Colin Young got to know Jack Charlton well as a journalist covering North East football and also the Republic of Ireland. The two of them worked closely when Colin wrote “Jack Charlton – the Authorised Biography.”
Here is Colin’s tribute to his friend:
Very few men will unite Ireland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom in grief quite like Jack Charlton has this weekend.
To those of us fortunate enough to have covered his career from both sides of the Irish Sea, and hopefully to his family and friends, it will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.
The continued outpouring of so many affectionate tributes on social media, at the request of his grand daughter Emma, is a true mark of a wonderful man.
A football giant – he was nicknamed “The Giraffe” and “Big Jack” of course – he was a giant in life too. He loved life and people and people and life loved him.
Everyone who met him had a story. Something unusual or daft he did, or more likely said. He loved kids – right back to when he used to entertain Don Revie’s young children with sing-songs on the Leeds United bus on away trips – and made a point of making them laugh if they dared approach him for an autograph in club car parks. Twitter was full of such stories yesterday as the nation came to terms with his passing at the age of 85 on Friday.
His official biography, written four years ago, took six months, came to 100,000 words and included interviews from around 30 former team-mates, players, backroom staff, friends and family.
I always felt it barely scratched the surface. It could easily have been one million words, brimming with hilarious and touching anecdotes from 300 contributors, from all walks of life, all touched by the magic of Big Jack’s presence.
Not a single word could have been written without the hours spent with Jack, his wife Pat and son John and their backing – in his Ashington pitch he’d call me the ‘laird with the boo-k” – granted me access to team-mates, ex-players and, just as importantly, friends from his entire life. But never enough of them.
It is impossible to pick a favourite from the many tales told by Mick McCarthy, Andy Townsend, Paul McGrath, Tony Cascarino and so many others. But the best ones usually involved his mates and their fishing escapades.
He had his moments with journalists in his pomp. All real football men of that era did. But some of his lifelong best friends, like James Mossop and Peter Bryne, came from the written packs covering his career in England and Ireland. And they loved every minute of it.
When I was asked to put Jack’s biography together, I approached Peter and James to contribute with their personal reflections of their time on the road with Jack. Peter wrote his original biography and World Cup diaries. James had also penned a book or two and was with Jack every second of the night England won the World Cup in 1966. It can’t have been easy keeping the word count down. But like Jack, they were consummate professionals.
Journalists from Jack’s early years recalled his playing and club management days. John Helm (Leeds United), Ray Robertson (Middlesbrough), Peter Ferguson (Sheffield Wednesday), Bob Cass (Newcastle United). I’ll never forget Jack pausing to read Bob’s words as he was signing a pile on his kitchen table after the book had been published.
In his last piece before he died, Bob reflected on Jack’s hero-worship status in Ireland compared to the less favourable view of his own Geordie public after a botched attempt to resurrect cash-strapped Newcastle United in the wake of Kevin Keegan’s first departure. “It’s a good read that,” he said.*
Those who were part of Jack’s seven year adventure with the Republic of Ireland added to those stories from the memorable seven years at the helm of the Republic’s green army, such as Christopher Davies, David Walker, Gabriel Egan, George Hamilton, Philip Quinn and of course, the doyen Peter Byrne.
And the football might have been successful, but it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t meant to be. And that really didn’t matter.
Jack took Republic of Ireland’s players, press and supporters to places they’d never dreamed of. He opened up the team hotel to celebrate as they took finals in Germany, Italy and the United States by storm, ensuring every press conferences, and every get-together was memorable for everybody.
There really will be no one quite like him.
The best piece in the book was written by Emma Wilkinson. Jack’s aforementioned grand daughter, now a journalist with ITV.
It included this passage:
“In many ways grandad has led a very atypical life. But to us he has only ever been grandad. A man who mastered international football management, but still can’t operate the television remote. A man who has been lucky enough to be exposed to the finer things in life but still can’t accept that a battered haddock and bag of chips is going to set him back more than £2.50. And a man who will hold his grandchildren back from the road before they have looked both ways, whether they are four or twenty-four. Fame has not changed him and is a concept that he still finds endearingly novel. Nothing is ever too much to ask and whether he is sent something to sign in the post, or someone wants to reminisce with him in a restaurant or pub about Leeds, Ireland, the World Cup or anything else for that matter, he is always obliging. He feels fortunate to be in the position that he is, and he is hyper-aware of the future down the pit that may have awaited him had circumstances been different. Much has been written about the role my great-grandma Cissie played in altering this path but she is not the only woman to have played a pivotal role in his life, He owes a great deal to my grandma Pat, who with love and a dash of exasperation, has supported him unconditionally for more than 50 years.”
Big Jack in a nutshell. It was a privilege just to have met him.
*(Anyone who knew Bob, and may feel that’s a first, or not, are free to add their own comments at this point)