Big Jack Charlton died today aged 85. The World Cup winner was at the heart of the Leeds United defence of my childhood, along with Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter who recently died of Covid aged 76.
Norman became a media pundit and was still a familiar face at Elland Road until his death. Big Jack went on to transform Irish football after the FAI accidentally selected him as manager.
When Norman was a teenage apprentice, Leeds were not going to keep him. Then Don Revie took over and signed him immediately. Norman saw that signing as the highlight of his career, because none of the rest would have happened without it.
He and Big Jack helped Leeds to get promoted from the second division and dominate English football in the late sixties and early seventies. Norman was a hard tackler and once had a fight with Derby County’s Francis Lee, but he was always a gentleman off the field.
Norman was part of England’s World Cup squad in Mexico 1970. He went on to play for Bristol City and to manage Bristol and Barnsley. He then coached children and worked as a media pundit. After he died this year of Covid, the club named the stadium’s south stand after him.
Big Jack came from a footballing family. His brother Bobby played for Manchester United, four of his uncles played football, and his mother was related to Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn.
He described his own role by saying “I wasn’t very good at playing football. But I was very good at stopping other people playing football.” The first part of that was self-deprecatory nonsense. You don’t win a World Cup medal without being good at playing football.
He went on to manage Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle, where he developed his uncompromising style of putting the opposing team under pressure. His selection as Ireland manager says much about both the FAI, RTE, and Charlton.
The FAI messed up a vote that was meant to appoint Bob Paisley as manager. On RTE, Late Late Show host Gay Byrne told the nation: “I have just been handed a piece of paper here that says that Jack Charlton has been appointed manager of Ireland.. whatever that means.”
Months after interviewing him in a motorway café, the FAI couldn’t find Charlton to offer him the job. Charlton’s friend Jimmy Armfield rang him at his holiday hunting lodge: “Congratulations on getting the job, Jack.” “What job?” “Manager of Ireland.” “Oh. I’d forgotten about that.”
Charlton went on to transform Irish football. He brought us to the European finals in Germany 1988, and to the World Cup finals in Italy 1990 and USA 1994. For the first time in my life, the Irish nation united around our football team, and it was under an English manager.
Trevor Cherry, who captained Leeds in the late seventies, also died this year of a heart attack aged 72. Hunter, Cherry, and Charlton join Don Revie, Albert Johanneson, Billy Bremner, Gary Sprake, David Stewart, and Paul Madeley as departed Leeds legends of that wonderful era.