Manchester and the wider football world came together to say their final goodbyes to Sir Bobby Charlton on Monday.
Fans flocked to Old Trafford and to Manchester Cathedral for a public funeral service to remember Charlton, who died aged 86 last month.
The service was attended by United stars past and present, other football dignitaries and even the Prince of Wales.
United for Sir Bobby ❤️
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 13, 2023
Charlton will be remembered as arguably the greatest English footballer of all time, a World Cup winner in 1966 with his country and a winner of three league titles, an FA Cup and a European Cup with Manchester United in 1968.
However, the eulogies read at his funeral service at Manchester Cathedral all highlighted how family came first for Charlton.
His grandson William Balderston read the last of the tributes and recalled a “creative, fantastic storyteller” who would make up what he called “jelly and custard” tales to entertain and enthral his younger relatives.
He spoke of his “depth of gratitude” to Charlton and his wife Norma, adding: “They have shown me what devotion really is.”
Speaking after the service, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told the BBC: “It’s a very sombre occasion.
“The speakers did fantastic, particularly his grandson, he was magnificent. It’s not easy to get up and speak, particularly a person (such) as his grandfather.
“Bobby Charlton was a wonderful, humble man and I’m at Manchester United because of Bobby Charlton, without doubt.”
Former United chief executive David Gill read the first eulogy and described Charlton as a “legend, an icon and a very dear and loyal, much-loved colleague and friend”.
“Football is a tribal sport but Bobby was universally admired,” Gill said.
Gill reeled off some of Charlton’s astonishing career statistics – 758 United appearances, 249 goals, 106 England caps, 49 goals – but added: “The stat I really like is only two bookings and never being sent off.
“Now I know Bobby didn’t have to endure VAR, a curse of the modern game – I’m not sure he was a big fan – but to me that says it all.
“You can be a superstar and a fierce competitor, whilst still being a gentleman. Bobby’s name is synonymous with all that is good about the English game.”
Thousands of fans lined the apron of Old Trafford to pay their respects as Charlton’s funeral cortege drove past.
Many hundreds more gathered outside the Cathedral with more than 1,000 guests coming to pay their respects.
There were team-mates from Charlton’s own glory days – Alex Stepney, Paddy Crerand and Brian Kidd – with the guest list reading like a who’s who of United’s history for the last six decades.
From the current squad, Harry Maguire, Tom Heaton, Jonny Evans and Luke Shaw were in attendance, while from beyond the club, the Prince of Wales – the president of the Football Association – led a delegation from the governing body which also included current England manager Gareth Southgate.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin’s presence marked the international impact Charlton had, even in the days before blanket television coverage of football existed.
“On away trips, there was not an airport concourse in the world that Bobby could walk through without people wanting an autograph or selfie,” Gill recalled.
“I would head on through to get the bags and Bobby would join me 10 or 15 minutes later having satisfied everyone.”
The funeral service began with that famous FA Cup anthem, Abide With Me, and also featured a rendition of ‘How Great Thou Art’ by opera singer Russell Watson.
Gill hailed the “remarkable resolve” of Charlton in returning to action after the 1958 Munich air disaster, which claimed the lives of eight of his United team-mates.
Gill added: “Reflecting now, I would have liked to have talked to him more about Munich and how he coped in the aftermath, but Bobby dealt with it in his own way – private, stoical and dignified.”
But Gill’s most poignant words were about Charlton the family man.
“Family was the most important thing to him, and you could see what a wonderful marriage he had with Norma of over 60 years and how proud he was of his daughters Suzanne and Andrea, son-in-law Andrew and grandchildren Robert, William and Emma when they came at Christmas and other occasions to Old Trafford, where the South Stand will forever bear his name in recognition of his importance to the history and heritage of the club,” he added.
“A revered son of the north-east, an icon of Manchester for all he did for United, a national treasure as the epitome of the very best of English sport and a man loved and admired across the globe – the world football family has lost a legend of the game.”