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Jack Charlton – who has died at 85 – and his brother Bobby didn’t speak for years in toxic feud

After the final whistle in the 1966 World Cup final, Bobby Charlton ran to embrace his elder brother Jack. 

‘Nobody can ever take this away from us,’ said Bobby as they hugged, trying to take in the enormity of what they had achieved with their defeat of West Germany.

Both men were central to the triumph, which to this day remains the greatest moment in England’s sporting history.

Their contrasting roles on the field symbolised the virtues of England’s performance during this unique campaign: Jack, the rock of the defence, ungainly but uncompromising, lacking sophistication but never courage, as tough as the mining stock into which he was born; Bobby, the fulcrum of the attack, gliding across the turf like a thoroughbred, destroying the opposition with his explosive goals, long-range passes and incisive runs.

While the late Jack Charlton (left ) and Bobby Charlton (right ) won the World Cup together on the field, the brothers had a strained relation off it

While the late Jack Charlton (left ) and Bobby Charlton (right ) won the World Cup together on the field, the brothers had a strained relation off it

England internationals Jack, left, and Bobby Charlton enjoy a celebration drink with their mother Cissie after the World Cup Semi-Final win over Portugal at Wembley

England internationals Jack, left, and Bobby Charlton enjoy a celebration drink with their mother Cissie after the World Cup Semi-Final win over Portugal at Wembley

England internationals Jack, left, and Bobby Charlton enjoy a celebration drink with their mother Cissie after the World Cup Semi-Final win over Portugal at Wembley

Jack Charlton’s sad death at the weekend was a poignant reminder of that glorious success more than 50 years ago. 

Yet images of the brothers’ embrace gave a misleading impression of their relationship, which, far from being warm, was actually marked by distance and discord.

As I discovered when I researched a dual biography of the pair, the bond between them was badly cracked. 

‘To be honest, me and our kid were never the best of friends,’ Jack once said. For his part, Bobby complained that his brother’s attitude was sometimes ‘unacceptable’, writing that Jack could be ‘too impetuous, too eager to speak and to lash out’.

Jack Charlton celebrates beating Juventus in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup final second leg on June 3, 1971, with a bottle of champagne and a cigar

Jack Charlton celebrates beating Juventus in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup final second leg on June 3, 1971, with a bottle of champagne and a cigar

Jack Charlton celebrates beating Juventus in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup final second leg on June 3, 1971, with a bottle of champagne and a cigar

The taller brother was the rebellious maverick, whereas Bobby was the conformist. ‘Everything I liked in life he didn’t have anything to do with, and everything he likes in life I don’t want to know about,’ said Jack in 1997.

But at the heart of this fraternal friction was the fact that their mother Cissie, a matriarchal figure who came from a North-Eastern footballing family called the Milburns, had a strong antipathy towards Bobby’s wife Norma — a feeling that was reciprocated.

‘There was no meeting point, no common ground with my mother. It was very painful,’ wrote Bobby. Inevitably, he took the side of his wife in the dispute as the chasm between the two women widened, while Jack took Cissie’s side. 

At times, especially in the 1990s, there was a real bitterness between the brothers, which meant they were not even on speaking terms.

But, even without the shadow of this family rift, the fact is the two men were never close. The row between Cissie and Norma only became so incendiary because Jack and Bobby were profoundly different, with little fraternal empathy.

Former Huddersfield Town manager Ian Greaves, who knew them both, told me ‘you would not take them for brothers at all’ since Jack was ‘loud, ebullient down to earth and very, very stubborn’ whereas Bobby was ‘very shy, quiet polite’.

Former Nottingham Forest and England striker Ian Storey-Moore said that ‘most brothers had at least some characteristics in common, but not them’.

At every level, the gap between them was enormous. 

True, they both had long careers, each holding the league appearance record for his respective club — Jack with 629 at Leeds United and Bobby at 606 for Manchester United. But there the similarity ends.

On the field, Jack was a Roundhead, Bobby a Cavalier.

Bobby’s game was focused on scoring goals, Jack’s on stopping them.

‘If found, please return England hero to hotel’ 

The differences between the extrovert Jack Charlton and his much quieter brother Bobby were highlighted the very night of the 1966 World Cup final.

After a banquet at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, Bobby and his wife Norma went with some other players to the Playboy Club. 

There, feeling uncomfortable, Bobby had a single cocktail before leaving.

Jack was far less restrained. 

Along with journalist Jimmy Mossop, he went to the Astor Club and, according to his own account, ‘the whole place was one big party. 

‘I got so drunk I don’t remember much about it after that, except that Jimmy and I woke up in some house in Leytonstone [East London] on the floor and the settee’.

The house belonged to a couple of total strangers — ‘a lad called Lenny and his wife,’ as far as Jack recalled — who had been celebrating at the Astor.

