Soccer

A true gentleman – David Beckham pays tribute to ‘national hero’ Bobby Charlton

Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England’s World Cup win. (Tony Harris/PA)
Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England’s World Cup win. (Tony Harris/PA) Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England’s World Cup win. (Tony Harris/PA)

Former England captain David Beckham praised “national hero” Sir Bobby Charlton as tributes poured in following his death.

Charlton’s family announced in a statement on Saturday that the ex-Manchester United player, who was a key member of England’s 1966 World Cup success, had died at the aged 86.

Beckham came through the ranks at Manchester United having attended Bobby Charlton’s Soccer School and was given the middle name Robert as his father was such a fan of the 1968 European Cup winner.

“It all began with Sir Bobby. Sir Bobby was the reason I had the opportunity to play for Manchester United… I will be forever grateful to a man I was named after, someone I looked up to and was a hero to many around the world not just in Manchester and our country where he won the World Cup in 1966,” Beckham posted on Instagram.

“A true gentleman, family man and truly a national hero… Today isn’t just a sad day for Manchester United & England it’s a sad day for football and everything that Sir Bobby represented… Our thoughts go out to Lady Norma, their daughters and grandchildren x Rest in Peace Sir Bobby x @manchesterunited @england Today our hearts are heavy.”

Charlton had previously held the record as all-time top goalscorer for both England and United, where he also won the European Cup in 1968 and former Red Devils captain Gary Neville praised his impact in all aspects of the game.

“I think he is Manchester United’s greatest representative around the world and has been for 50/60 years,” he told Sky Sports.

Gary Neville spoke on Sky Sports about the influence Charlton had at United
Gary Neville spoke on Sky Sports about the influence Charlton had at United Gary Neville spoke on Sky Sports about the influence Charlton had at United. (John Walton/PA)

“When you think he was one of the original Busby Babes, part of that tragic Munich air crash and survived it having lost a lot of his team-mates and colleagues in that but came through. He won Youth Cups at Manchester United under Sir Matt Busby then obviously went on to win the European Cup, World Cup and in the more modern era a director of the club.

“He used to come into the changing room after a match – win, lose or draw. Something when I was a player at the club you maybe would take for granted – this legend would be walking around your changing room saying ‘well done’ or offering his commiserations.

“It is obviously a great loss today, but no doubt he is English football’s greatest player and greatest ambassador. A champion on and off the pitch.

“He was the golden thread through from Sir Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, two golden eras in Man Utd’s history and he was the constant through both of them.”

Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England's World Cup win
Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England's World Cup win Geoff Hurst (left) and Charlton played in England’s World Cup win. (Tony Harris/PA)

Charlton’s death means Sir Geoff Hurst is now the only man who started the 1966 World Cup final win over West Germany who is still alive.

Hurst, who hit a hat-trick in the 4-2 victory, also paid respect to his former team-mate, writing: “Very sad news today. 1 of the true Greats Sir Bobby Charlton has passed away. We will never forget him & nor will all of football. A great colleague & friend he will be sorely missed by all of the country beyond sport alone. Condolences to his family & friends from Geoff and Judith,” he wrote.

Rio Ferdinand, another former captain of both England and United, posted a lengthy tribute to Charlton – dubbing him “Mr Manchester United”.

“Icon, Legend, Great! these words are thrown around by all of us to many who 100% don’t deserve them, especially when you compare them to man of Sir Bobby’s calibre. What a true gentleman of not many words, but when he spoke you stood still, stopped what you were doing and listened.

“A lot of the history was living and breathing through him and he was a constant at the club while I was there – travelling with us all over the world. Win, lose or draw he would be in the changing room wishing us well. The words he shared with me at the bottom of those stairs in Moscow, before I went up to lift the CL trophy will stay with me forever.

“What it meant to lift that trophy for Man Utd, what it meant for the fans, what it meant for us as a team and what it now meant for myself doing it as captain. It was a privilege for me to even get that moment with him at that specific time. Thank you Sir Bobby. Mr Manchester United. RIP.”

Charlton’s death was announced as Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs were preparing to start the second half, and – following their 2-1 win over Brighton – Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola paid his respects.

“On behalf of the Manchester City family to his family, to the Man United family and for England football – these type of football players and personalities represent English football like no-one else can do it,” he said.

“So condolences from all of us, for his family especially. Next week when we go to Old Trafford, we’ll be present to make a first tribute.

“I love this country for many things, but one of those things is how they take care of the legends of each club. They are part of the club and they travel and they represent them. I think Sir Bobby Charlton represented United and English football like no-one else.”

Middlesbrough manager and former Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick said he was “devastated” to hear of Charlton’s death.

He said: “My mind went back to the moments I shared with Bobby – an inspirational character and such an iconic figure, you don’t always get those in world football.

“In a Manchester United family, he cared so much about the players, the club and showed nothing but pure support for us in his blazer and suit. He was proud to show what it was about to play for Manchester United and pass that on.

“He had an incredible career and to be in a position to be humble enough to pass that on to support the players, when he could have just been a figure, is so inspirational.”