Friday, September 30

The feud between Best and Charlton that shattered Manchester United | Man Utd

When Matt Busby retired in 1969, Manchester United’s three exceptional talents, three winners of the Ballon d’Or, were in decline. Bobby Charlton was 31 and age was closing in. Denis Law was 29 but had never fully recovered from his knee injury. George Best was 22 but had already won his last trophy.

“I represented the future of Manchester United – or should have done,” Best acknowledged. “Charlton represented the past.” That was not simply about age; it was also about attitude. Best once said that he was “grateful” to have been born in 1946 and not 1926. “We don’t have to stick rigidly to the short back and sides and wear-your-club-blazer-at-all-times routine of the past,” he said.

But those were the values ​​of Bobby, who had been born in 1937. “It’s a great pity,” he said in 1967, taking a despairing look at the youth revolution, “that young people today seem to shy away from close relationships with their elders because it’s part of a ‘square’ conception of life. So many young people on the ‘scene’ have the attitude that nearly everything and ordinary people are ‘sick’. They behave as if the peak of senility is reached at the age of 25 and they must wring every drop out of life by then whether they offend other people or not.”

Given Bobby wasn’t yet 30, it’s a remarkable piece of fogeyism, even down to his clear discomfort with the modish slang. He goes on to attack those who insist on being “cool”, “gas” and “with it”. And yet there he was, playing alongside one of the great icons of that rising youth movement. Inevitably, there was friction.

“I just don’t understand him,” Bobby said in April 1973. “What do you come into football for? It’s your duty to give your best to the people who come to support you, but he didn’t seem to see this.” Best, meanwhile, accused Bobby of having “a holier than thou attitude”, commenting, “I wish I could hear him say ‘fuck’, just once”.

Bobby, as club captain, felt trapped in the middle. Players looked to him for leadership, and he looked to Frank O’Farrell, the manager, who looked back to him. Bobby would complain that Best had not turned up, had disrupted training or had become an embarrassment, and O’Farrell would suggest that Bobby, as a senior figure with more than 100 England caps, might like to take action himself. But Bobby, for all his moaning on the pitch, hated conflict off it, and so the issue festered.

Their sniping, though, was asymmetric. Bobby was bound by convention, by a sense of decency, by a hope that Best would, at some point, see sense. Best cared for none of those things and made no attempt to disguise his disdain from him. Asked in a television interview who the biggest influence over his career had been, he replied, “Cissie Charlton” (Bobby’s mother).

Bobby’s testimonial, a goalless draw against Celtic, was held on 18 September 1972. Best refused to play, claiming an injury to his right ankle, although he later said to have played would have been “hypocritical”. He did turn up to watch but lasted only five minutes before leaving for the Brown Bull. There he sat gloomily at one of the heavy oak tables, drinking and throwing darts and two dozen eggs at a portrait of Bobby that hung on the wall.

O’Farrell, a quiet, decent, thoughtful man, found himself in an impossible position. Best was a problem perhaps beyond any solution, but he was far from the only issue. Law was struggling with injury and becoming increasingly truculent. And then there were the internal politics of the club. The power structures that had sustained Busby and provided him with his authority inevitably resisted any successor. O’Farrell thought Paddy Crerand was past it, but Crerand was close to Busby. I didn’t rate Willie Morgan or Alex Stepney, but they played golf with Busby at Davyhulme. An attempt to sign Peter Shilton was rebuffed, ostensibly for reasons of cost, although O’Farrell believed it was because it would have meant Stepney being sidelined.

Bobby Charlton in action against Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford in 1968, before United’s glory years ended. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Best felt Busby and the club had been over-loyal to players who had lingered too long. That included Bobby who, as he saw it, had become “part of the problem.” O’Farrell did end up dropping Bobby. “It was the Wilf [McGuinness] thing all over again,” Bobby said. “They all seemed to think that if they dropped me it would provide something.” He took to training alone, running endless lapses of the pitch. But even if he resents the decision to leave him out as some sort of power play, Bobby knew deep down that his powers were waning.

“He first of all started trying to put the blame on himself,” said Best. “It was all his fault, which tended to make him a little worse.” Bobby became increasingly morose. There were days when he would walk into the dressing room at the training ground and go straight to his peg and change, staring at the wall and ignoring everybody.

“The big three…were at loggerheads,” said Stepney. “There were long days when they would simply not speak to each other… I am sure it was George’s complete lack of concern for the club that threw Charlton into the desperately black mood which seemed to envelop him every time he was at the club.” And for Bobby, the club was far more than a club. He, perhaps more than anyone else, idealized Manchester United. It remained for him a land of potential wonder, the place that had produced Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman and David Pegg and its fall from that state disgusted him.

Front cover of book Two Brothers - The life and times of Bobby and Jackie Charlton by Jonathan Wilson

Even three decades later, Best was unable to acknowledge that. I have produced five autobiographies, pumping them out every time money ran short. They are frequently contradictory, so what he actually thought about anything is very difficult to assess. His 2001 book, Blessed, is remarkable, even by the standards of the genre, for its self-pitying tone. Everything can be blamed on other people, on his fame or his disease; nothing is ever his fault. “Others didn’t understand the pressure I was under …” he said. “I was finding it increasingly difficult to get motivated because the team was so poor.”

But as Bobby saw it, it was Best’s job to make sure it wasn’t so poor, and his frequent absences and inconsistency weren’t exactly helping. And Bobby, of course, existed as perpetual rebuke to Best: look what he had gone through and look how he had coped. In the end it got so bad that Bobby and Best stopped passing to each other. Bobby could be just as stubborn as his brother or his father, but in this case it was perhaps understandable: if he did not maintain the old values, the standards that had made United great, who would he?

Also Read  El presidente ucraniano que fue envenenado y desfigurado por acercarse a la OTAN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.