Bobby Charlton, the Manchester United great who played a starring role in England’s 1966 World Cup victory, has died at the age of 86, the Premier League club said on Saturday.
Charlton is widely considered as one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
“The club’s heartfelt sympathies are with his wife Lady Norma, his daughters and grandchildren, and all who loved him,” Manchester United said in a statement.
The club described him as a “hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world.”
“He was admired as much for his sportsmanship and integrity as he was for his outstanding qualities as a footballer; Sir Bobby will always be remembered as a giant of the game,” the statement added.
Charlton died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday surrounded by his family, according to a statement from his family, per the English Football Association.
“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. We would request that the family’s privacy be respected at this time,” the statement read.
Predominately an attacking midfielder, Charlton made 758 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 249 goals over his 17 years at the club and winning three league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup – now known as the Champions League.
He also won 106 caps for England, scoring 49 goals – an England scoring record which stood for 45 years until Wayne Rooney broke it in 2015 – and played a key role in England’s World Cup victory on home soil, the only time the country has won men’s soccer’s biggest prize, scoring three times in the tournament.
Charlton is considered as one of England’s greatest players and as one of the finest of his era, alongside Pelé, Eusébio, Bobby Moore, Garrincha and Franz Beckenbauer. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1966 because of his excellence at that year’s World Cup.
Manchester United’s statement continued: “His unparalleled record of achievement, character and service will be forever etched in the history of Manchester United and English football; and his legacy will live on through the life-changing work of the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation.”
After his retirement, Charlton served as Manchester United’s director for 39 years.
Charlton’s older brother, Jack, who had played alongside him in England’s World Cup-winning side, died in 2020.
‘We will never forget him’
Geoff Hurst – who scored a hat trick in the 1966 World Cup final – paid tribute to his former teammate on X, formerly Twitter, calling him one “of the true greats.”
“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,” Hurst said.
Charlton made his Manchester United debut in 1956 having graduated from the club’s academy, and became a core member of the club’s dominant, young side of the era under its famous manager, Matt Busby.
Two years after his debut, tragedy struck when eight of his Manchester United teammates lost their lives in the Munich air disaster on February 6, 1958, when Flight 609 ZU crashed on the third attempt to take off after re-fueling in Germany on United’s returned home from knocking Red Star Belgrade out of the European Cup. Charlton was one of the survivors.
Busby’s side – coined the ‘Busby Babes’ – were back-to-back English champions and well positioned for a hat trick of titles.
Charlton became a vital cog in Busby’s rebuilding effort, alongside George Best, scoring twice in the 1968 European Cup final against Benfica as he captained the club to its first European title. He would also go on to captain the England men’s national team.
“One of our most iconic players, Sir Bobby Charlton’s impact on our only World Cup triumph is there for all to see,” England’s current manager, Gareth Southgate, said in a statement.
“The privilege of meeting him on several occasions allowed me to understand his personal pride and emotion in having represented England and simply confirmed in my mind his standing as one of the Gentlemen of the game.
“The world of football will unite in its sadness at losing an undisputed legend.”
Former England captain Gary Lineker called Charlton “England’s greatest ever player.” “He may no longer be with us but he’ll have footballing immortality,” the 62-year-old wrote on social media.
Gianni Infantino, president of soccer’s world governing body FIFA, paid his tribute to Charlton on X, calling him a “football legend, whose impact on the game spanned generations.”