Whether Jack Charlton was on the football pitch or casting a line into a Scottish river. Or hoisting a glass of Irish stout he could never be mistaken for anyone else.
He had ‘character’ in every pore and sinew. After covering a match at Elland Road, I received a message that the Leeds United manager, Don Revie, wanted to see me in his office. I feared a reprimand was coming; had I written something previously that might have angered him? Revie offered me a beer and then said: ‘I hear you are a friend of Jack Charlton.’
I nodded a yes and Revie said: ‘In that case you have a friend for life.’
Jack Charlton had character in every pore and sinew; his loyalty was unshakeable
Charlton couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else – he was hugely respected by his team-mates
He was right. But he had many friends. His loyalty was unshakeable. He had a bark as they say, but humour was never far behind. His players at club and country level loved him.
There was a night in Germany, the eve of a big European Championship match, with Republic of Ireland players and staff, when one of the trainers whispered to Jack, asking if he might have a beer. Jack’s Geordie voice boomed: ‘They can all have a beer. A pint is better than that bloody Coca Cola they’re drinking.’
His players loved him and Ireland’s participation in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups established his legendary status in his adopted country. Sometimes he was misrepresented as a man reluctant to part with his money, a bit shy at the bar, perhaps.
It’s something of a shame that Charlton didn’t get the opportunity to be England manager
That’s a nonsense. It’s true he was rarely able to pay when he walked into a Dublin bar but that was because no one would let him. He also had a barrel of Guinness in his room which invited guests were able to share.
Never to be forgotten in my mind is the night after England had won the World Cup in 1966. The official celebration banquet was at the Royal Garden Hotel. I wandered into the foyer just as Jack was emerging from the function.
He said: ‘Come on, you and I are going out for a few drinks. The others are all here with their wives and girlfriends. Pat (his wife) is at home waiting to have the baby.’
I protested: ‘But Jack, I’ve only got a tenner on me.’
He pulled a wad of notes from his top pocket and smiled, saying: ‘I got this for wearing those boots today, so we’ll spend this and we’ll spend your tenner too.’
Thousands of people were blocking the road outside. We were stumped until Jack and I crept down the slope to the street as we stooped behind Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s car. Imagine that with today’s security.
As a coach Charlton showed that he was incredibly knowledgeable and an original thinker
Charlton, pictured with brother Bobby, enjoyed a night to remember after winning the World Cup in 1966
We jumped into a taxi that was already occupied and apologised to the passenger. He had no idea of Jack’s identity and in a cultured, very English voice said: ‘I believe there’s been some kind of football occasion today.’
While we said we would take him to his destination and pay the fare he talked incessantly about an organ recital he was about to give at the Wigmore Hall.
We went straight to the Astor Club and as we walked in the band abruptly stopped playing and everyone rose to applaud Jack. We never bought a drink all night as bottles kept arriving. The couple at the next table invited us back to their house in Leytonstone and we woke up in armchairs as the Sunday papers came through the letterbox.
Back at the hotel, the England manager, Alf Ramsey, was waiting, stone-faced. The players were running late for a photo shoot. “Jack, where have you been? Your bed hasn’t been slept in.”
Jack produced a slip of paper that read: “If found return this body to the Royal Garden Hotel.”
Memories of Jack, but there are any more. He could be uncompromising but there was golden heart within. Fishing was such a passion that when he was manager of Sheffield Wednesday on an FA Cup run, the supporters took to singing: “We’ll be running round Wembley with a trout.”
As a coach he was incredibly knowledgeable and an original thinker. He took his Middlesbrough to Anfield when Liverpool were in their Shankly era pomp. No one gave Jack’s team a chance. He revealed later: “I decided that if we didn’t have a centre forward Ron Yeats and Co would have no one to mark.”
Although Charlton could be uncompromising at times, there was a golden heart within him
He told Alan Foggon to run with the ball from midfield. Liverpool were confused and Middlesbrough surprised everyone with a win.
In that vein, Jack moulded a mix of players into a formidable group, using his tactical nous. They were a revelation as they were for years later opening that World Cup with an astonishing win against Italy in New York.
It’s something of a shame that he did not get to manage England. He would have made the very best of the players on offer.
Now, as we say farewell to my old mate, a huge sadness is tempered, thankfully, by memories of all that he gave to football at club and country level.
I can see him now, singing his favourite Irish song in front of his players and anyone else who happened to be in the bar or at a post match reception. He wasn’t a gifted vocalist but he could belt out “Dublin in the Rare Old Times” and then they would all sing “Molly Malone.” It was almost a ritual.
He loved the Irish. And they loved him. Didn’t we all?