 2018 funeral of fellow '66 World Cup squadder Ray Wilson.

Bob and Jack were chalk and cheese all their lives. Like my father, they were sons of the coal mine: in their case, Northumberland, to my family's Welsh valleys. It was their mother who coached them, hailing as she did from a footballing clan. Though Bobby was claimed early by Manchester United, his elder sibling did his National Service with the Household Cavalry and scoffed off a trial with Leeds United to follow his father down the pit. He soon found, like my grandfather Emlyn, what a terrible gig that was. Gasping back into the light, Jack dragged his heels to join the police force. Then he remembered the Leeds offer, and went back cap in hand. He wound up spending his entire playing career there.

During those heady days while Jack was steering the Republic of Ireland's national team to glory, maverick YOU Magazine editor Nick Gordon had the idea that I should interview Jack and Bobby together. Both agreed readily, because my dad pulled the strings. But they'd see me separately, they said. Never at the same time..

Bobby met me off the train at Manchester Piccadilly in a hand-polished Jag. He was exquisitely attired in tailored suit, silk tie and camel coat. He smelled of Acqua di Parma soap. He held open the door for me. He took me to lunch at the elegant Midland Hotel, where he pulled out my chair, unfolded my napkin, ordered champagne and insisted on paying the bill. The interview was measured, polite and gracious.

A week or so later I boarded a train at Kings Cross bound for Newcastle. Jack's wife Pat met me at the station and drove me back to theirs. Nothing grand. Jack was out on the Tweed, she said. Gone fishing. She banged a shepherds' pie from the oven onto the plastic covered kitchen table and handed me a ladle. Then she parked me in front of the telly to await the big guy's return. He strode in eventually at about News at Ten, stinking damp and river-dank in ancient jeans and a cat-basket sweatshirt. 'Drink?' I wouldn't mind a G&T, I said. He returned from the kitchen moments later with a huge bottle of Gordon's, a 2-litre bottle of supermarket tonic and a pint mug. 'Mix it yourself,' he said. 'Don't hold back.'

The interview took place next morning, strolling around the back garden. Much of his talk was about my grandad, who had risen from the pit to play for Everton. 'Real people,' Jack muttered. 'Those are the ones who impress me. The ones who've been as down as down gets. To rise to the top from the bottom of a black hole is twice the struggle. Twice the journey. It took twice the amount of effort. Those folk are the lesson we have to learn. We must never forget where we came from. We mustn't stray far. If we do, we must always come back. We're done-for, otherwise.'

Dementia did for Jack. He hasn't been here for a good few years, now. His release into the wild yesterday will be a blessed relief to his family. May he be downing a pint with my Dad as we speak. Reliving the glory days. There were plenty of those.


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