Jack Charlton

Football's Pioneers: Jack Charlton

Professor Martin Polley recalls the achievements of Jack Charlton, a major figure in English and Irish football history, as part of Leicester City's working partnership with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture.
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When Charlton was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2005, it was the first in a flurry of tributes to one of the leading centre-backs of his generation.

It was followed, in 2006, by Leeds United fans naming him in their all-time greatest XI and, the next year, by his inclusion in the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Team of the Century. These honours help to sum up the esteem with which this former coalminer from Ashington is held.

Born in 1935, the older brother of Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton, Jack played as youth for Leeds before making his first team debut in 1952. He became a regular after his National Service, and, despite clashes with manager Don Revie in the early 1960s, Charlton was to become a mainstay of the Leeds defence until his retirement in 1973.

This was the period in which Leeds moved from being a Second Division club to being league champions in 1968/69, FA Cup winners in 1972, and Inter-City Fairs Cup victors in 1967 and 1971. Charlton’s robust tackling style at the club is legendary.

A favourite with the crowds, if not with opposing strikers, he was a one-club man whose 629 league appearances remains a Leeds record.

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Jack Charlton
Jack Charlton

Toasting England's historic World Cup victory at Wembley Stadium in 1966.

Charlton’s England career was shorter than this, but included winning the ultimate prize. His debut came in 1965 as Sir Alf Ramsey started to build for the following year’s World Cup. Charlton was an ever-present in England’s 1966 campaign, playing at the heart of the defence through the group games and knockouts, and sharing the 4-2 win over West Germany in the final with his brother.

He played just one game in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, before announcing his retirement. In all, he played 35 games for England between 1965 and 1970, scoring six goals.

It was as a manager that he made his next, and more surprising, impact on the World Cup. After spells in charge of Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle, Charlton made the leap to international management when he accepted the Republic of Ireland job in 1986.

He led them to their first European Championships, in West Germany in 1988, where they beat England 1-0 before their group stage departure. Charlton’s biggest impact came four years later, at Italia 90, the nation’s first ever appearance at the finals.

The Irish drew all three of their group games – against England, Egypt, and the Netherlands – and progressed to the knockouts. After a penalty shootout victory over Romania, they made it to Rome for a quarter-final against hosts Italy, preceded by an audience with Pope John Paul II.

They lost the game 1-0, but reaching the last-eight was an achievement beyond any pre-tournament expectations. In 1994, Charlton led the Irish to the second round at the World Cup in the USA, their opening 1-0 victory over Italy at the Giants Stadium in New York being one of the country’s most famous results. These tournaments secured Charlton’s place in Irish sporting history alongside his place in English hearts for the 1966 victory. 

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