Football legend Bobby Charlton is best remembered for his successful career with Manchester United and England, but did you know he briefly played for Waterford FC?
Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton passed away last month (October 2023). A wealth of tributes followed his death as the world of football remembered a World Cup and European Cup winner.
However, one lesser-known period of Charlton’s career saw him briefly play for League of Ireland club Waterford FC. So, just how did one of football’s greats end up playing in Ireland?
Waterford FC – back in the big time
A 2-1 victory over Cork City at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (10 November) saw Waterford gain promotion back to the Premier Division after a disappointing 2021 season ended in relegation.
Goals from Connor Parsons and Ronan Coughlan clinched the win for the Blues that will see them compete in the top flight in 2024.
Reason to celebrate, of course, but still a far cry from the club’s halcyon days of the mid-60s and early 70s that attracted Charlton to Waterford. This period saw Waterford lift the title on six occasions, including three consecutive wins between 1968 and 1970.
However, the run would come to an end in 1973 with what remains the club’s last top-flight title.
Bobby Charlton – a footballing legend
Bobby Charlton, on the other hand, is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. He is synonymous with Manchester United, for whom he made 606 appearances, second only to Ryan Giggs.
Throughout his career for the Red Devils, Charlton scored 249 goals, again bettered by only one player – Wayne Rooney.
Charlton’s contributions helped United to three First Division titles, one FA Cup, and the club’s first European Cup in 1968. He scored twice at Wembley in the club’s 4-1 defeat of Benfica in the final.
Perhaps his crowning achievement, however, came two years prior, when he helped England win a first and to date only World Cup. Charlton scored against Mexico in the tournament’s group stage before netting twice against Portugal in the semi-final.
How Bobby Charlton ended up playing for Waterford – the stars aligned
So, how did one of football’s greats end up playing for Waterford?
Long before David Beckham became the poster boy for soccer in the United States and the Saudi Pro League started throwing money at footballing stars, the League of Ireland lured some of the game’s biggest names on lucrative deals.
The now-defunct Cork Celtic are a prime example of this. In the mid-70s, Cork Celtic attracted Northern Ireland legend George Best, Charlton’s England teammate Geoff Hurst, and Germany and Hamburg striker Uwe Seeler for short stints.
These deals often included a share of the gate receipts, which were often sizeable given the calibre of player on show.
Furthermore, former Waterford player and manager Alfie Hale suggests that Charlton may have sought to rediscover his love for football following a poor managerial stint with Preston North End. “Bobby was at a disillusioned stage in his life,” Hale told the BBC.
A final deciding factor might have been Shay Brennan. The Manchester-born Irish international was Charlton’s teammate at United, and by Hale’s account, the two were like brothers.
Brennan ended his career at Waterford as a player-manager, and his association with United brought the likes of Charlton, Johnny Giles, and Nobby Stiles to Waterford’s Kilcohan Park stadium often for exhibition matches.
A 38-year-old Charlton made three appearances for the Blues, scoring one goal, before moving to Australia, where he turned out for Newcastle KB United, Perth Azzurri, and Blacktown City.
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