JONATHAN Wilson’s latest book is another compelling read, underlining his place among the best historians of the game. Two Brothers is the bio of Bobby and Jack Charlton, both members of England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup team. It’s a story that has been told before, but never as comprehensively.
Jack is no longer with us and Bobby has dementia, a cruel condition that has hit so many of the Charlton brothers’ contemporaries. Wilson provides a well-rounded picture of their lives, but he also narrates the story with greater objectivity than most previous writers. Bobby, for example, comes across as a somewhat awkward character, a worrier and a pillar of the establishment. This persona doesn’t make him especially popular with some people, although nobody would ever deny that he is one of the greatest players ever produced by England.
Of course, Bobby’s life was not without its tragedy and Munich 1958 would have shaped his personality from a young age. Bobby was/is a Manchester United man through and through, a human being with values, morals and standards. Little wonder that he didn’t get on too well with George Best and even Denis Law. Bobby straddled post-war austerity Britain and the swinging sixties, but he looked very out of place in the latter. Best was the epitome of the 60s playboy, but Wilson presents an honest assessment of the Northern Ireland international, reflecting on the player’s self-pitying and lack of loyalty as well as his part in United’s early 1970s decline.
Bobby’s football career ended in 1973, although he had a brief flirtation with management. Jack, by contrast, was more suited to running a team. His career with Leeds United was every bit as interesting as Bobby’s at Old Trafford. Jack initially clashed with Don Revie, but was shaped into a formidable centre half. While Jack was all about function, Bobby “our kid”, was about form. Jack may have won a third of Bobby’s 106 England caps, but he played in a Leeds team that was every bit as good as Matt Busby’s third great United side of the mid-1960s. The Charltons’ England careers ended in the heat of Mexico in 1970.
They both retired in 1973, but few worried what would come next for Jack. Indeed, his managerial career ebbed and flowed according to his own designs, and he would later win the hearts of the Irish people in taking the Republic to the World Cup in 1990 and 1994.
Bobby, meanwhile, took a more ambassadorial role when it came to football, but his elder brother could never be as tactful or careful. Although Bobby was always respected for his football and place in the game, Jack was liked because he was straight forward, painfully honest, gregarious and amusing.
A decent book had to be written about Bobby and Jack Charlton and the only regret is that neither could add their own contribution to the story. Those that had the good fortune to see them play in their pomp will delight in recalling their colourful careers. Once again, Jonathan Wilson’s ability to illuminate is there for all to see, even if we are only too aware that Bobby and Jack have been household names for over half a century.