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Jack Charlton – the footballer who fought fascism

Obituary by Anna Southern

Jack Charlton, 1970 World Cup. Photo: Panini. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Former coal miner, Jack Charlton, of Ashington, Northumberland, has died at the age of 85. Jack, of course, was also a World Cup winning footballer with England in 1966 (alongside his brother, Bobby Charlton) and, later, much loved manager of the Irish National Team.


Born to a footballing family in Ashington, in North East England, on 8th May 1935, Jack started his working life at the age of 15, going down the pit with his father, Bob. Jack’s mother Cissie was a big football fan and it was she who played football with her young sons, rather than their coal miner father. Jack’s uncles were footballers - Jack Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford City), George Milburn (Leeds United and Chesterfield), Jim Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue) and Stan Milburn (Chesterfield, Leicester City and Rochdale) and his mother’s cousin was the Newcastle United legend Jackie Milburn.


Jack was offered a trial at Leeds United football club aged 15. At first he turned it down in order to work down the pit, but soon found he didn’t like working down the pit and reconsidered. The trial was successful and Jack spent his entire club career at Leeds, he is fondly remembered as a Leeds Legend.


Jack was called up to the England team aged 29 and went on to score six goals in 35 international games, and to appear in two World Cups and one European Championship. He played in the World Cup final victory over West Germany in 1966, and also helped England to finish third in Euro 1968. After his playing career, a successful career in management followed. Jack managed Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and the team he supported, Newcastle United - before taking charge of the Republic of Ireland national team in 1986. Jack led them to their first World Cup in 1990, where they reached the quarter-finals. He also led Ireland to successful qualification to Euro 1988 and the 1994 World Cup. In 1994 he was made a Freeman of the city of Dublin, and in 1996 he was awarded Honorary Irish Citizenship.


Jack was proud to take a stand against fascism. He, along with Brian Clough, was a sponsor and founding member of the Anti-Nazi League, signing the organisation’s founding statement in 1977. This was a significant boost to the Anti-Nazi League at a time when the fascist National Front was having an impact on British political life, and overt racism was widespread in English football.


Despite his successful footballing career, Jack never forgot his working class mining roots. Jack was a supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). During the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85 he supported the strike, lending his car to striking miners so they could travel between picket lines. Jack’s brother Gordon was a miner and NUM activist during the strike. Arthur Scargill, leader of the NUM during the strike, remembers Jack with fondness. 1


In a 1984 TV interview with Terry Wogan, Jack said that if it wasn’t for his footballing career, he’d have ‘gone down the pit’. When Wogan asked him if he’d be on strike, Jack replied indignantly: “Of course I would. Those lads, they’re just trying to save jobs and their communities”. 2 Jack sometimes attended the Durham Miner’s Gala, a celebration of North East working class community, held every July in Durham, North East England and was honoured by this year’s Gala organisers.


Jack remained a valued and engaged part of the Ashington community until the end of his life. He was supportive of the local football team, Ashington AFC, and could often be found giving after dinner speeches and taking part in benefits for the club, free of charge. A campaign is now underway for a statue of Jack to be erected in Ashington. He loved, and was loved by, his community and will be remembered with great affection.


Farewell, Wor Jackie.


John (Jack) Charlton, footballer and manager, miner and anti-fascist, born Ashington, Northumberland, 8 May 1935, died 10 July 2020.


1 https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/arthur-scargill-pays-tribute-unswerving-jack-charlton-miners-strike-solidarity

2 Quoted in: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/jul/11/jack-charlton-a-footballing-giant-who-was-forever-a-man-of-the-people