The BBC regularly produces incredibly informative documentaries that showcase the Solar System and the cosmos beyond. Astronomically high numbers are the thread that binds the wide variety of ice-cold comets to seemingly impossible planetary systems, but make it almost redundant for any viewer to truly comprehend.
Professor Brian Cox, the characteristic figure chosen to be the voice of these programmes, often admits that when dealing with such figures it is only right to admit defeat and allow such enormity to overwhelm your brain’s capacity of comprehension.
With Jack and his brother Bobby, the parallels between the mysteries of the universe are more frequent than they initially appear to be. The games played and trophies won make it that only those who participate in the actual experience are able to truly fathom the scale of such an achievement. Two brothers, one a superstar of their country, the other a forgotten hero. One a hero for England, the other for Ireland. One the figure of Manchester United; the other the same, but for Leeds United.
Jackie Charlton has the most appearances for Leeds with 773, but his brother Bobby appeared the most in a derby match that defined a generation. While Matt Busby engineered a flamboyant, energetic team with Bobby alongside Dennis Law and George Best, Don Revie and Leeds were building a side of a slightly different flavour.
Leeds’ half of the Charlton duo and Norman ‘Bite Yer Legs’ Hunter formed a pair of raging Alsatians in defence for the Whites, marshalled behind a midfield of Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles. A perfect mix of steel and flair from both sides produced some of the dirtiest, most intense, most memorable matches ever seen on British soil.
But Jack was nearly not a footballer. Growing up in England’s north-east, he was more interested in fishing traps and soon tried his hand at becoming a miner. After a day’s work, he declared he would never do it again. A whimsical attempt to join the police force was swiftly met with the conclusion that being a footballer, although his third choice as a career, was a better life than a bobby on the beat in the north-east.
His younger brother too liked to spend his time outdoors but didn’t require any experience in the coal-pits of Northumberland to confirm his plans. The influence came from grandfather Tanner Milburn. A non-league goalkeeper, Tanner seemingly had an astonishing ability to father footballing talent. Four of his five children became professional players; the fifth was the mother of Jack and Bobby Charlton. Genetic or not, the pair’s career paths were always destined to end up on the football field.
A survivor of the Munich Air disaster, Bobby became not only the best player in the world, but an outstanding example of fair play. Being cautioned only twice was something his older sibling could only have dreamed of. Bobby acknowledged that such a side of the game did exist, although chose to win his personal on-pitch battles through utilising the vast gulf in natural talent skewed in his favour.
Despite the clash of styles, both players complimented each other. Bobby was allowed to perform miracles in 1966 safe in the knowledge that his elder brother was stood alongside Bobby Moore, creating an impenetrable wall. The two brothers were the first sibling pair to play in every match at the World Cup finals; they were also the first brothers to win the trophy.
The tragedy is that for only a brief moment they were exactly that, teammates bound by blood experiencing an ephemeral moment of shared joy, caring only about what bound them together the most. When referee Gottfried Dienst blew the final whistle after Geoff Hurst’s immortal goals defeated the German machine, Jack fell to his knees and embraced Bobby. If only that was so easy.
A fall-out between their mother, Cissie, and Bobby’s wife, Norma, had caused the two to go from sharing a bed in Ashington to brothers only in name. It is a tragedy that the funeral of England teammate Ray Wilkins in 2018 was the first time that Jack and Bobby had been seen together in public in 22 years.
That is why, when Bobby received the BBC Lifetime Achievement award that same year, the world took notice. The moving footage of the homage from Jack to Bobby shows the love of one brother to another; ties can be broken but blood cannot be swapped. Bobby’s tears cannot be held back as he hears the heart-warming ode: “He is the greatest player I have ever seen. And he is my brother.”
Such was the force of the invisible shockwave that rumbled across the rocky surface of the planet may have caused it to tilt slightly out of orbit. On 11 July 2020, people across the world woke up to the news that another Leeds legend had passed away. This time it was 85-year-old Jack Charlton. The people of Earth who love the game of football felt the loss as one; those who knew him, even more so.
Players can do what the Charlton brothers did, but it will likely never happen again. To play so much, to win so much, and to create such an astounding impact on humanity is not something that comes around to a single person once in a generation. To have a pair of brothers do exactly that is a gift from the random impossibility of the universe. The irreplaceable mark that Jackie and Bobby have left on the world is one thing the cosmos has created that we can truly understand.
By Joe Brennan @j4brennan