And to his amazement, when he went out in the garden, nursing his hangover, a woman popped her head over the fence and said: ‘Hello Jackie.’

It turned out to be a neighbour from his home town of Ashington who was visiting relatives in London. 

Jack later explained: ‘“How are you going Jackie?” she asked a little suspiciously. 

‘I think she was wondering what I was doing in a house in Leytonstone.’

Soon afterwards, Jack stuck his hand in his pocket and discovered two objects: his winner’s medal and a slip of paper which read: ‘If found, return this body to the Royal Garden Hotel.’ 

‘Bobby was a gentleman, whereas Jack would kick you straight up in the air. 

‘Jack would never shut up on the field, but you could hardly get a word out of Bobby,’ former Manchester United player Joe Carolan told me.

In terms of their physique, they did not seem anything like brothers. Bobby was squat and muscular, standing 5ft 7in, whereas Jack’s 6ft 2in frame was gangly, with a long neck and telescopic legs. 

‘I’d look at him and wonder how this giraffe played football,’ said World Cup-winning skipper Bobby Moore.

Bobby Charlton was booked just twice in his career, in contrast to Jack whose rebellious, competitive streak led to regular confrontations with the authorities. 

In 1970 Jack caused outrage when he claimed in a TV interview to have ‘a little black book’ that listed opponents against whom he planned to exact retribution on the field.

The legacy of that explosive controversy may have damaged Jack’s chances of becoming England manager in 1977, a post for which he was well qualified.

Bobby might have been a more talented, graceful player, but was a far less effective manager than Jack, who was fascinated with tactics and had qualified as a coach while still at Leeds.

They both retired in 1973, but Bobby’s short spell at the helm of Preston North End ended in failure, while Jack went on to two decades of success at club and international level. 

His record at Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday was solid enough, but it was far eclipsed by his glorious ten years in charge of the Republic of Ireland, which saw them qualify for two World Cup tournaments and even beat Italy in New Jersey in 1994.

For this achievement, along with his spontaneous warmth, he became a legendary figure in Ireland. Awarded honorary Irish citizenship, he was more popular in Ireland than the Pope.

Even his discarded cigarette butts were collected as if they were holy relics. After one campaign, he attracted a bigger crowd in Dublin than Nelson Mandela did for an official visit.

‘I have a tendency to hold back, almost to seek the shadows,’ Bobby once wrote, a diffidence that was exacerbated by the Munich air crash in 1958 which he was lucky to survive and in which a number of his Manchester United colleagues died as the plane carrying the team crashed in thick snow.

But Jack was the opposite. Voluble and volatile, he relished the sound of his own voice. 

‘Jack loves controversy, having a real debate. He would say black was white, just for the sake of an argument,’ former Leeds striker Peter Lorimer told me during my research for the book.

Jack was a hilarious public speaker, showing the same self-confidence that made him such a superb manager, whereas Bobby has often been an awkward, nervous performer.

Jack was a hilarious public speaker, showing the same self-confidence that made him such a superb manager, whereas Bobby has often been an awkward, nervous performer. Pictured Jack presents Bobby with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award

Jack was a hilarious public speaker, showing the same self-confidence that made him such a superb manager, whereas Bobby has often been an awkward, nervous performer. Pictured Jack presents Bobby with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award

Jack was a hilarious public speaker, showing the same self-confidence that made him such a superb manager, whereas Bobby has often been an awkward, nervous performer. Pictured Jack presents Bobby with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award

Even in their interests they were different. Bobby, despite the air crash, loved to travel, while Jack was never happier than in his native Northumberland. Bobby liked golf. Jack preferred country pursuits such as fishing.

Bobby was well-groomed and punctual, Jack disorganised and scruffy. Party politics never interested Bobby, whereas Jack was a staunch socialist who once wrote a pamphlet for Harold Wilson’s 1970 re-election campaign, entitled ‘Why I am Labour’.

The differences went right back to childhood. They were both born in the Northumbrian mining town of Ashington, Jack in 1935, Bobby in 1937. 

In both name and character, Bobby took after his father, a quiet coal miner who had such little interest in football that he did a shift down the pit rather than watch the World Cup semi-final in 1966.

Jack took after his mother Cissie, a forceful personality whose connection to the Milburn football clan fuelled her devotion to the sport. 

The extraordinary image of brotherhood masked a complex relationship between two very different personalities who at times clashed off the pitch while complementing each other on it

The extraordinary image of brotherhood masked a complex relationship between two very different personalities who at times clashed off the pitch while complementing each other on it

The extraordinary image of brotherhood masked a complex relationship between two very different personalities who at times clashed off the pitch while complementing each other on it

Her cousin was the legendary Newcastle striker Jackie Milburn, though tales that she coached Bobby to greatness are wildly exaggerated.

For all the lustre of her family name, life in Ashington was tough. 

