The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has paid tribute to Jack Charlton, a football legend in both England and Ireland and a man of “integrity and very rare character”.
England, Ireland and the sporting world were in mourning last weekend following the death of World Cup winner Charlton at the age of 85. The much-loved football legend died at his home in Northumberland on Friday, 10th July after suffering from lymphoma and dementia.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann led tributes to the footballing great who was, he said, equally loved in England and Ireland for the major roles he played in the country’s national triumphs – winning the World Cup with England in 1966 and leading the Republic of Ireland to their first major finals at Euro 1988 and the World Cup quarter-finals at Italia 1990.
“Jack Charlton was a very rare character; not only in who he was but what he achieved. He was a true ‘Good Samaritan’,” Mgr Felzmann, CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, told The Catholic Universe.
The chaplain questioned whether there are any other sports personality so venerated in the two countries. “Though born in Ashington, Northumberland and a winner with Leeds United and England, he transformed the Irish team.”
Mgr Felzmann recalled how in 1994 Big Jack was made a Freeman of the city of Dublin, but that wasn’t his only Irish honour: in 1996, Charlton and his wife, Pat were made honorary Irish citizens, only seventh and eighth persons to be so decorated.
“An honorary Irishman – with an Irish passport – he was probably the country’s greatest ever sporting figure – and certainly its most influential. He was easily the most famous person in Ireland for a decade – and the most celebrated,” said Mgr Felzmann.
“To keep him ‘one of ours’ this side of the Irish sea, in 1997 he was appointed a DL: Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland,” the chaplain added.
He also spoke of Charlton’s “genius and loyalty”, noting how he had spent his entire club career with Leeds United from 1950 to 1973 and remains beloved by Leeds fans to this day.
“However, it is not in the UK but at Cork Airport that you will find a bronze statue of Jack sitting down in fishing boots holding a salmon with a fishing rod across his left shoulder. It was not only his football prowess – and his ability to pick Irish football up from the ground and take it on to the world stage – that made Jack special,” said Mgr Felzmann.
“He had integrity, was down to earth, genuine, quirky, funny and warm; a great family man and friend,” he said, recalling how Charlton humbly presented his brother Bobby with BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement trophy in 2008, while stating: “Bobby Charlton is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. And he’s my brother.”
“Jack was a Geordie who admitted that during the Irish team’s audience with Pope John Paul II, he dozed off. When he woke up, he seemed to see His Holiness waving at him. It was probably a blessing. So, he waved back.
“I see him now, waving at us – whatever our origin, colour, race, gender or creed – to bring the whole of humanity into a team whose opponent is not a football formation but a global virus,” Mgr Felzman concluded.
Among the swathes of sport stars paying tribute to Charlton was former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton, who was handed his Republic debut in Charlton’s first match in charge of the side in 1986.
Describing his former boss as “a larger than life character”, Houghton told talkSPORT: “The word legend is used too much in football but not for Jack.”
He said Charlton “changed everything about Irish football” and that “his legacy within Ireland is absolutely huge”.
Picture: File photo dated 15-02-1995 of Ireland manager Jack Charlton. ( PA).