Manchester United Foundation: Thank you, Sir Bobby

Thursday 26 October 2023 10:00

The passing of the great Sir Bobby Charlton CBE was a moment that moved the football world. Regardless of your allegiances, it was impossible not to be inspired by a man who repeatedly defied the odds to achieve immortality in the beautiful game, but did so always with grace and humility.

Sir Bobby will always be remembered for his on-field exploits, but it is his off-field charity commitments - and particularly his staunch support of our own community work - that we wish to recognise in this tribute. 

Manchester United Foundation was established in 2007, as a lasting legacy to the aspirational spirit of the Busby Babes. Young lads, all from humble beginnings, who through the support of the club, Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy, would go on to etch their names into football's history books. That ethos was transferred to our own work, using the power of United to inspire young people to be the best that they can be. 

One of those fabled Busby Babes was, of course, Bobby Charlton, arguably the greatest-ever player to pull on the famous red shirt. As a Munich Air Disaster survivor who went on to win the World Cup and European Cup, he was not only synonymous with success but more importantly, he was the embodiment of resilience and courage – the perfect role model for our young people.
Sir Bobby opened a new building for a Foundation partner school in Wythenshawe in 2010.
Therefore, we were truly blessed that Sir Bobby and his wife Lady Norma - a constant source of support to her husband - were generous enough with their time to attend multiple Foundation events; no matter whether that was for a grand unveiling of a new project or partner school, or, indeed, to simply spread a bit of Manchester United magic.

Back in 2010 we hosted our first-ever launch event with partner school Manchester Enterprise Academy in Wythenshawe. Sir Bobby was there, providing an impromptu penalty kick demonstration, something that would become a popular feature at school partnership events over the coming years. 

As the Foundation grew, so did Sir Bobby’s support. 

“The Foundation is a big success with the work it’s doing in the community – it’s just sensational,” Sir Bobby commented back in 2014. “I’m always amazed by the imagination and intelligence of the children and the Foundation can help to bring them on.

“In all my years at Manchester United our philosophy has been to strive to do things the right way. In my experience, when you do this, you can look back on some really great achievements – this is what we are trying to instil into the youngsters.”
John Shiels MBE introduces his great ally Sir Bobby Charlton at a Foundation event.
John Shiels MBE, CEO of Manchester United Foundation, was a longstanding friend of the legend, having worked closely with him as part of Sir Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools. Their friendship and working relationship continued into John’s time at the helm of the Foundation, something for which he will always be extremely grateful.

“Sir Bobby really had something incredibly unique about him, where his presence alone could inspire people,” John said. “Young or old, he was a player and a person that transcended generations and always left such a wonderful impression.

“We were so lucky to have one of football’s all-time greats just a phone call away from helping us to support our young people and inspire them. What a life of service to the beautiful game he loved so much. It has been an honour and a privilege to have spent so much time with him. I am in awe of what he achieved and influenced in his life. 

“I will miss a wonderful man and a wonderful friend, and Manchester United will miss its most famous son. Sir Bobby, we thank you.”
Beyond his work with the Foundation, his charitable initiatives grew with the creation of his own organisation, the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation, which works to address the legacy of conflict, particularly in areas affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war.

It was while travelling in Cambodia as a sporting ambassador for the charity Laureus Sport for Good that he witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that landmines and a forgotten war was still having on innocent civilian communities. Sir Bobby was determined to use his global fame and influence to draw attention to the plight of the disadvantaged and to give a voice to the voiceless. In doing so, he helped to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people.

In his later years, spent away from the public eye, Sir Bobby will have been proud to know that his legacy and presence at his beloved Manchester United remained as strong as ever.

MU Foundation donates to legend's project


Find out how our Foundation is supporting Sir Bobby Charlton's charity work in Cambodia.

His grandson, Will, recently spent time volunteering at one of the Foundation’s Street Reds community football projects, and in doing so continued a Charlton legacy of allowing young people to enjoy football at its most pure, in their community, with their friends.

“To continue this means a lot to me of course,” Will said. “When I think of someone who has experienced tragic lows, but also touched the stars, I think of my grandad. 

“He is a perfect example to show that, no matter where you come from, no matter what adversity you might experience, with the support of those close to you, support of a club like Manchester United, you can overcome challenges and go on to do great things.

“United gave him that chance, the platform to go on to be an incredible player and a person of massive influence, which he used to do a huge amount of good in the world. The Foundation want to give young people that chance and to light that spark that they have within them.”

Scholarships honour Sir Alex and Sir Bobby


Our Foundation is funding two scholarships on its Sport and Youth Leadership degree, endorsed by United icons.

In keeping with that sentiment, in July of this year we announced that one of two scholarship places on our Sport and Youth Leadership degree at Manchester Metropolitan University would be named in honour of the great man. 

At the time, Sir Bobby’s wife spoke on his behalf, and it feels fitting that Lady Norma should have the final word.

“My husband’s long association with Manchester United came as a result of him being given an opportunity as a young boy from Ashington, all those years ago.

“I know how proud it makes him feel to see the club continuing to do this with young people, not only on the pitch, but also in the community through the amazing work of the Foundation. As a family, we couldn’t be happier to see Bobby’s name used to support another young person in achieving their dreams.”

Thank you, Sir Bobby, for everything.

In tribute to Sir Bobby: