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Big Jack Jack Charlton chronicle paints a picture of the big man's extraordinary life


Jack was huge hit with Irish fans

Jack was huge hit with Irish fans

Jack was huge hit with Irish fans

There is a sign on the window of the house that Jack and Pat Charlton shared which, away from all the unforgettable images conjured by just the name “Big Jack”, perhaps best sums up the final years of a remarkable life.

“A fisherman lives here with the catch of his life,” it says.

Jack and Pat Charlton were married for more than six decades, a partnership which spanned one of English football’s most iconic careers, but it is impossible not to feel most moved by that last period.

This was when the wider spotlight had moved on, but this hero of Ashington, England, Leeds and the Republic of Ireland was in greatest need of his family’s loving support.

Dementia takes a variety of paths and, while the cruel loss of memory is one inescapable destination, there is something still uplifting in watching how the Charltons absorbed Jack’s particular journey.

It is captured in a superb new film, ‘Finding Jack Charlton’, which chronicles not just how he scaled football’s greatest heights, but also takes us inside the family home during the two years before his death in July, aged 85.

And so we see Charlton (below) going fishing with his son John. We see him feeding the ducks with the grandchildren. We see him suddenly break into booming song – ‘Blaydon Races’, of course – and an occasional moment when something in his ravaged memory is suddenly jogged. The sight of Paul McGrath on video, which makes him visibly smile, is one wonderful such example.

Pat explains in the film that he could still recognise a former team-mate such as Geoff Hurst in person, but would reply simply “who?” if you only said their name. The strength of the visual rather than verbal reminder seems especially evident when you see Charlton silently fix his gaze at a painting inside their home of England winning the World Cup. Brother Bobby is depicted front right and, in the background, there is Big Jack, on his knees in triumph.

Pat decided to tell her husband he had a bad memory because “I didn’t want him to think he’d get worse and worse” and, after a career spanning 21 years and 797 games, there is little that they would change. “Whether it was heading the ball as much as he did, we don’t know,” says Pat. “He’s enjoyed his football. Would you take that away? I don’t think so.”

John agrees, but is well aware that others are affected by dementia earlier and more aggressively. “He has done more than most people have done in 10 lifetimes,” he says. It all feels especially poignant this week. England play the Republic of Ireland tomorrow at Wembley, less than two weeks after the death of Nobby Stiles and the news – reported in the film – that Bobby is now also living with dementia.

One revelation from the film was that Charlton kept hundreds of handwritten notes that contained not just his managerial philosophy, but also his outlook on life: “Be a dictator, but be a nice one. Never assume they know and understand. Loyalty. Listen to people. Never tell lies. Reap what you sow. You never stop learning. You must enjoy. They must enjoy. Time to work. Time to play. Make it so they want to come.”

That much was evident in how the Irish players would invariably report for duty under Charlton two days earlier than needed. “It was so that they could all go out for a few pints of Guinness on the Sunday – they wanted to be part of the camaraderie he created,” says John.

The Republic have qualified for three World Cups, of which two were under Charlton. They peaked with a quarter-final at Italia ’90 and, when the team were invited to the Vatican, Pope John Paul II pointed at Charlton, later an honorary Irish citizen, and called him “the boss”.

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Never previously broadcast footage captures Charlton at the team hotel singing with his players beside a fountain just hours after their 1-0 defeat by Italy. The sound of the squad joining Chris de Burgh in singing “Hey Jack” – to the tune of Hey Jude – captures everything about their greatest manager.

John also reveals that Charlton was asked to apply for the England job in the early 1980s but, having written to the FA, never received a reply.

“I asked him after he’d left Ireland whether, if England came calling, he would go back,” says John. “He just said, ‘No, I don’t want it now’.”

As it was, Charlton was only 60 when he took charge of his last game and, while possible opportunities did arise both with Celtic and Wales, a strong hinterland away from football meant that he was never tempted.

Perhaps the film’s most touching contribution comes from a rare interview with McGrath. Gabriel Clarke, the co-director with Pete Thomas, believes Charlton was “more than a father figure” to McGrath who, for all his off-field challenges, became such a talisman on the pitch. “I loved him,” McGrath said.

And, in that, he spoke for millions. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

‘Finding Jack Charlton’ is released on DVD and digital download from November 23

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