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Jack Charlton, Soccer Hero in England and Ireland, Dies at 85


LEEDS, England — Jack Charlton, a soccer star who was a central part of the England team that lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1966 and who would later go on to transform Ireland’s national team as a manager, has died. He was 85.

His family said in a statement issued on Saturday that Mr. Charlton had “died peacefully” the day before at his home in Northumberland, in northern England. “We cannot express how proud we are of the extraordinary life he led and the pleasure he brought to so many people in different countries and from all walks of life,” the statement read.

Mr. Charlton had received a diagnosis of lymphoma last year and had suffered in recent years from dementia, according to the BBC. Leeds United, the club where he spent most of his career, said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death, describing him as a “club legend.”

Mr. Charlton spent all of his playing career at Leeds, making 773 appearances for the club as it was transformed from a makeweight into one of English soccer’s powerhouses in the 1960s and ’70s. It was his international career, though, that cemented his legacy.

Mr. Charlton was born in Ashington, a mining town in Northumberland, in 1935, the eldest of four boys in a family of famous soccer stock: His mother, Cissie, was a cousin of Jackie Milburn, a famous striker for Newcastle United.

Though Mr. Charlton started work in the town’s colliery as a 15-year-old, he left soon after, deciding to take up the offer of a contract at Leeds. One of his younger brothers, Bobby, would make a similar journey three years later, leaving Ashington to join Leeds’s great rival, Manchester United.

Whereas Bobby, widely regarded as one of the finest players England has ever produced, was a powerful and prolific scorer of goals, Jack was a towering, imposing and gnarled defender. Together, both were part of the team that led England to its first, and thus far only, World Cup victory in 1966.

In the final, England beat West Germany 4-2 after a long, grueling game. After congratulating Geoff Hurst, who had scored the decisive goals, the Charlton brothers embraced, and Jack sank to his knees, providing one of the defining images of the victory. “I don’t remember if I was saying a prayer or if I was knackered,” Mr. Charlton would say later.

“He changed everything about Irish football,” said Ray Houghton, one of his former players. “His legacy is absolutely huge.” After he retired from the role in 1995, Mr. Charlton was made a freeman of the city of Dublin.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin of Ireland wrote on Twitter that he was “saddened to hear of the passing of Jack Charlton who brought such honesty and joy to the football world.” The Football Association of Ireland said the country had lost “the manager who changed Irish football forever.”

Mr. Charlton is survived by his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1958, and by their three children: John, Deborah and Peter.

As much as his achievements, both as a player and a coach, it was Mr. Charlton’s character — “larger than life,” as Mr. Houghton put it — that endeared him to players and fans alike on both sides of the Irish Sea. Mr. Charlton’s love for the outdoors — hunting, shooting and fishing — never waned, and he encouraged his teams to bond as much as possible, advocating the health benefits of Guinness over beer.

He had an ear for an anecdote and an eye for a one-liner, all delivered in the distinctive Northumberland brogue that he never lost. During the 1990 World Cup, Mr. Charlton had taken his Ireland squad to the Vatican to meet John Paul II. The pope, an amateur goalkeeper in his youth, had struck up a conversation with Ireland’s goalkeeper, Packie Bonner.

When Ireland was eliminated at the quarterfinal stage — by Italy, largely because of a shot spilled by the Irish goalie — Mr. Charlton did his best to console his players in the locker room. He told them that they had exceeded expectations and done their country proud. As they packed their bags, ready to fly home, the mood somber, he turned to his goalkeeper. “And by the way, Packie,” he said, “the pope would have saved that.”

Rory Smith reported from Leeds, and Elian Peltier and Mark A. Walsh from London.


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