Sir Bobby Charlton: The humble genius loved and respected throughout world football

Former teammate Brian Kidd pays tribute to Manchester United and England great

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Brian Kidd has just heard the news that has created a deep sense of mourning at Manchester United, in English and indeed world football, and he needs to wipe away his tears.

“Bobby’s modesty and humility for a world class player were incredible,” says his former teammate on learning that the great Sir Bobby Charlton had passed away on Saturday morning, aged 86.

“Bobby wasn’t vocal, he just let his football do the talking. A simple, ‘Hey, come on', was enough to let me know that he wanted more. He led by example to young lads like me. He was emphatic yet so demanding. He challenged me because he wanted to help me. He set the standards for others to follow.”

A graduate of United’s youth academy, Charlton played 758 times for the club between 1956 and 1973, an appearance record which was only broken by Ryan Giggs in 2008. Charlton scored 249 goals for United, making him the club’s highest all-time goalscorer for 40 years until surpassed by Wayne Rooney. But Charlton was about more than incredible numbers.

“You knew you couldn’t get near him as a player, but you did your best to get into the same team as him,” added Kidd. “I played with George (Best), Denis (Law) and Bobby. Three truly world-class players in the same part of the pitch. Three European Footballers of the Year.

“I defy anyone to say whether Bobby was left or right footed. He was perfect with both. Not only was he two footed, Bobby was graceful – he’d glide across the ground. He was elegant, he had this wonderful body swerve, too. He’d pick the ball up anywhere and he was a threat to opponents, he could hit the ball hard and accurately from distance. See some of his best goals. He wasn’t known for his heading ability yet he scored in the European Cup final with his head.

“Bobby was a great Manchester United man. He gave everything for the club. He saw his friends die at Munich. And he came back from that to win the FA Cup, League titles, the European Cup.”

Kidd was 12 years younger. “Bobby was close friends with Shay Brennan and Nobby Stiles and I went to the same school as Nobby in Collyhurst,” he added.

Manchester United’s players will wear black armbands at Sheffield United. A pre-planned minute’s silence will be expanded to pay respect to Sir Bobby. A wreath will be laid at the Trinity Statue of Charlton, Best and Law at Old Trafford on behalf of the club as fans begin to lay floral tributes at the stadium.

A book of condolences will be open from Sunday morning at Old Trafford too. Discussions are taking place regarding commemorative plans ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Copenhagen at Old Trafford.

Charlton was the European Footballer of the Year in 1966, the year he won the World Cup with England. He played 106 times for his country and scored 49 goals, both records at the time. Sir Alex Ferguson described him as “unquestionably the greatest player of all time".

“Sir Bobby was a hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world,” said Manchester United in a statement. “He was admired so much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer. Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game.”

One of his greatest goals came in the 1967 Charity Shield against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, a goal set up by Kidd.

“That was a goal good enough to win the league, the cup, the Charity Shield, the World Cup and even the Grand National!” said the Pathe news television commentator at the time.

Kidd and Charlton finished that season superbly, Charlton scoring twice in the 4-1 win against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final, the second set up by Kidd, who’d scored on his 19th birthday.

“I saw Brian wipe away the tears as he returned to the centre circle,” said midfielder Paddy Crerand. United led 3-1.

“I couldn’t see the fans in the dark but I could hear them,” said Charlton of Kidd’s goal. “I could hear the joy and the first singing. I had to hold back the tears that would make my eyes sting when I thought about what this meant.”

“A few minutes later Kidd centred for Bobby Charlton to hit of a gem of a shot,” said Crerand. Manchester United 4 Benfica 1. Ten years after the Munich air disaster.

Charlton coined the phrase ‘Theatre of Dreams’ to describe Old Trafford, where the main stand is named after him, and he played an enormous part in making it so.

And Kidd is wiping away the tears again.

Updated: October 21, 2023, 5:58 PM