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English soccer in mourning after ‘greatest’ player Bobby Charlton dies

By Thomas Schlachter, CNN

(CNN) — Emotions ran high in England over the weekend after it was announced that Bobby Charlton, widely regarded as the country’s greatest soccer player, had died on Saturday at the age of 86.

Tributes were paid throughout the soccer world, with David Beckham and Prince William among those paying their respects to the World Cup winner, while pictures of the former Manchester United great adorned the front pages of England’s national newspapers.

“A little bit of England has died,” said The Sunday Times of the man who played a starring role in England’s 1966 World Cup win.

Charlton died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday surrounded by his family, according to a statement from his family, per the English Football Association.

“Sir Bobby was a hero to millions, not just in Manchester, or the United Kingdom, but wherever football is played around the world,” Manchester United said in the statement on Saturday, adding that he would be remembered as a “giant of the game.”

Manchester United has said a book of condolence will be available to sign at the club’s stadium, Old Trafford, this week while there is also an online version. Fans have also been placing flowers next to the sculpture outside the stadium, known as the “United Trinity,” which features Charlton, and fellow United greats George Best and Denis Law.

Beckham, one of the few England players with more international appearances to his name than Charlton, said he would be “forever grateful” to the man who advised United to keep an eye on the up-and-coming youngster after he had attended one of Charlton’s soccer camps.

“It all began with Sir Bobby. Sir Bobby was the reason I had the opportunity to play for Manchester United… I will be forever grateful to a man I was named after, someone I looked up to and was a hero to many around the world not just in Manchester and our country where he won the World Cup in 1966,” Beckham, whose second name is Robert, said on Instagram. Beckham’s father Ted was a United fan.

‘Footballing immortality’

Charlton’s impact on soccer was a global one. He became synonymous with United, one of the biggest soccer clubs on the planet, and his legacy for club and country has become storied around the world.

He is not only regarded as one of England’s greatest sportsmen but as one of the finest soccer players of his era, alongside Pelé, Eusébio, Bobby Moore, Garrincha and Franz Beckenbauer. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1966 because of his excellence at that year’s World Cup.

Charlton made 758 appearances for United, scoring 249 goals over his 17 years at the club, and won three league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup – now known as the Champions League.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, said: “Sir Bobby Charlton. First Division Champion. European Champion. World Champion. Gentleman. Legend. A true great who will be remembered forever. Thank you Sir Bobby.”

Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, posted on X: “We mourn the loss of one of England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup winning team and a football legend, whose impact on the game spanned generations.”

While playing for England, Charlton became a record breaker. Predominantly playing as an attacking midfielder, he became England’s most capped player with 106 appearances and the country’s record scorer with 49 goals – both feats which have since been broken.

One player who failed to surpass Charlton’s international goal tally was Gary Lineker. The former Barcelona striker finished his international career with 48 goals and shared his appreciation on X for a man he called “England’s greatest ever player.”

While his general impact on the game was extraordinary – he scored twice in the 1968 European Cup final against Benfica as he captained United to its first European title – the most memorable moment of Charlton’s career was the 1966 World Cup.

England won the 1966 World Cup final with a 4-2 win against West Germany at Wembley Stadium, where Geoff Hurst scored a hat trick. Following Saturday’s news, Hurst referred to his former teammate as “one of the greats.”

“We will never forget him & nor will all of football. A great colleague & friend, he will be sorely missed by all of the country beyond sport alone,” Hurst said.

The significance of Charlton’s passing was evident in Sunday’s newspapers in England, while tributes were also paid at Premier League matches.

The Sunday Mirror said that football would never forget Charlton, while The Observer refer to him as “England’s greatest footballer.” The Sun on Sunday’s headline referred to Charlton as “a hero to the whole world.”

Charlton’s brother Jack, who died in 2020, also played in the 1966 World Cup final in the 4-2 win against West Germany.

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