The Charlton’s modest terraced house had an outside toilet, no running water, and so little space that Jack and Bobby had to share a bed. That was about all they had in common. Bobby was a quiet, well-behaved child who won a place at grammar school.

In contrast, Jack went to the local secondary modern and was always getting into scrapes, once accidentally firing an air rifle at a fellow pupil, though fortunately without causing injury.

He was ‘full of devilment’, said Cissie, who lavished more attention on Bobby because of his superior gifts at football.

Unlike his precocious younger brother, Jack showed little outstanding ability at the sport and even struggled to get into the Ashington junior side. 

‘He was so inferior to Bobby, it was an embarrassment,’ recalled his contemporary Rob Storey. The manager of Ashington, Jimmy Denmark, was just as scathing. ‘That lad will never make a player,’ he said.

But Jack made a mockery of such predictions. As he grew taller, he dramatically improved, especially in heading and tackling.

At the age of just 15, after briefly considering becoming a police officer or a miner, his family connections ensured he had a trial with Leeds United, as a result of which he was offered an apprenticeship on £5 a week. He went on to make his league debut in 1953.

His career faltered in the late 1950s, but under the guidance of Don Revie, who was appointed Leeds manager in 1961, he became one of the most authoritative centre-halves in the country.

‘He was so commanding, always shouting at the rest of us and organising the defence like a military policeman,’ recalled Leeds goalkeeper David Harvey.

Jack’s personal courage was just as impressive. 

‘I have seen Jack with blood running down his face, and even then he would refuse to come off the field. He would never surrender,’ said another former Leeds player Willie Bell. 

During the late 1950s Jack was probably closer to Bobby than at any other time in his life. When he married Pat Kemp, an employee at a local furniture store, in 1958, he chose Bobby as his best man.

Pictured: Jack Charlton with brother Bobby during an England training session at Stamford Bridge in 1965

Pictured: Jack Charlton with brother Bobby during an England training session at Stamford Bridge in 1965

Pictured: Jack Charlton with brother Bobby during an England training session at Stamford Bridge in 1965

But even then, the daughter of Jack’s landlady in Leeds detected some disharmony. ‘Bobby and Jack never appeared close. Bobby was very quiet, still seemed a bit of a mummy’s boy and that got on Jack’s nerves,’ she told me.

But that was nothing to the division that began to open up

after Bobby married Norma Ball, a receptionist at a Manchester fashion agency, in 1961. It gradually became obvious that Norma and Cissie had little time for each other — and that had sorry consequences for the brothers.

Bobby later said that, despite attempts at compromise by Norma, his mother ‘was not always open to such overtures’. Cissie herself admitted: ‘We got off to a bad start. I just think we rubbed each other up the wrong way’.

The result was that Cissie rarely met her grandchildren from Bobby and Norma’s marriage, who included the BBC television weather forecaster Suzanne Charlton.

Pictured: Jack Charlton attends a memorial service in honour of Bobby Robson at Durham Cathedral in Durham, UK, September 21, 2009

Pictured: Jack Charlton attends a memorial service in honour of Bobby Robson at Durham Cathedral in Durham, UK, September 21, 2009

Pictured: Jack Charlton attends a memorial service in honour of Bobby Robson at Durham Cathedral in Durham, UK, September 21, 2009

‘I look at Suzanne, giving the forecasts,’ Cissie recalled in one interview, adding, ‘I’m very proud of the fact that she’s my granddaughter, although I have hardly ever seen her’.

Jack seethed at what he perceived to be his brother’s neglect, especially after Cissie went into a nursing home.

The former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg claimed that Jack once exploded with anger about the whole saga — ‘He’s been to Ashington and never gone near her. Don’t let him kid ya, HG. He never bothered with her.’

Even after Cissie’s death in 1996, when the brothers met in unified sorrow at her funeral, the wounds were still deep.

‘I’ll never forgive him. We’ve never been further apart,’ said Jack.

But the turn of the century began to bring a change in mood. The flames of enmity burned much lower.

‘We are brothers and we have shared so much, and I’m grateful that we are still able to be together,’ wrote Bobby in 2007.

Fortunately, in the years before Jack’s death, there was a touching reconciliation between them when Jack presented Bobby with a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event in 2008. ‘I never lost the sense of wonder and gratitude that we were together in 1966 on such a great day,’ said Bobby in tribute to his brother.

They were also united in 2018 at the funeral of their late 1966 England colleague Ray Wilson, who like Jack, suffered from Alzheimer’s in his last years.

The long quarrel was deeply hurtful on both sides, though the two men were fortunate that they had very strong marriages that provided them with stability and security.

Bobby also generously recognised his brother’s fury was borne from love for his mother.

‘Jack has a good heart,’ he wrote. And a big heart as well, which is why so many fans here, in Ireland and across the whole world, are mourning the passing of England’s great champion.

n Leo McKinstry is author of Jack And Bobby: A Story Of Brothers In Conflict

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