Big Jack… shrewd and forthright football man
Posted on July 11, 2020
HE WOULD be the first to admit that he was not the most sophisticated player or that he never expected to win the honours that came his way, but Jack Charlton was every bit a “football man”, from his club career at Leeds to his time as a manager that gave Ireland its finest moments in the international game.
Jack wasn’t just Bobby’s older brother, the fact he played a key role in Leeds United’s glory years and also won the World Cup tells you that managers identified the value the lanky centre half brought to a team. Uncompromising, perhaps, a little tactless at times, but nobody could accuse Jackie Charlton of being “establishment” or out of a box, he was a unique figure. And there was the legendary “black book”, packed with details of those that had upset Jack in his career.
Alf Ramsey saw Jack as the perfect foil for the more skilful Bobby Moore on the pitch when they turned out for England, but he formed a fearsome partnership with the equally tough Norman Hunter in Leeds’ defence.
He was a character who spoke his mind, hence the TV panels loved his blunt, to the point views on the game. He also liked blokey activities like shooting and fishing and enjoyed a cigarette during and after training. He provided, in many ways, one of the bridges between the austere 1950s and the super soaraway 1970s, coming from an era of chunky boots, laced balls and brylcreem and ending his career alongside teams of playboys in football shirts.
Born in Ashington, Northumberland in May 1935, Jack and Bobby were the nephews of legendary Newcastle United centre forward Jackie Milburn. Their mother, Cissie, was very influential in nurturing their love of football. Jack made his debut for Leeds United in 1953 and for years, there was no hint of what was to follow. Don Revie, when he took over at Elland Road, wasn’t over-keen on Jack or his style. He became something of a thorn in Revie’s side for he was not an easy player to manage and his personal frustration that his kid brother was enjoying great success at Manchester United gnawed away at him. In fact, in 1962, he told Jack that he was prepared to let him leave the club and both Liverpool and Manchester United expressed an interest. Neither was prepared to pay the asking price, so Jack stayed on and was pivotal in Leeds United’s rise.
Revie used Jack’s intimidating presence as a tactic to unsettle opponents, particularly at corners where he would stand in front of the goalkeeper, earning the nickname “the dirty giraffe” from opposition fans. But it was an effective ploy and even England used it, notably in 1969-70 when Jack scored the winning goal against Portugal at Wembley, with commentator David Coleman just calling “Jack!” as the ball was headed in from point blank range.
His England career didn’t begin until he was almost 30, debuting against Scotland in April 1965. Alf Ramsey liked the way he slotted in and although there were centre halves with more finesse, big Jack suited the system better than other possibles. When England won the World Cup, Jack was genuinely surprised at how modest the medal was: “It was given to me a tiny cardboard box – the World Cup – it seemed really odd,” he later recalled.
At Leeds, Jack won almost everything there was to win, although he also picked-up plenty of runners-up prizes, too. He finally retired in 1973, immediately taking up a position as Middlesbrough’s manager and winning promotion in his first season and was named “Manager of the Year”.
Jack’s pragmatism and openness prompted people to believe he would have a successful post-playing career. “He will be settled and know where he’s going very quickly. He’s his own man,” said one leading journalist at the time.
While he managed to squeeze a lot out of Middlesbrough’s limited resources, taking the club to the upper reaches of the top division, he also had a six-year spell with Sheffield Wednesday. However, he will be best remembered for his time as manager of the Republic of Ireland. Jack took them to two World Cups and the 1988 European Championship where they beat England 1-0. The Irish side, which resembled a Football League team with a rigid 4-4-2 formation, became media darlings, with their all-grinning coach and squad built around players with – sometimes a little tenuous – Irish heritage. Jack was granted the Freedom of Dublin for his efforts in 1994 and became known as an honorary Irishman. There is a statue of him in Cork Airport, in typical fishing attire and holding a salmon. In 2012, he was also given the Freedom of the City of Leeds.
Jack disappeared from view for some years and had struggled with illness. In an age when football folk offer little more than anodyne, “safety-first” comments, the views of people like the Leeds and England legend (and this is an appropriate term) are greatly missed. Jack’s physique, and his opinions, demonstrated that here was a man never afraid to stick his neck out. RIP big man.