The start of Sir Bobby's amazing career

Thursday 06 October 2022 06:55

On the anniversary of Sir Bobby Charlton’s first-team debut for Manchester United, we look back at his arrival at Old Trafford and his early impact that paved the way for his introduction to the First Division...

“It was a thin February morning with frost upon the ground. We had to peer through the mist, but what I saw was enough for me: this boy is going to be a world-beater.”

United’s chief scout, Joe Armstrong, made no attempt to play down his findings when he reported back to Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy on 9 February, 1953.

Having played a major role in the capture of several of Britain’s most promising young talents, Armstrong’s opinion was highly valued at Old Trafford, and no fledgling player had elicited greater exhilaration in him than 15-year-old Bobby Charlton.

In 2016, Sir Bobby was asked about his senior debut 60 years earlier.

“He came back with the excitement of a gold prospector who has struck it rich,” recounted Murphy, of Armstrong’s return from his scouting mission to the north east.

Armstrong made it his mission to convince Charlton to plump for United over the plentiful other clubs who would later declare their interest. The scout’s repeated, insistent visits to the Charlton household did all the spadework, and a trip to Old Trafford to meet with Busby and Murphy sealed the deal. Young Bobby gleefully became a Red.

The only debate inside Old Trafford was how best to utilise a player of such numerous gifts that, in Busby’s words: “They combined to form a genius. It was very quickly evident that Master Bobby was going to make a considerable impact on football and on Manchester United football in particular.”

“He did so many things, superbly and by instinct,” continued Murphy. “What we had to try to do was channel these resources for the good of Charlton and the club. As a 15-year-old he had this thunderbolt power in his left foot. With the ball at his feet, has there ever been a more graceful mover, able to drift either to the left or right of an opponent with consummate ease? Think of a great rugby wing swerving past man after man and Charlton can do just that, with the ball at his feet.

“In Charlton we had a player who could move with the grace of a ballet dancer yet with dynamite in his boots. There was no more willing pupil and his shooting power soon rocketed him to fame.”

That blockbusting power was evident from the youngster’s first-team debut. Already a three-time FA Youth Cup winner, the 18-year-old striker was the subject of intense clamour long before his bow, and the expectation reached fever pitch when it emerged that he would be lining up against Charlton Athletic on 6 October 1956.

The United Review programme cover from Sir Bobby's debut.

Though he had massaged the truth about a niggling ankle injury, telling Busby that he was free of pain, Bobby powered home two supreme goals in a 4-2 victory.

Speaking years later, about that debut in 1956, the great man recalled: "When you're a little lad, you dreamt of playing football. You can definitely say you're a footballer when you play in the First Division, eh?"

He went on to end his maiden campaign with 12 goals in 17 games. A United career that would reach incredible, exhilarating, hitherto unmatched heights, was well and truly up and running.