For someone so loved, Jack Charlton was always something of an outsider.
While younger brother Bobby was the golden boy of the Busby Babes and England’s 1966 World Cup winners, Big Jack played for Dirty Leeds and didn’t win his first international cap until a month before his 30th birthday.
Even Don Revie, under whom the defender won all his honours at club level, told Charlton, “If I was manager, I wouldn’t play you,” when they were team-mates at Elland Road, only for Big Jack to become the cornerstone of Revie’s feared team that became known for the mantra ‘keep fighting’.
As a manager himself, Charlton quickly made a mark with promotions at Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, yet he never got the call from the country he had helped to win the World Cup. His face didn’t fit, and his style of play which had proved so effective was written off as “kick and rush”.
Ultimately, that rejection paved the way for Charlton to take over as Republic of Ireland manager in 1986. At his first match in charge, supporters held aloft a banner that read ‘Go home Union Jack’. But just like Revie, the Irish public were soon enthralled by Charlton’s unique charm off the pitch and the success he brought on it. By the time he left eight years later, even the Pope called him “boss”.
In series three, episode 15 of GIANT, the award-winning Spotify Originals podcast by MUNDIAL, we hear from Andy Townsend and Gabriel Clarke about the upcoming documentary ‘Finding Jack Charlton’.
Journalist Clarke co-directs the film, which Townsend supported as executive producer. As a former player under Charlton, who witnessed firsthand the impact he had on the Republic of Ireland, Townsend passionately sets the record straight on some of the criticisms of his manager’s style of play – as evidenced by an explosive appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, in which Charlton was forced to ardently defend his tactics following jibes from host Sue Lawley.
“There is no question that the game that we were operating at international level was very different to what most other teams were doing,” Townsend says. “The ‘press’ in football is a buzzword now. What you see Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players doing is exactly what we were doing 30 years ago.
“Of course, Jack demanding that press and demanding that we play that way – you can’t do that and have your defenders back on the edge of your own box while you’re there trying to squeeze and hunt the opposition down and win the ball high up the field.
“When I first joined up we had Liam Brady, we had Ray Houghton, we had Kevin Sheedy, we had Ronnie Whelan, we had John Aldridge, we had Paul McGrath. These were all guys that were playing for the best teams. [They weren’t] just in the top division, they were playing for the best teams, and they were regular starters in the very best teams.
“Don’t tell me that we only played kick and rush. It was basic in its design; to get players to understand it is the straightforward bit. For Jack then to get the personnel that could deliver it and do it really well, that was the tough part. And that’s what he managed to do.”
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When Charlton was first appointed, the Republic of Ireland had never qualified for a major international tournament. They then qualified for three of the next four, recording famous victories against Brazil, England and Italy along the way.
Upon Charlton’s death earlier this year following battles with lymphoma and dementia, Townsend was dismayed to find obituaries featuring “the football wasn’t all that” condescensions.
“Wow, hold on a minute, let’s take ourselves back – we were seventh in the world at one point under Big Jack. I lost five in my first 50 under Jack – five games. We didn’t get beat much, nobody penetrated us with ease, nobody found it easy to play against us.
“I don’t think he quite got the credit. It was a brave way to play. It’s actually a very brave way to say, ‘We’re not the fastest team in the world, but we’re going to sit right on the halfway line and we’re coming for you.
“We’ll do it once and then we’ll do it again and again.”
Listen to Behind The Scenes Of Finding Jack Charlton to hear more poignant words from Andy Townsend on his love of Charlton and the impact the film had on him, plus some fascinating insight into the notes Big Jack made that were unearthed by his wife Pat during the making of the documentary. If you feel like you then need to raise a glass to one of the very, very best, we’ll be right there with you.