Soccer

Manchester United remember Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of Champions League clash

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag (centre) lays a wreath in tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton (Nick Potts/PA)
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag (centre) lays a wreath in tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton (Nick Potts/PA) Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag (centre) lays a wreath in tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton (Nick Potts/PA)

Sir Bobby Charlton was remembered by the club he loved as Manchester United paid an emotional tribute to him at their first home match since the World Cup winner died.

The jewel in the crown for club and country, the news of the England great’s death on Saturday reverberated around the world and devastated all connected to Old Trafford.

Charlton survived the trauma of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster and went on to lift the European Cup a decade later, scoring 249 goals over 758 appearances for United during 17 years at the club as a player.

There were expressions of remembrance during Saturday’s win at Sheffield United but the Champions League game against Copenhagen provided the chance for the entire club to pay a fitting tribute as they returned home.

“There’s only one Bobby Charlton” echoed around Old Trafford long before kick-off on Tuesday, with the teams emerging to the traditional continental competition fanfare before the stadium announcer paid his respects.

Then, with teams lined-up around the centre circle, the crowd fell silent as a piper emerged from the tunnel playing “We’ll never die”.

United boss Erik ten Hag, former team-mate Alex Stepney and youth-team captain Dan Gore followed, going on to lay a wreath at the halfway line before before a minute’s silence was held.

As the hosts paid tribute to Charlton, Copenhagen’s fans had unveiled a banner that read: “Passion is what separates the good from the great. Rest in peace Sir Bobby Charlton.”

Charlton’s seat in the directors’ box – which is situated in heart of the stand that has carried his name since 2016 – was empty aside from a wreath placed there in his honour.

Manchester United v FC Copenhagen – UEFA Champions League – Group A – Old Trafford
Manchester United v FC Copenhagen – UEFA Champions League – Group A – Old Trafford Manchester United and FC Copenhagen players take part in a minute’s silence in memory of Sir Bobby Charlton (Nick Potts/PA)

Players and staff all wore black armbands on an evening that saw the matchday programme feature the “ultimate ambassador for Manchester United” on its cover.

Outside the ground, the bundles of flowers, scarves, shirts and messages at the ‘United Trinity’ statue continue to grow by the hour.

Charlton, Denis Law and George Best are immortalised in front of the East Stand, which was decorated to read ‘Sir Bobby Charlton. Forever Loved’ between pictures of him in his playing days and latter years.

United players past and present have signed the book of condolence and paid their respects at the statue since his death, including 1968 European Cup team-mate Stepney.

“You can see that (impact) now and what I’ve got behind me,” the former goalkeeper told the PA news agency in front of the statue.

“It’s just incredible. There’s three of them and we had this when George sadly passed and Bobby’s deservedly getting exactly the same moment.”

Stepney looked understandably emotional as he spoke about Charlton, both the player and the man, shortly before he headed inside Old Trafford.

“It’s been unbelievable, really,” the former goalkeeper said. “When I got the phone call on Saturday morning, you start thinking about the great man.

“How he performed day in, day out, training, on the pitch.

“He was very honest, great family man. That was an obvious thing about him. Humble.

“When they opened the stand here for him, the South Stand, he had tears in his eyes.

“I said to him ‘are you OK?’ and he said ‘I don’t deserve it’. I said ‘well, you deserve everything you get from every supporter, everybody throughout the world’. He deserves all of this.”