Sir Alex Ferguson has paid homage to Sir Bobby Charlton and explained how England’s greatest-ever player helped him become Manchester United manager.
Charlton, who died last weekend at the age of 86, will be mourned by the entire Manchester community ahead of Sunday’s Old Trafford derby.
And Ferguson has written a beautiful 1,000-word eulogy in the match-day programme to honour the man who captured his imagination when he watched Charlton score for England against Scotland, just a few weeks after he had survived the horror of the Munich Air Disaster which claimed the lives of eight of Matt Busby’s brilliant Babes.
Ferguson, who lost his wife Cathy earlier this month, writes: “I first saw Bobby Charlton when he made his England debut against Scotland at Hampden Park in April 1958, just two months after surviving the Munich Air Disaster.”
“I was there as a Scotland fan, standing on the terraces near the corner flag, and I remember Tom Finney playing as an outside-left against Alex Parker, a very good full-back.” Finney got the better of Parker on one occasion, taking the ball to the byline and cutting it back across the box for Bobby, who smashed it into the top of the net from 16 yards out.
“Back then, there were no players jumping on top of each other when they scored, and Bobby just jogged back to the halfway line with a couple of slaps on the back from his team-mates.
“But the Scottish keeper sprinted out of his goal 40 yards to congratulate him, not just because it was a great goal, but also because of what Bobby had been through. Everyone in the stadium that day could see there was a bit of magic about him, but also some steel.”
Ferguson recalls how Charlton gave him his full backing in 1986 when United were looking for a new manager capable of bringing back the glory days. He would become the club’s most successful manager during a reign that stretched 26 years.
He said: “The personal connection between us began almost three decades later, when I was manager of Aberdeen, and Bobby was a director of Manchester United when they were looking for a new manager.
“The directors came to meet me in Glasgow and asked what my vision was for the job. I said I would take the same approach I had at Aberdeen, by looking to build up the whole club, not just the team, and that I would do that by developing young players.
“As I was explaining this, I saw Bobby nudge one of the other directors and he said ‘that’s what we want’. He’d made his mind up. From that moment on he was a tower of strength for me.”
Ferguson added: “It’s no surprise to me that we’ve seen tributes to Sir Bobby from everywhere in the world, on every TV channel and in every newspaper, because he was without question the greatest English player of all time.
“People loved him because of all those thunderbolt goals but it was more than that.
“My dad used to say that humility in success is a sign of greatness, and that was Bobby. He never used to boast about his own achievements; it was always about the team and the club.
“I am so sorry for Lady Norma, who was always by Bobby’s side, especially as his health declined, and my thoughts have been with the whole family these past few days
Sir Alex’s tribute comes after he suffered the tragic loss of his wife, Lady Cathy, who passed away on October 6. She was married to Ferguson for almost 60 years.
He said: “Unfortunately, I have also suffered the painful loss of my beloved wife, Cathy, this month, and I want to thank the club, the fans, and everyone who has sent me their condolences. The black armbands worn by the team against Brentford, and the flags at half-mast around Old Trafford were a wonderful tribute. Cathy supported me every step of the way through my career, and she was the backbone of our family.
“At such a sad time, there is tremendous comfort to be found in being part of the Manchester United community and we’ve all felt that spirit this week.
“We’re continuing to mourn for Bobby’s loss, but as we look forward to the derby this afternoon, let’s also celebrate the many wonderful memories he has blessed us with and be inspired by the example he set.”