English football legend and World Cup winner, Sir Bobby Charlton, who recently passed away at 86, had left an indelible mark not just in his home country but also in Australia.
While his exploits for Manchester United and the England national side are well storied, his efforts to kick the game off in Australia are sometimes lost and forgotten.
But at an age where most players have long hung up the boots, Charlton spent weeks in Australia to help promote the newly minted National Soccer League and even turned out to play at the ripe old age of 40.
The National Soccer League had kicked off in 1977 and despite the fact Charlton had retired from professional football four years earlier, he was eventually tempted out of retirement to help build the profile of the league.
His became the oldest player in top-flight Australian football when he played for Sydney’s Blacktown City in 1980. Despite it being a brief stint, Charlton’s contribution to the sport in Australia was significant and memorable.
Charlton may not have been at his flashy best when he lined up for Blacktown Workers but he helped bring the crowds in and bring credibility to the National Soccer League
Charlton also played two games for Perth Azzuri in the NSL night league during a stint in Australia
Charlton’s debut for Blacktown City came amid difficult weather conditions, yet he managed to score a goal just six minutes into the game, leading his team to a 4-2 victory over St George.
His goal may not have been as spectacular as those he was known for, but it served its purpose and demonstrated Charlton’s enduring prowess on the field.
Blacktown City’s CEO at the time Peter Thorne previously told Sporting News how the fledgling club was able to secure the signature of one of the biggest names in world football.
‘It actually originated from Terry Seacy, who was a referee. He worked for Dunlop at Bankstown and he just sort of came to us and said ‘Look, I think I can get Bobby Charlton to come out’ and looking at anything that was going to promote the game we were certainly in line for that,’ he said.
“It was good at the time for Blacktown to get Charlton out because he was the Pele of the English game.”
The club has also paid tribute to Charlton following his recent passing.
‘Blacktown City FC honours the passing of Bobby Charlton at the age of 86. Widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, he was a member of the England team that won the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the year he also won the Ballon d’Or,’ the club said in a statement.
‘Charlton played almost all of his club football at Manchester United, where he became renowned for his attacking instincts, passing abilities from midfield, ferocious long-range shot, fitness, and stamina.
‘Charlton enjoyed great success at club level with United, who became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968.
‘Charlton had a connection with Blacktown City FC, having played one game for BCFC on March 9th 1980, scoring a goal in his last ever professional match.’
The Manchester United icon was not finished with Australia following his appearance for Blacktown Workers, though.
He made three guest appearances for Perth Azzurri, even scoring twice at the age of 42.
Now-defunct NSL club Newcastle KB United was also able to convince the great Charlton to play a match for them
Charlton has been remembered for his giving nature by all that got to meet him during his time spent in Australia
His last game for Perth was marked by an exceptional individual goal that showcased Charlton’s skill and agility, further cementing his status as a football superstar.
Off the pitch, Charlton worked tirelessly to promote the sport during his three-week stay in Western Australia. He engaged with the community through seminars, social gatherings, school visits, and hospital tours, spreading the football gospel far and wide.
‘RIP one of England’s greatest footballers Sir Bobby Charlton,’ Perth Soccer Club said in a statement.
‘Sir Bobby made several guest appearances for Perth Azzurri in 1980 during the Night Series. An icon of the game, it was an honour and privilege to have you wear our sky blue shirt. RIP Sir Bobby ‘
Charlton also lined up for a single appearance for the now-defunct Newcastle KB United during his time in Australia.
His presence in Australia’s National Soccer League helped to increase its profile and draw in fans, contributing to the growth and development of the sport in the country at a time when it was battling for relevance against the likes of Aussie Rules and rugby league.