Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That

It was 65 years ago today that Bobby Charlton made his first team debut for Manchester United.

“Doing easily what others find difficult is talent: doing what is impossible with talent is genius.” (Henri Fredric Amiel) Bobby Charlton did things with a football that came so naturally to him, whilst others less gifted thought was pure genius. He was given a talent and for 19 years he devoted that talent to Manchester United Football Club.

He had United running through his veins, the club was part of his DNA, having signed for them in January 1953 aged 15 after he left school. On his 17th birthday, 11 October 1954, he signed professional terms with United and after helping the Manchester United Youth Team win the FA Youth Cup in 1954, 1955 and 1956, scoring in the latter two finals, Matt Busby decided that it was time to give an 18-year old Charlton the opportunity to see if he could handle the professional game.

In their opening 9 games of the 1956-57 English First Division season, United, the defending Champions, were unbeaten, winning 7, drawing 2, scored 23 and conceded 10. It was very tight at the top of the table. United led the way on 16 points, closely followed by Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United who both had 15 points but each had played one game more than United.

Busby never changed his side once: Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne (Capt), Mark Jones, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet. The front pair of Taylor and Viollet had plundered 14 League goals between them. But for United’s tenth game of the League campaign, an away game versus Arsenal on 29 September 1956, Busby decided to hand Ronald Cope his debut and rested Jones.

Six days before his 22nd birthday, Cope who was a member of United’s successful 1952-53 FA Youth Cup winning side, played in United’s 2-1 win (scorers: Berry & Whelan). Three days before the trip to London, Jones picked up a knock in United’s 10-0 mauling of the Champions of Belgium, RSC Anderlecht, in the 2nd leg of their Preliminary Round tie in the European Cup (scorers: Viollet 4, Taylor 3, Whelan 2, Berry).

Having won the 1st leg 2-0 (scorers: Taylor & Viollet) in Belgium two weeks earlier, the 10-0 home win (played at Maine Road as Old Trafford did not have floodlights at the time) gave United safe passage into the First Round of the competition with a 12-0 aggregate victory.

United’s next League game was at home against Charlton Athletic on 6 October 1956. As United had a European adventure to juggle along with their domestic commitments, a distraction Spurs and Leeds United didn’t have, Busby decided to rotate his squad with one eye on the visit of the West German Champions, Borussia Dortmund, for the 1st leg of their European Cup First Round match-up on 17 October 1956.

Busby gave Geoff Bent his seventh game in place of Byrne, Wilf McGuinness took the place of Edwards in the side to make his fourth appearance and Bobby Charlton was handed his first team debut. Matt Busby’s maxim was always the same when it came to making decisions about his team selection: “If they are good enough, they are old enough.”Although Bent was 24-years old, Charlton was just five days shy of celebrating his 19th birthday and McGuinness would turn 19 exactly a fortnight after Bobby.

Duncan Edwards a Devil and a Lion

McGuinness had played in the same three FA Youth Cup winning teams as Charlton. Busby’s philosophy was to develop his young players in the United Youth System to get them to learn the “United Way.” Then, when he decided to place his trust in one of them and call them up to play for the senior side he was confident in the knowledge that his young charge would be able to fit seamlessly into his team and repay his manager’s trust in his abilities.

If a young player was told by Matt Busby that they were good enough to play for his team it made that player walk a little taller. Busby had no time for Prima Donnas, players’ egos or tantrums. He wanted his players to do exactly what he asked of them, nothing fancy, just play each game as one solid unit and not as eleven individuals. Just as the Dalai Lama’s young priests gave him their undivided attention, Busby’s players would walk through walls for him.

When Bent made his debut on 11 December 1954, aged 22, he had one of the biggest pair of boots to fill which he helped to clean in the Old Trafford Boot Room. He stood in at left-back for the club captain and England international, Roger Byrne, and helped United to a comfortable 4-2 win over Burnley at Turf Moor, Burnley in the English First Division (scorers: Colin Webster 3, Viollet). He had not let his manager down and similarly when the 17-year old McGuinness made his first team bow in place of Fred Goodwin, he too never failed his manager’s faith in him.

United defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 at Old Trafford in the League on 8 October 1955 (scorers: Taylor 2, John Doherty & David Pegg). Faith is about believing. You don’t know how it will happen. But you know it will. It comes from within.

Now it was the turn of Robert Charlton to repay his manager’s faith in him when he pulled on the famous red Manchester United No.9 jersey which had been worn by United’s, and England’s prolific centre forward, Tommy Taylor, in United’s previous 10 League games of the season plus their two matches in Europe in which he scored 9 times. No pressure then on the young boy who was born in Ashington, Northumberland and who came from a football dynasty of a family on his mother’s side, Elizabeth Ellen “Cissie” Charlton (née Milburn).

