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Magical moments Jack Charlton still took 'great joy' from his football memories as he battled with dementia, documentary director reveals

Finding Jack Charlton recalls Ireland's monumental campaigns in Germany, Italy and the USA and offers an intimate account of Jack's struggles with dementia


Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton has a word with Paul McGrath during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Germany in Stuttgart. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton has a word with Paul McGrath during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Germany in Stuttgart. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton has a word with Paul McGrath during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Germany in Stuttgart. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

He struggled with a form of dementia that cruelly left him unable to remember many of his own precious Ireland memories and glory days.

But when Jack Charlton spots one of our greatest-ever players on a home video, his face breaks into that unmistakable grin as he turns to camera and beams: “Paul McGrath”.

The magical moment is captured in a terrific new documentary about the former Republic of Ireland manager, which has its network TV premiere on Virgin Media One on Sunday March 28th at 9pm.

Finding Jack Charlton recalls the team’s monumental campaigns in Germany, Italy and the USA but also offers an intimate account of his struggles with dementia in the final year of his life. The film is screened as part of Virgin Media’s Donate for Dementia week.

“It was a really lovely moment, Jack's smile to the camera. At the time, it felt very powerful, so I hope it connects with people because it did feel like a beautiful moment,” said Pete Thomas, who co-directed the film with Gabriel Clarke. “I think it was after we filmed with Paul.

"Paul had sent a little hello to Jack that we played to him and he just straight away turned to the camera. It was great.

“He could still recall players, still take great joy from certain parts of his life and absolutely connected with all of his family members and loved being around them.

"That was something we wanted to get across, that he still had these moments with the glint in his eye where you saw the Jack you know and love, right up until the end. There were moments when he couldn’t remember things. But he was still Jack.”

The film’s makers partnered with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and its equivalent in the UK. “They were helpful with the filming and have been helpful since the filming to provide support and guidance. One of the reasons why we linked up with them was to be able to refer people if they have questions or if they need a bit of support or help.”

The feature-length documentary looks at Charlton’s football career in England and his relationship with his brother Bobby. But as he says in footage in the film: “Joys as a manager are totally different to joys as a player. The joy for me is what we achieved in Ireland” and the film’s main focus is his tenure as manager. The filmmakers sourced lots of new footage from that time while researching the film - including from within the team bus and the Irish camp.

“I think with any film like this, it’s being able to show people things that have never been seen before,” said Pete Thomas. “With Jack, there have been things made about his life and footage that probably we've all seen a lot of times and absolutely, some of that's in the film, because you want to see it again, because it's great.

“But you're always looking for the angle, that footage you haven't seen.

"We'd heard rumours about cameras on team buses, or cameras at team meetings, and it was just a lot of digging and talking to contacts, searching places like YouTube and Facebook, because certain things would pop up there that people have filmed a long time ago, and had just posted a little clip somewhere. And when you get in touch they say: ‘Actually I've got a bit more’.

“We did try very hard to include footage that people won't have seen, and particularly footage from that sacred team - on the bus with them, in the hotel with them sitting around, having a sing-song, that hopefully feels special to people because you're there with them.”

The film is packed with contributions from people who knew and worked with Charlton, including former FAI president Des Casey, who made the initial phone call to gauge his interest in managing Ireland.

“It was me that rang Jack and asked him if he’d be interested in the job. He said: ‘What job are you talking about?’ ‘Managing our international team’. He said: ‘I’d have to think about that’.

It took a couple of more calls before Charlton engaged.

The film also includes memories of the time from several players including Andy Townsend, Packie Bonner, Niall Quinn and Paul McGrath, who says of football: “I made friends and that’s what I loved about it. Jack came in and he wanted me on the team which was amazing to me. I felt much more confidence in myself.

“Jack wanted the best for me. He understood that I loved him. Any time he put me on a football pitch, and I was in any way healthy, I’d be playing for him as much as anyone.”

It also features the legendary Charlie O’Leary, well known to Irish fans as the kit manager for many years. “Now a lot of people would say that’s the lowest position you could have in an international team.

" Not where Jack was concerned. Jack made me very important. He always put you there with the players, and he never let you down in front of people. He was a master of man management. I never saw anyone equal him.”

The film brilliantly contextualises the success of the team in a time of social and economic turmoil in Ireland, as recession and The Troubles made their impact felt.

Many of the most moving anecdotes are from his wife Pat and their family, who have shared hundreds of notes Charlton would write to himself, all of which they’ve kept.

“There’s a few of the notes that we found that were Jack’s that almost felt like lessons on life. ‘Be honest, never tell lies’. ‘Make people enjoy being around you’, and they're so true in every walk of life,” said Thomas.

“I think what I really wanted people to take was what an incredibly broad life he lived, and hopefully learn things about him that they didn't know. Just to see the impact that he had on people in different areas of his life, because he had this incredible ability to connect with anyone. Jack was himself. And maybe that's why it worked so well, because he was just so comfortable being himself in his own skin.”

Finding Jack Charlton is on Virgin Media One on Sunday March 28 at 9pm

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Online Editors