News

Charming and soft spoken, but ferocious on the pitch

Mickey Ambrose and friends pay tribute to England’s finest player Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton in 1966
Bobby Charlton in 1966. Photo: public domain
The logo for On the Ball column

Sir Bobby Charlton was renowned for his attacking instincts and passing abilities from midfield. He possessed ferocious long-range shooting power and scored goals as an attacking central midfielder for fun. 

Born on 11 October 1937, he played his first game for Manchester United at the age of 18. He played 758 games for Manchester United and scored 249 goals during a 17 year career at Old Trafford. He was an integral part of Sir Matt Busby’s wonderful and talented team nicknamed ‘Busby Babes’ who were a group of footballers, recruited and trained by Manchester United Chief Scout Joe Armstrong and Assistant Jimmy Murphy, who progressed from the club’s youth team into the first team under Sir Matt Busby. 

Unfortunately, many of these talented young men died in the Munich air disaster in February 1958. Bobby survived after being rescued by teammate Harry Gregg and was the last survivor of the crash from the club. 

He earned 106 caps for England, scoring 49 times, a record which he held from 1970 to 2015, and won the 1966 World Cup when England beat the then West Germany 4-2 in extra time in a thrilling match watched by nearly 96,000 spectators, before winning the Ballon d’Or that conformed him in football history.

I have played the central midfield role and trust me you have to be fit, have an engine, and Bobby he had stamina and he could shoot using both his right and left foot. When he struck the ball he elevated himself while taking the shot. He told me it was to get more power behind it when I asked him at an Awards ceremony. 

Charlton won a European Cup, three league titles and the FA Cup. He held the records for most club appearances and goals until being surpassed by Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, respectively. 

As young boy aged five years, growing up in Poplar, 1966 is a year I will always remember. We had street parties and the following morning everyone had a smile on their face. 

I never saw Bobby play ‘live’ but I met him and we chatted – charming and softly spoken, he gave me his time and he signed my autograph book on the same page as England Captain Bobby Moore. 

Charlton was diagnosed with dementia, which was made public in November 2020. 

Sally Tucker, Trustee for Head for Change, myself and John Stiles son of 1966 World Cup hero Nobby Stiles, who also passed due to dementia, led a successful and sustained campaign by challenging football authorities and putting pressure on the government to ban under 12s from heading footballs in training and matches. 

John Stiles sent me this message for our Newham Voices readers about the relationship he and his brother had with Sir Bobby. 

“Bobby to my brothers and me was uncle Bobby. Whenever we saw him he would smile and ask us what we had been up to. He made you feel special. When dad and Bobby were together all they ever seemed to do was laugh. A truly great player, England’s finest but more than that, a humble, modest, kind man.” 

A statement on behalf of Bobby’s relatives read: “His family would like to pass on their thanks to everyone who has contributed to his care and for the many people who have loved and supported him.” 

I contacted my friend Harry Redknapp born in Poplar too, former West Ham stalwart and Manager of Tottenham Hotspur, to get his reaction. He said: “Sir Bobby Charlton was an amazing man, a great sportsman off the pitch and on the pitch. I first saw him play for the great Busby Babes pre-Munich. I played against him on many occasions. He was pure class and always a gentleman. He and Bobby Moore in my opinion, were England’s greatest ever players.” 

Harry not only played against Bobby who inspired United to a 6-1 win in 1967-68 at the old Upton Park ground against many of Harry’s England teammates – Moore, Peters, Hurst. Harry also had to contend with the likes and greatness of George Best and Denis Law. Imagine playing in that game. Wow. 

Rest In Peace Sir Bobby and Thank You for the fantastic memories you gave not only the country but the world. You will always be remembered and be in our hearts forever. 

One word to describe Sir Bobby Charlton – ‘LEGEND’. 

Back to the Premier League and following West Ham’s hard fought 2-2 draw against Newcastle they took on Aston Villa at Villa Park and the only positive news from the 4-1 drubbing was that Jarrod Bowen became one of only three players in Premier League history to score in his team’s first five away games, matching the feats of Thierry Henry and Mohamed Salah. Well done Jarrod! 

A photo of Mickey Ambrose
Mickey Ambrose

Mickey Ambrose is a former Chelsea and Charlton player who lives in Stratford


Newham Voices needs you. No matter how small, your support makes a difference

Newham Voices is a community newspaper that holds authority to account, highlights inequality, promotes good causes, and provides a platform for local people. We do real local news with no paywalls, free to read for all. We can only do this with the continued support of our readers. If you can afford to, please consider supporting us with a small monthly contribution.

Monthly direct debit 

£5 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else, £10 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else and a print copy posted to them each month.  

More information on supporting us monthly