Sport on TV: Perfect marriage of genius and humility... no nasty in dynasty?
Sunday 01 May 2011
If ever there was footballing royalty, it has to be the Charltons. There was grandfather Tanner, four uncles who were all professionals (Jack, George, Jim and Stan) and mother Cissie's cousin, the legendary Jackie Milburn. And Bobby and Jack, of course. And as with the Royal Family, there would even be some dodgy ties with the Kaiser, although in their case it was Franz Beckenbauer.
Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon (BBC4, Thursday) followed United (BBC2, Sunday), an efficient if rather underwhelming factional account of the Munich air crash centring around the young Bobby. Sir Alex Ferguson called Charlton "unquestionably the best player of all time", and you knew he had to be a bit special if the dark knight of the realm was deigning to speak to the BBC.
It all started humbly with a goal in the kitchen between the Queen Anne legs of the sideboard, and Bobby's legs would become far more valuable and venerated than Queen Anne's ever were. As he, Jack and other brother Tom grew up in Ashington during the war, there were no balls to play with apart from round the Charltons', because their uncles used to bring them home. Having a ball was always a good way to elevate yourself to a higher social status.
All this, of course, came long before football's lurid wealth. When England held its great sporting street party in 1966, Bobby and Jackie sorted out a ticket for the World Cup final for Tom but he was working down the mine and couldn't afford to make the trip. His pit foreman asked if he could buy the ticket off Tom, then cycled from Northumberland to London for the match. He must have thought he had struck gold.
Bobby and young Beckenbauer were assigned to mark each other out of the game, and have remained close ever since. The Kaiser has spent so long at his place in the sun – or on Fifa junkets – his skin is as tanned and leathery as an old football boot. Bobby is a jolly, self-effacing 73-year-old who has still "got all my cartilages", but compared to Das Boot he cuts a rather doddery figure as he paces the halls of Old Trafford.
When he has his picture taken with a couple of fat young fans who have obviously been stuffing their faces with prawn sandwiches, one asks grumpily: "Is Alex Ferguson not here?" "You just missed him," replies Bobby. "Don't matter," comes the curt response before the fan stomps off. There's a new royalty these days, and it's Fergie's evil empire, with Wayne Rooney as the clown prince.
This was a eulogy to Bobby rather than a balanced account, and there was no mention of the lengthy feud between Bobby and Jackie over the way the former treated their mother, and Jackie's attitude to Bobby's wife, Norma. Like the other Royal Family, there was always going to be a whiff of scandal that would be swept under the red carpet.
* Andy Townsend was mistaken for the referee by several locals in a Madrid restaurant after the fractious Champions' League match between Real and Barça (ITV1, Wednesday). Presumably they thought he didn't know what he was doing, as the song goes, in which case it's entirely understandable that they should get confused. One man approached him with a pot plant and "a funny look on his face". At least now the producer knows what to replace him with.
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