Sir Bobby ingrained in Hampden history

Monday 11 September 2023 13:33

With England playing Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday night, my thoughts have turned to an interview I did with Sir Bobby Charlton, when he brought up the first of his 106 caps for his country.

The clash in Glasgow celebrates the 150th anniversary of the oldest international match in football as the special occasion is properly marked north of the border.

The neighbours first met on St Andrew's Day in 1872, at the West of Scotland Cricket Club ground, and one man who will always be associated with the fixture is Manchester United and England icon Sir Bobby.

In an interview I did with him at Old Trafford back in 2014, the conversation turned to Sir Tom Finney and Sir Bobby's vivid description of playing in front of the passionate home crowd in the Scottish capital has always stuck with me.

The legendary picture of Sir Bobby back in Ashington, recovering after Munich.

Charlton had been involved in the tragic Munich Air Disaster, in February of 1958, and considered his entire future in the game before convalescing in his native north east and returning to action with United on the first day of March, following his two goals in the fateful final match for the Busby Babes against Red Star Belgrade.

There has been a famous photo of Sir Bobby rediscovering his love of the sport while kicking around with some local kids in the streets of Ashington which we would pass on the way to and from the staff canteen at Old Trafford, that you could not help but gaze at it and think about what he went through, losing so many of his friends and team-mates, and yet how he had gone on to have one of the most outstanding careers imaginable.  

By enhancing his reputation as one of the country's top youngsters, he was called into the England squad for the eagerly anticipated encounter with Scotland in the popular British Home Championship, with the fixture taking place on 19 April.

And it proved to be a dream debut. He slammed home a superb scorching drive that would become his trademark as the Three Lions recorded a 4-0 victory to silence almost 128,000 fans. Charlton's goal was the third, coming in the 65th minute, with Derek Kevan netting twice and Bryan Douglas getting the ball rolling.

Perhaps an indicator of just how much it meant to me when I got to speak to such a legend of the game, I still have the audio of our conversation on my phone, despite this particular chat happening almost a decade ago.

So I gave it another listen and this is what the great man had to say about his memories of that debut.

"My first match for England was with Tommy Finney," he recalled. "It was when there were no English supporters. None! They had all of the stadium! I think we were winning 2-0 and he went past the full-back, which he always did. You could never take the ball from him, he was just sensational and the one thing was, if he got it on his left foot and took it to the dead-ball line, there was danger for the defenders. And, for a forward, you had to support him.

"You knew what he was going to do. He was going to beat the full-back, have a look up and then he was going to chip it in. So, when the ball was coming down, you could smash it in. It's what we did. Tommy Finney crossed this ball and I smashed it in. When we were going back to the halfway line, he said 'well done' and everything, and I replied: 'Thank you very much'. It was just fantastic.

"I scored that goal against Scotland and, before we kicked off again, even the goalkeeper, Tommy Younger his name was, came and patted me on the back and said: 'good goal'. Imagine that? I wouldn't have been thinking about that but, anyway, [Sir] Alex [Ferguson] always tells stories about that match too. I loved playing in those international matches. We played three games at the end of the season, the Home Internationals, and change to be at home in the following season, if we'd been away. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It was a big match and a big scene, that was." 

Tom Finney and Bobby Charlton carry Billy Wright during an England training session.

Sir Bobby has scored more goals for England than anybody else at Hampden Park, three in total, putting him ahead of the likes of former Reds Paul Scholes, Steve Coppell and Stan Pearson, who have two.

No player has made more than his six appearances in the fixture with the Auld Enemy at Hampden, with Finney, Emlyn Hughes, Bobby Moore, Peter Shilton and Tommy Wright also on that figure. Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins made five.

"Billy Wright, the captain, said: 'Bobby, see that great big terrace behind the goal?'" Sir Bobby added. "He said, if they score, every one of them, they can't move their hands. There was about 60,000 in one stand and they were all like that [motions to show me]. I said well, I'll look out and, when it happened, I think there was an offside goal or something, everybody was only moving their heads! 

"We didn't have one supporter from England not one. But we had a fantastic record against them."

I've smiled at remembering Sir Bobby showing me how these fans, long before I was born, would look like penguins while desperately trying to celebrate a goal despite being packed in like sardines into the old stands. It remains an absolute honour to have spoken to him on quite a few occasions and, no doubt, his exploits in the Scotland versus England fixture will be given the attention they deserve in the build-up to Tuesday night's game, when we hope to see Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford all in action.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.