His Uncles were George Milburn (Leeds United & Chesterfield), Jack Milburn (Leeds United & Bradford City), Jim Milburn (Leeds United & Chesterfield) and Stan Milburn (Chesterfield, Leicester City & Rochdale Rovers). His Mum was a cousin of the legendary Newcastle United and England international striker, Jackie Milburn. Milburn was nicknamed “Wor Jackie” and scored 177 League goals for Newcastle United in 353 appearances from 1943-57 and 10 times for England in 13 international appearances (1948-55).

Manchester United’s Summer of Love

After leaving Newcastle United he signed for Linfield in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he continued to leave the back of the opponents’ net bulging, scoring a remarkable 68 goals in the Irish League in only 55 appearances during the three years he was there. Charlton always credited his football achievements to his Grandfather, Tanner, and his Mum. Bobby’s older brother, John “Jack” Charlton, worked down the pits at the Ashington Colliery as a miner before applying to join the police, only to also become a professional footballer with Leeds United.

His father, Robert “Bob” Wallace Charlton was also a mine worker. Things did not come easy to the Charlton family. The team Busby selected to play Charlton Athletic was:Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes (Capt), Geoff Bent, Mark Jones, Wilf McGuinness, Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet, David PeggThe visitors took a shock lead in the 24th minute with a goal from Fred Lucas but straight after the resulting kick-off Berry made it 1-1 (25th minute), scoring his fourth League goal of the season.

Charlton then made it a debut to remember scoring a brace of goals in the 32nd and 37th minute to put United 3-1 up. But the visitors weren’t giving up and pulled a goal back in the 40th minute. Whelan, who had been United’s star performer all season, sealed victory for United in the 65th minute when the Republic of Ireland international winger scored for the sixth League game in a row, his eighth League goal of the campaign.

In United’s 4-1 win over Charlton Athletic, the young Charlton had slotted into the United team like a hand slipping into a silk glove. He, like so many Youth Team players before him, didn’t let Jimmy Murphy, who was in charge of United’s Youth Team, or Busby down. Charlton played a further 13 League games in season 1956-57, scoring another 8 times, to help United win back-to-back English First Division titles.

He also made one appearance in the 1956-57 European Cup, scoring in United’s 2-2 draw with the defending Champions of Europe, Spain’s Real Madrid, in the 2nd leg of the semi-finals at Old Trafford (Taylor also scored). However, the result wasn’t good enough to reach the final of the competition having lost the away leg 3-1 (scorer: Taylor).

Over the following 17 seasons Charlton starred for club and country helping United win 3 English First Division Championships, 1 FA Cup, 4 FA Charity Shields and the European Cup in 1968.

In 1966, he played in the FIFA World Cup final with his brother, Jack, and his United teammate, Nobby Stiles, when England were crowned World Champions after defeating West Germany 4-2 after extra-time at Wembley Stadium, London. In 1966, the movie “A Man For All Seasons,” was screened for the first time.

The title reflects the playwright, Robert Bolt’s portrayal of Sir Thomas More, the 16th Century Lord Chancellor of England who refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Catherine of Aragon and to take an Oath of Supremacy which declared King Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England, as the ultimate man of conscience. More remained true to his principles and religion despite the circumstances at all times.

Bobby Charlton was a man of conscience, his Oath of Supremacy was to Busby and United and he stuck to his principles throughout his career.Bobby Charlton was Manchester United’s “Man for 17 Seasons.”

Did You Know That?

The German Press nicknamed Bobby Charlton “Boom Boom” because he had a cannon of a shot. Duncan Edwards was also known by the Germans as “Boom Boom,” a nickname he received after scoring a thunderbolt of a goal against West Germany at the Olympiastadion, Westend, Berlin, West Germany on 26 May 1956. Edwards was still only 19 when he played against the reigning FIFA World Cup holders alongside his United teammates, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, and despite it only being his ninth cap for his country he ran the show from start to finish.

In the 26th minute Edwards collected the ball and bulldozed his way through three German defenders before unleashing a 30-yard shot which almost put the netting in the stand behind it. England won the game 3-1 and Edwards was carried off he pitch by several of the 50,000 troops among the 100,000 in attendance who were stationed in the British occupied zone of Berlin. United’s Ray Wood and Johnny Berry were among the unused substitutes.

The next morning the German Press likened Edwards to a tank whilst one writer called him “Boom Boom” writing that he had a shot which was as powerful as “Big Bertha,” the German siege Howitzer light naval cannon which the Imperial German Army used to bombard British fortifications during the First World War. A while later the England captain in the game, Billy Wright (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wrote: “There have been few individual performances to match what he produced that day. Duncan tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it off with that cracker of a goal.”


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