One of the best-known and respected names in the history of football, Bobby Charlton was a good deal more than just a great player with exquisite skills and a thunderous shot. He was, and is, one of the real gentlemen in global sport.
Bobby’s name is synonymous with Manchester United. At just 20, he survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed so many of the team and dedicated himself to the rebuilding of the club. By the time he retired in 1973, he had scored 245 goals in 751 games for United and had enjoyed success in the 1968 European Cup, England's Division One league title in 1957, 1965 and 1967 and the 1963 FA Cup.
For England, he will forever be associated with the World Cup victory in 1966. Although England began the tournament on their home soil with an uninspiring 0-0 draw against Uruguay, Bobby fired English hopes with a brilliant goal in the 2-0 defeat of Mexico. After a solo run of some 30 yards, he struck a fierce shot into the net and had England fans believing their team could win.
England's path to the final took them past France 2-0, Argentina 1-0 and then into the semi-final against Portugal where Bobby played probably his best-ever match in an England jersey. Combining swift running into space with crisp passing, he scored both goals for a 2-1 win.
Geoff Hurst took the glory with his hat-trick in the World Cup final against West Germany, but it was Bobby's shadowing of the great play-maker Franz Beckenbauer, now also a Laureus Academy Member, which was probably far more critical in deciding the eventual 4-2 outcome. "England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me," Beckenbauer later reflected.
Sir Alf Ramsey, England's coach that year, was also generous with his praise of Bobby. "He was one of the greatest players I have seen and he was very much the lynchpin of the 1966 team. He wasn't just a great goal-scorer, with a blistering shot using either foot, he was a player who could also do his share of hard work."
Following the 1966 World Cup, he was voted Footballer of the Year and European Footballer of the Year and continued to play to the highest standard until he retired. In total he played 106 times for England, scoring a record 49 goals. He was knighted ‘Sir Bobby Charlton’ in 1994 and was the leader of England’s unsuccessful campaign to host the 2006 World Cup.
Bobby was elected a founder member of the Laureus World Sports Academy in 2000 and has been a great enthusiast ever since, making many journeys around the world to support Laureus Sport for Good.
Perhaps the most momentous visit was in 2007 when he went with fellow Academy Member Tony Hawk to the Spirit of Soccer programme in Northern Cambodia which uses football as the means to educate children and young adults on the danger of landmines which are still widespread despite the end of fighting there.
Bobby was so shocked at seeing limbless youngsters and seeing the dangers at first hand that he returned to Manchester and set up the ‘Find a Better Way’ charity to support research to explore technological advances to make it easier to uncover landmines and improve safety and security for local communities whose lives are blighted.
Bobby was presented with the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.