Alan Hubbard

The malady lingers on.

Jack Charlton’s death at 85 means that half of the triumphant footballing giants from the class of 1966 are no longer with us. 

It does seem that the heroic team which claimed the nation’s one and only World Cup victory has been strangely ill-fated, with some of some of those who remain stricken with debilitating illnesses.

Charlton, who died last week, had been diagnosed with lymphoma in the last year and had dementia, which also claimed Martin Peters, Ray Wilson and manager Sir Alf Ramsey.

Captain Bobby Moore and goalkeeper Gordon Banks died of cancer, while Alan Ball had a heart attack after fighting a blaze at his home.

Of the surviving half-dozen, the once irrepressible Nobby Stiles is also suffering severe dementia, George Cohen has had cancer and now uses a walking frame through lack of mobility, while Charlton’s three years younger sibling Sir Bobby is widely believed to be affected by Parkinson's, though this has never been publicly confirmed.

Only Sir Geoff Hurst, 76, and fellow forward Roger Hunt, 77, who has retired after running his own road haulage business, remain as healthy members of that magnificent 11.

It is an uncomfortable coincidence that with all the current concerns about brain damage being caused by heading the ball, that so many of that team have been affected by conditions such as Alzheimer's.

Jack Charlton died last week at the age of 85 ©Getty Images
Jack Charlton died last week at the age of 85 ©Getty Images

It is also curious that one voice that has remained unquoted among the mountains of praise that have been heaped on Jack following his career as a player with Leeds and England, and as an outstanding manager of Middlesbrough then the Republic of Ireland for a decade, is that of Sir Bobby.

It may be that he has been too indisposed himself to speak about Jack but, as writer Leo McKinistry discovered when researching biographies of the pair, they were never close and, indeed, the relationship was distant and scarred by discord to say the least.

I was among those at Wembley who saw them embrace amid tears of joy after England’s World Cup victory, yet that hug gave a misleading impression of their relationship, which was far from warm.

As McKinistry says, the bond between them was badly cracked. "To be honest, me and our kid were never the best of friends," Jack once admitted. For his part, Bobby complained that his brother’s attitude was sometimes "unacceptable", and that that Jack could be "too impetuous, too eager to speak and to lash out".

Fortunately, in the years before Jack’s death, there was a touching reconciliation between them when Jack presented Bobby with a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event in 2008. "I never lost the sense of wonder and gratitude that we were together in 1966 on such a great day," Bobby said in tribute to his brother.

They were also united in 2018 at the funeral of their late 1966 England colleague Ray Wilson, who like Jack, suffered from Alzheimer’s in his last years.

Brothers Jack, left, and Bobby Charlton were never the best of friends ©Getty Images
Brothers Jack, left, and Bobby Charlton were never the best of friends ©Getty Images

A long quarrel, which was deeply hurtful on both sides, was at the heart of the fraternal friction. Their mother Cissie had a strong antipathy towards Bobby’s wife Norma, and that feeling was reciprocated by Bobby, who, inevitably, took the side of his wife in the dispute as the chasm between the two women widened, while Jack supported his mothers.

At times, especially in the 1990s, the level of bitterness between the brothers was such that they were not even on speaking terms.

But, even without the shadow of this family rift, the fact is the two were miles apart as players and personalities. There was no fraternal empathy.

At every level, the gap between them was huge.

They both had long careers, each holding the league appearance record for his respective club - Jack with 629 at Leeds United and Bobby at 606 for Manchester United - but the similarity ends there.

As McKinistry says, on the field, Jack was a Roundhead, Bobby a Cavalier. "Bobby was a gentleman, whereas Jack would kick you straight up in the air," he wrote.

They were even different in terms of their physique. Bobby was squat and muscular, standing 5ft 7in, whereas Jack’s 6ft 2in frame was the polar opposite.

Bobby Charlton received only two yellow cards in his career, while Jack's rebellious, competitive streak led to regular confrontations with the authorities.

Tributes have been paid to Jack Charlton at football grounds across the country ©Getty Images
Tributes have been paid to Jack Charlton at football grounds across the country ©Getty Images

As McKinistry recalls, Jack caused outrage when he claimed in a 1970 TV interview to have a "little black book" that listed opponents against whom he planned to get back at on the pitch.

The legacy of that explosive controversy may have damaged Jack’s chances of becoming England manager in 1977, a post for which he was more than qualified.

Jack, who was fascinated with tactics and had qualified as a coach while still at Leeds, had the better of the two brothers when it came to management.

They both retired from playing in 1973, but Bobby’s short spell at the helm of Preston North End ended in failure, while Jack went on to two decades of success at club and international level, most notably with the Republic of Ireland.

During his decade in charge of the Republic of Ireland, they qualified for two World Cups even beat Italy in New Jersey at the 1994 tournament in the US.

This, coupled with his character and warmth, afforded him legendary status in the country. At one point, he was said to be more popular in Ireland than the Pope and once attracted a bigger crowd in Dublin than Nelson Mandela had done for an official visit.

Jack Charlton enjoyed a successful spell as Republic of Ireland manager ©Getty Images
Jack Charlton enjoyed a successful spell as Republic of Ireland manager ©Getty Images

There were other notable differences. Bobby was well-groomed and never late, Jack disorganised and scruffy. 

They had contrasting interests in politics, which never interested Bobby but which Jack took an active involvement in, writing a pamphlet for Harold Wilson’s 1970 re-election campaign entitled "Why I am Labour".

The differences went right back to childhood. They were both born in the Northumbrian mining town of Ashington, Jack in 1935, Bobby in 1937.

It is thought Bobby took after his father, a quiet coal miner who had such little interest in football that he opted to work rather than watch the 1966 World Cup semi-final, while Jack took after his mother.

About all they had in common as children was the fact they had to share a bed.

As adults, both were central to the 1966 triumph, which to this day remains the greatest moment in England’s sporting history.

Bobby went from superstardom with England and Manchester United and became a knight of the realm, while Jack, a mere OBE, remained rooted in his north-east and working-class background, cloth cap and all. 

Yet oddly enough, the better educated grammar school boy Bobby was not in the same class as a public speaker as his always entertaining big brother. "People always compare us on the pitch which is unfair," said Jack.

"The truth is Bobby could play, a great creator and goalscorer. I couldn’t play but I stopped others from playing. His job was to score goals. Mine was too prevent others from scoring.

"We proved that there is a place for both in this game."

Even without brotherly love.