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A life of witness,
This review is from: My Manchester United Years (Hardcover)
The boring tag attached by so many to Bobby Charlton has always frustrated me. Here was a man who played football with attacking Brazilian flair and never intentionally made a tackle in his life. A man with a thunderbolt of a shot who made the commentators voice rise when uttering his name. It was notable, if not remarkable in these commercial days, that he had never before published an autobiography.
Looming large of course over everything was the Munich air disaster. One couldn't help feeling that his rather dour, pre-occupied demeanour had emerged from that tragedy. It seems it was so. Here there are glimpses of the pre-Munich Charlton enjoying the company of his closest friends David Pegg, Eddie Colman and Tommy Taylor and his upward gaze to his hero Duncan Edwards. The world is truly at their feet. And then there is the crash. The heart is ripped out of the team but also the football heart to some degree silently seems to depart Bobby Charlton as well. He explains how he just can't understand how or why he survived, so unscathed, and his friends did not. It is something that will trouble him for a lifetime. The remainder of his life certainly however seems to have been driven by the need to bear witness to what was lost. Just one among many geniuses, Charlton bears testimony to the greatness of the others. "Here I am", he says, "see what I achieved and yet I was only ordinary among the Busby Babes."
Of course Bobby Charlton won the elusive European Cup with Busby at the helm, he won the World Cup with England and he played sublime football as one of the big three of Best, Charlton and Law. He deals in this book most passionately with Munich and with his family dispute with brother Jack and their mother - here one feels he is speaking from raw emotion. He does that less so with the rather club-justifying position on Beckham's departure and the sale of the club. However, there is a lot more here than in most football autobiographies and less platitudes, albeit with some skimming over of key events (for example, the battle for the commercial ownership of United, the controversy over the Munich survivors fund). He is clearly anxious for the record to show that his contribution to the Alex Ferguson reign is recognised too.
One feels Sir Bobby Charlton has worked out his self-imposed penance for surviving Munich by being the best he could possibly be, both for his beloved club and country. I only hope that in addition to his sense of duty he manages to draw some joy from the pleasure he gave to millions of us as an Englishman playing football the Brazilian way.