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My Manchester United Years by Sir Bobby Charlton

Release date: 06th September, 2007
Publisher: Headline Publishing

List Price: £20.00
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In forty years of watching football, Bobby Charlton is the sweetest striker of a ball I've ever seen. His perfect balance and uncanny timing meant he never had to hammer the ball; instead, he merely stroked it for it to travel at unbelievable pace - and invariably straight.

Sir Bobby was a naturally gifted footballer although in the first volume of his enthralling tale, he wastes no time dealing head-on with an event which, apart from his ability, defined his life, the 1958 Munich air disaster.

Recalling that dreadful night in Bavaria, when eight Busby Babes lost their lives, must have been harrowing, for it is clearly something about which he thinks virtually every day. His comments relating to his fallen team-mates will surprise no-one, but the manner in which he sets the scene in his heart-rending prologue immediately has the reader thinking along similar lines to Charlton himself - who frequently asks 'why me?' The answer was to become one of the world's greatest-ever footballers.

Like almost every boy his age, Charlton grew up besotted by football. Playing the game for as long as parents would allow was the norm in the Northumberland mining village of Ashington, as it was everywhere else across Britain up until the mid-seventies. Games involving almost every boy in the street were not unusual, but even among these unwieldy matches, it soon became apparent that young Bobby, together with his older brother Jack, were endowed with a rare talent.

Bobby Charlton's story is well known. He personifies everything that is good about Manchester United, a football club that has shaped his life. It helps that a global profile has not eroded his personality; he continues to act with good grace and good manners, a man amply endowed with an ability to differentiate between right and wrong.

Charlton arrived at United aged 15, long before Baby Bentleys became a professional footballer's must-have accessory. Operating within the confines of maximum wages, despite filling stadia with more supporters than ever before, footballers regularly travelled on the same bus as fans going to the match. The corrosive cult of celebrity was still almost half a century away; players such as Charlton were normal, approachable, guys and supporters of every opposition club could identify with this. These were the days when, if a player was chosen to play for England, his name was applauded by everyone in the ground when the teams were read out prior to kick off.

How things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Jimmy Hill's campaign to abolish the maximum wage ensured that footballers were properly rewarded for attracting large crowds to matches, but as those rewards were boosted to unbelievable levels by television's desire for live action, so home-grown players such as Charlton have become less evident.

During a career in which he played more games (759) for Manchester United than anyone else, before or since, Bobby Charlton won every honour in the game; the next volume of his autobiography deals with his England years, but there's plenty here for readers to absorb, enough tragedy to mull over, anecdotes to enjoy and great games to relive. However, one wonders how long it will be before another Englishman (Nobby Stiles has already done so) will be able to write about winning the league title, the European Cup and the World Cup within the space of a few years. For this reason alone, Sir Bobby Charlton's autobiography, like the man himself, is absolutely unique.

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