Wor Jackie.

I’m not sure I liked him, much, early doors. Certainly *that team* with the brilliant but spiteful terriers Bremner and Giles, plus the pre- (quite reasonably) sanctified ‘clogger’, Hunter, was right up there on the Most Despised list, for most of us. Leeds. Led by the sheepskin-coated cynic, Revie.

Big Jack/Wor Jackie was a Proper Member of that club… and yet his rascaltastically steady giraffe thing endeared himself more to the masses, I think, than most of his colleagues. That and the events of 1966.

Let your mind flash back, if it can. Did not even the gorgeously gifted Eddie Gray have a nasty streak? Was there something bit grating about Madeley’s smoothness? Wasn’t Allan Clarke essentially rancorous and even the unprickly Lorimer a bit – yaknow – lary, somehow? Wasn’t our dislike, despite the inevitable raw jealousy, rooted in something palpable?

Charlton was guilty of being ‘Leeds’, too, then: so we’d roar when he got physical. But I remember him more for a kind of upright doughtiness than any persistent evil. It felt as though Big Jack was always too close to mischief and what we’d now call #bantz than sustained malice, to be a full-on Leeds Bastard – not that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) ‘look after himself’. He was classic English Number 5 in that he stopped people playing: marked them. Sometimes, yes, physically.

There was something else, too. That brother. The surging saint from Manchester United – the *actual player*. This made him/them or presented the Charltons as a Football Family; a rather special one, yes, after ‘66? Bobby was god-like – that charm, that quiet grace, that fu-ck-ing goal against Portugal!

Jack was bound in there, part of the glorious package but nobody understood him as a great player. He was good: he was a solid, international stopper but he was hardly Rio Ferdinand, never mind Alan Hansen.

Of course Jack was of his era, when the job description didn’t include easing stylishly into midfield, or threading searching passes into the false nine’s feet, or even (arguably) looking comfortable on the ball. Charlton J stopped you: he was a presence and he was ‘strong in the air’.

(Minor diversion. In a shockingly out-of-character burst of research, have looked at the Bleacher Report’s top ten England centre-halves. Interesting. [Here – https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2098444-ranking-englands-10-greatest-world-cup-central-defenders ].
Guess where Jackie is? Number 3. Ahead of Rio Ferdinand and behind John Terry and Bobby Moore. The whole bundle feels a relatively weak line-up to me, with only a few players – and I do mean players – of really high quality. Charlton is one of several who were effective rather excellent or richly, broadly skilled).

But this is sounding rather negative and I don’t want to be that – Wor Jackie doesn’t deserve that. The point I am making about Charlton J is that he was a tower; a resolute, indomitable, reliable English Centre Half of a high order, at a time when football was different. Not worse, or less demanding, but different. He was outstanding, engaging and could plainly be the heartband soul of almost anything.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Charlton played 628 times for for Leeds, scoring on 70 occasions – a striking contribution for a defender. This in a 21 year career at the club. (Whoa: read that again – twenty; one; years). He also gained 35 England caps between 1965/and 1970, scoring 6 times. So the bloke was a threat, right, at what we used to call set-pieces? (Now set-plays).

These figures – in particular that proud, stoic, loyalty to Leeds – tell much of the story. The numbers, the years, the trophies speak to his utter, committed, authentic footballer-ness. As of course, does the Northumberland accent, the characteristically robust wit, the stature of the man in every sense. And we haven’t yet mentioned his career in management.

Big Jack had to be a Manager. He was always a leader, of sorts, even without the armband. Led by example, knew the game, was charismatic, was tough.

Those, like me, who remember the TV documentary from way back that showed him a) charging about the dressing room with the lads, todger-swingingly starkers and b) urging a youngster to “show me some aggression, son” still hold those memories close, amongstbothers. Absurdly, wonderfully macho stuff.

It utterly figures that this English icon could and did become and Irish legend. (Who else might ever fall into that particular category?!?) Charlton proved yet again that belief and togetherness and a ‘way of playing’ – a euphemism for simple, achievable patterns – can trump higher levels of quality in your opponent. Ireland had some players but they were driven to the World Cup Quarters by ‘Wor Jackie’s’ spirit… and method.

In my understanding of the phrase ‘Wor Jackie’, there is the association or assumption that ‘Wor’ implies, if not actually means, ‘our’. It’s for bellowing in approval at one of ours. Turns out that Charlton J’s powerful contribution, rather than being parochial, went inspiringly international, went beyond Northumberland and Leeds and England, because folks loved and followed and trusted his truth.

John Charlton – full name, what else? – strode manfully through a football life, keeping it simple, keeping it real in the way that only an irreducibly working class man might. He had more ‘chin’ than his brother, was a tad more abrasive, but ultimately shared that same wondrous humility.

It was another age when England won the World Cup: I smile when I think of Jack Charlton facing (say) David Silva, in a different dimension. Manchester City’s serpentine genius might ask a few questions of the Leeds man. One way or another I’m guessing the old warhorse would let it be known that he was a force – and “never mind yer poncy tickertackie”.

Wor Jackie was of his time but what a time he made of it.

Norman Hunter, rest in peace – though hard to imagine.

Norman Hunter, in yellow: with knees apparently sharpened, elbows unmistakably raised – as though either ready to issue some sharp reminder or to facilitate that hold, that feel of the opposition player. In from behind, hands irritatingly, floppily present, over and around the shoulders; pushing or distracting; spacing, twiddling, reminding. Hands having words with any striker or midfielder shielding or foolishly ‘backing in’. This is how I remember him.

From a live game in the distant past. When to be honest (and of course this is an appallingly abstracted straw poll but) most of us hated Leeds. Sure they were incredible but I really don’t recall any team being so heavily disliked as Leeds, in this era.

If that feels like poor timing, I apologise unreservedly. But anybody who knows British football from the 60s/70s is aware of the very particular quality wrapped around the club. The feelings trump the facts – outlive them. Sprake, Reaney, Hunter, Charlton J, Madeley, Cooper, Giles, Bremner, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray, Johanesson, Yorath. Those kind of exemplary, nuggety, adversarial fellas, on pitches where you had to physically compete. (They competed).

How *the construct* Leeds United FC (subset; under Revie) is or was received obviously depends on your tribal associations, but be honest, yer average anthropologist could still have a field day. I will maintain my original and unwise brevity on the matter by simply repeating that we – by which I include almost everybody I then knew and especially my Dad – hated them. (Subset appendix 1; my Dad was a classically biggish, honest, rooted bloke most resistant to inflammation: except where Don Revie was concerned).

On the playing side, Norman Hunter epitomised much of the steel and, on times, some of the spite that ran through those times. He would be joined in this by the spiky trio of Giles, Bremner and Clarke; however, it would be The Gaffer – Don Revie – who fell most easily into the role of Voodoo Doll. My old man, hopefully now ensconced in some heavenly British Legion Club, may still be inserting pins, today.

But back to Norman. He was dogged, abrasive and disciplined – mostly. He was tough and old-school. He could strike a ball, for all his essentially defensive traits but essentially Hunter was a hawkish watcher and attender, he marked and battled his corner to international level. It’s that utter, finger-jabbing, slide-tackling commitment that we’ll remember him for, on the park.

Interestingly, I’ve just read a tribute to Hunter from Revie which cherishes both his redoubtable professional qualities and his powerful honesty *in life*. I like to think this is true: that the Norman (who) Bites Yer Legs could also be a man of immense heart and generosity. In fact – sorry Dad – I’ll take Revie at his word on that. Rest in peace, Norman.