As a Teenager, I Watched Man United Secure the 1968 European Cup on a Black-and-White TV: The Presence of Sir Bobby Charlton Made It Must-Watch

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It’s not an assertion I would make about any other player, but I can say with some conviction that if I had ever come up against Bobby Charlton on a football field, I would not have wanted to tackle him for fearing of injuring him.

That’s the stature and the golden aura that Sir Bobby carried. Our careers never crossed but I am of a generation who witnessed, first-hand, the part he played in helping Manchester United come back from the Munich Disaster — which robbed the club of the most wonderfully talented young players — to win the European Cup in 1968.

For me, he became the greatest ever English player in the process, though Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan at Liverpool always insisted that Tom Finney was the best.

I vividly remember that 1968 final against Benfica at Wembley. It was nothing like the three attritional European Cup finals I played in for Liverpool.

It was a spectacular game which I watched as a 15-year-old with my dad and brothers, gathered around the black and white TV we had in our Edinburgh home. We watched that game because of Bobby Charlton and George Best.

In my opinion, Sir Bobby Charlton is the greatest ever English footballer to play the game

I remember watching 1968 European Cup final against Benfica on a black-and-white TV and we only tuned in because of Sir Bobby (pictured with the trophy) and George Best

I remember watching 1968 European Cup final against Benfica on a black-and-white TV and we only tuned in because of Sir Bobby (pictured with the trophy) and George Best 

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I didn’t know Sir Bobby that well, but I did meet him on holiday about 12 years ago, when we were staying in the same hotel in Spain.

My wife and I had dinner with him and Norma, Lady Charlton, and I was astonished to find that he was more interested in talking about my career than his own.

I was sitting there thinking, ‘This is the greatest English player of all time, he’s won the World Cup, scored a couple of goals in the European Cup final and he doesn’t want to talk about himself!’ What a truly humble and self-effacing man he was. What a remarkable human being.

I witnessed during my time at Liverpool the way an entire city can be affected by the death of a legend after Bill Shankly died in September 1981.

There’s so much emotion attached to it before the game, though as a player you refocus pretty quickly on the football. What was the case for us back then will be the case for Manchester United on Sunday, with the derby at Old Trafford. United have really got their work cut out. The Champions League win over FC Copenhagen on Tuesday cannot disguise how poor United were for well over an hour.

For me, Sheffield United were the better team for most of last Saturday evening’s game, too, despite their 2-1 defeat.

I see in Erik ten Hag a manager trying to absolve himself of any blame for the form of the players he bought and for some reason not managing to get a tune from the best of those he inherited.

For whatever reason, Marcus Rashford still doesn’t look a happy bunny. It’s hard to know why, given that he’s playing for one of the world’s great football clubs, is approaching his prime years and earns a shedload of money. I know the first question I’d ask if I ever bump into him: ‘Why do you look so unhappy, son?’

The word you associate with all great players is ‘consistency’. Consistency to perform at the highest level and make a big contribution to your team almost every week.

But too often during his career, Rashford has not managed that. He went absent for a year, before last season when we thought, ‘Rashford’s back’.

Right now, he’s not the same player we saw last season. Those who fluctuate from good to average are not great players and I’m afraid we still don’t know to which category Rashford belongs.

I have to say that the ongoing Jadon Sancho saga also bewilders me, as did his approach when Ten Hag said publicly that he needed to work harder in training.

To Sancho, I would say: ‘He’s the boss. If he thinks you can do more, take it on the chin and do more. Don’t challenge the manager on social media.’

There can be only one winner here — and it’s certainly not Sancho — for the sake of the manager, going forward, and for that United squad.

The Sancho situation typifies what’s wrong with football now. The tail wags the dog.

These young players today are earning a fortune, they’ve got millions following them on social media and a lot of them have a very inflated opinion of themselves. They really need to get back to basics.

It’s up to the people close to them, whether it’s family members or advisers, to tell them how life works. To tell them how the real world works.

City have Rodri — the best defensive midfield player in our league — back after a period in which they missed him.

There will have been lots of emotion attached to Sir Bobby's death at United in the past week

There will have been lots of emotion attached to Sir Bobby’s death at United in the past week

But I worry for them against Man City on Sunday and in Erik ten Hag I see a manager who seems to be trying to absolve himself of any blame for his players struggles so far this season

But I worry for them against Man City on Sunday and in Erik ten Hag I see a manager who seems to be trying to absolve himself of any blame for his players struggles so far this season 

And don’t forget Erling Haaland, either. He’s deceptive. He might have had a relatively quiet start to the season, but he’s still the Premier League’s top scorer. He can afford to have a quiet game. He can touch the ball only six or seven times in a match and still score. Scary.

The fact the game is at Old Trafford will make no difference to Manchester City’s approach because they only play one way — trying to dominate the ball, being on the front foot.

In their heyday, United would have been saying, ‘Come on then, we’ll take you on in a goalfest’. But those days are gone, for now at least. For United, it’s about containment.

They will be the apprehensive team on the day, given their performances in the last couple of games. They will have to come up with a game plan, while for City it will be simply, ‘We’re going to dominate you and outscore you and win the game’.

United are taking a fair bit of criticism but there are always two results which can get them out of that situation and turn their season around. Beat Manchester City or beat Liverpool. It’s a very different mood among the supporters and the camp if you achieve either of those.

What better time to stand up, be counted and achieve that than Sunday at Old Trafford, where images of United’s greatest player hang from the front of the stadium and where a sea of flowers has been laid?

This is their chance to change things and prove me and thousands of supporters wrong in the process.

 

I’ll miss Franny Lee 

I was sad to say goodbye to Franny Lee at his funeral the week before last. I got to know Franny after we met at a wedding in Spain. 

I would regularly bump into him in Portugal and we would sometimes play golf together. He was a good golfer, extremely competitive in that sport, as he was football. 

But, more than that, he was a really, really interesting character, full of mischief, with a great sense of humour and razor-sharp intellect and wit — even as his health declined.

He was great company and I will never forget that mischievous way of his. I’ll miss him.

I was sad to say goodbye to Franny Lee at his funeral the week before last. He was great company and I will never forget that mischievous way of his

I was sad to say goodbye to Franny Lee at his funeral the week before last. He was great company and I will never forget that mischievous way of his

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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