One thousand people packed the Cathedral for Charltons funeral – before a private committal takes place on Tuesday – with the great and the good of the footballing world in attendance.
But Charlton the football man is a story known around the globe. In tributes from former Manchester United chief executive David Gill, Manchester United Foundation CEO John Shiels and particularly Charltons grandson, William Balderston, a picture was painted of someone who always had time for others, but who put family at the centre of his thoughts. It was about his goodness as well as his greatness.
Among the first to arrive had been Gill, flanked by Sir Alex Ferguson, an hour-and-a-half before the service was due to begin. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Michael Carrick arrived together, as did current United players Tom Heaton, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw.
Many of Charltons former teammates were there, as were United players across the generations. Brian McClair Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ashley Young, among others. Current England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance, along with FA president Prince William and UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. Representatives from Real Madrid and Manchester City were present.
It was footballing royalty for a football royal. A son of the north east who made Manchester his home. As Canon Nigel Ashworth said at the start of service, Charlton was cherished in this city.
Gill began his eulogy with Charltons footballing numbers, but saved particular reverence for a record of just two yellow cards and never being sent off. He taught me how to behave in victory and, more importantly, in defeat, he said.
“I started supporting Manchester United in the 1960s – captivated by Best, Law and Charlton – so it was a great privilege and hard to believe, that I should be involved many years later with commissioning the Trinity statue that now stands outside Old Trafford honouring these greats,” said Gill.
“And that I should stand here now to pay tribute to Bobby. A legend, an icon but also to many of us here today a very dear, loyal and much-loved colleague and friend.”
There was a tale of a trip to Amsterdam that almost ended with a Knight of the realm and a World Cup winner inside one of the city&aposs cafes that are famous for more than just their coffee, and of Charlton&aposs support for and friendship with Ferguson, at a time when not everything was going well for the Scot.
Gill described Charlton as someone who “loved everything about United. He reminisced about those moments after another trophy had been won, when Charlton would walk around with a beer in hand and say “This feels good, doesn&apost it David?”. Gill said: “No huge show of emotion but you knew inwardly he was so proud.”
But Gills voice broke and his emotions became visible when he addressed Munich. He choked back tears and for a brief moment, silence enveloped the Cathedral.
“Reflecting now, I would have liked to have talked to him more about Munich, and how he coped in the aftermath, but Bobby dealt with it in his own way – private, stoical and dignified,” said Gill. Gill ended his heartfelt eulogy with we loved you Bobby.
When Shiels discussed the same subject he painted a scene from the 60th anniversary commemorations when snow began to fall at Old Trafford, just as it had in Munich in 1958. “I think he was given permission to relax and enjoy what he had helped to build. He realised every day was to be lived to the full.”
Shiels paid tribute to Charlton&aposs work through his soccer school and his foundation, as well as United&aposs. He also thanked Lady Norma, Charlton&aposs wife, for her role in supporting her husband.
“I cannot finish without thanking Norma Ball for lending your husband Robert Charlton to the world for most of your married life,” he said. “Your life, kindness, patience and understanding of his purpose has meant that he has made the world a much better place for us all to be in.”
Sir Bobby Charlton – thousands gather to say farewell to Manchester United legend in pictures
The theme throughout was that of someone who was a giant of the game, but doted on his family and wanted to help others. “Family comes first,” as Shiels remembered Charlton saying. This was a private man who knew he could do public good.
His grandson talked of his grandads storytelling abilities, captivating his grandchildren when they were young. Of family days out, competitive card games and sledging in the snow at Christmas, a tale that sounded like it had entered family folklore.
Part of you wondered at what Charlton would have made of all this. Not the family tributes, but the thousands that lined the streets to say goodbye, those who saw him play and those who only ever heard the stories and watched the grainy clips. Familiar faces from the footballing world packed inside the Cathedral.
This is a man who turned to teammate Alex Stepney in March 2016, when Old Trafford renamed a stand in his honour, and said I dont deserve this. But Charlton did deserve it. A family man, a devoted husband, father, grandfather and brother, but also a footballer who held the world in the palm of his hand because of his gifts with a ball at his feet.
When he arrived in Manchester in the summer of 1953 his first impression had been of a city full of “grimy, soot-covered buildings”. But he got over that shock and fell in love with the place, as the city did with him.