It’s almost a year since Jack Charlton died and his son John has just one regret.
While England fans are gripped by the Euros – with a Last 16 tie against Germany on Tuesday – John can’t accept that his dad was never knighted for his World Cup-winning heroics.
It’s 55 years since that magnificent day in July 1966. And if football finally is coming home, as fans keep singing, then Jack and Co should get posthumous honours too, says John.
Speaking to the Sunday People, it’s clear John misses Jack – of course he does. But he is able to smile as he reveals he has a quirky daily reminder of his dad in his kitchen.
John, 62, says: “I got up this morning and a surreal thing happened. I went to make a cuppa when, in the corner of my eye, I saw Dad.
“It was like one of those Mona Lisa moments people talk about where it feels like someone’s looking at you.
“On the kitchen shelf was a pack of tea bags from a Northumberland company that renamed their brand Jack’s Tea. There’s a picture of my dad on the box next to the words, ‘The best cup since 1966’.
“I nearly said ‘What are you doing here?’ – like I would when he’d just turn up at our house!”
John lets out a laugh as he tells the anecdote. But he is not amused about the issue of knighting the heroes of ’66.
He goes on: “It is what it is, but the whole of ’66 – those who passed away and those still alive – should all have been given a knighthood.
“Purely and simply because they have done something no other English team has ever done – and, at the moment, isn’t looking likely to either.
“Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, what a fantastic achievement. He gets a knighthood.
“Chris Hoy gets a knighthood. The biggest sport by a mile in this country is football.
“The most talked-about team whenever a championship comes around is ’66. Geoff Hurst, who I still speak to, got a knighthood for scoring three goals – but without those other players he wouldn’t have.”
Centre-half Jack enjoyed a glorious 21-year career at Leeds United but his crowning glory was the 1966 World Cup Final, when England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time.
The words of commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme as Hurst got the fourth goal became the stuff of legend: “They think it’s all over… it is now.”
Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)
But as John reflects on his dad’s career, he says Jack would have had a few words to say about this year’s Euro teams – and would want them to be more offensive.
John goes on: “He’d be pulling what little hair he had out. The excitement is all about goals. The longer it takes to get the ball to the other end, the less chance a team has of scoring.
“The game has lost its excitement – there’s so many passes going on. It wasn’t always like that. I was sat there on the bench with Dad at Euro ’88. The atmosphere was incredible.”
John is referring to Jack’s 10 years as manager of the Republic of Ireland, from 1986. He took them to the Euros of 1988 and two World Cups – securing almost God-like status in Ireland.
Jack died aged 85 of lymphoma on July 10, 2020.
He also battled dementia – something that has gripped his brother, Sir Bobby, and also afflicted their 1966 teammate Nobby Stiles, who also died last year, aged 78.
John admits Bobby, famously referred to as “Our kid” by Jack, is unlikely to be seen again in public, as his condition gradually worsens.
Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)
He says: “Bobby couldn’t make Jack’s funeral because he was ill. I doubt you’ll see him again.
“A lot of families don’t live in each other’s pockets and that’s fine. We’re in touch if something happens.”
John owns Charlton’s Bar in Northumberland and his dad’s face is emblazoned across menus and staff uniforms.
Jack used to go there for a pint of Caffrey’s and a game of pool on Fridays – while John’s mum Pat had her hair done.
John recalls chats with his dad fondly, saying: “When there’s a football match on, I’ve really missed him.
“In the last proper conversation I had with him, about four weeks before his death, we were talking about the game. I asked him what he thought about Newcastle.
He said, ‘S**t!’. It wasn’t right until the very end that he couldn’t remember anything.”
Hearing constant references to his father on TV and radio – and from fans too – is clearly quite a comfort.
John continues: “In a sense he’s still with me, because he’s remembered all the time.
“I’ll be listening to TalkSport. Tony Cascarino [former Republic of Ireland player] will say, ‘Well, Big Jack wouldn’t do it that way’.
“You turn the telly on and hear a reference to the ’66 squad.
“One architect came into the pub and told me about a 1965 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough where Leeds played Manchester United.
“There was a big fight in the middle of the pitch and, I hadn’t known this, but Dad ripped off Denis Law’s shirt.
“So I Googled it and about 20 different pictures came up.”
There’s a sense that John’s getting to know more about his father’s extraordinary life than he did as a child.
He was brought up, for the most part, by Pat – a former Leeds shop assistant. She and Jack were married for 62 years and John is older brother to Deborah, 58, and Peter, 54.
John describes Pat as a “strong woman” who is coping well on her own.
He says: “I don’t think I realised it at the time but I really credit everything my mam did, raising us.
“Sometimes World War Three would be breaking out with my brother and sister and Dad would be completely oblivious – he’d just be watching the game.
“When he played at Leeds him and Mam would go to the pub after a game for a drink. Funnily enough, they’d leave us outside in the car with a bag of crisps and a bottle of pop because kids wouldn’t be allowed in pubs in those days. Sometimes we’d be waiting hours!”
John insists he doesn’t resent Jack for not always being the attentive father.
“We never went without. I don’t resent a thing, of course not,” he says.
“He’d call all hours of the night to ask me questions when he was away.
“We’d often go for a walk, and a pint, before a game and he’d ask my opinion. When he retired he’d always come to the pub on a Friday or phone me up and we’d go fishing.”
Jack’s ashes have yet to be scattered and plans for next week’s anniversary are not finalised.
“We’ve spoken about the ashes being buried alongside his mum and dad at a home we have in the Yorkshire Dales, but nothing is decided.
“A few months back I was driving home from the pub and found a log on the road.
“It’s the most fantastic piece of wood and once it’s completely dry I might put dad’s ashes in the trunk and turn it into a table with glass on top.”
His father’s hard work ethic, and straight talking, will forever shape John’s life.
And he adds: “ I’m seeing things about my dad I’ve never seen before.
“It sounds stupid but I’ll cry with happiness in bed if I’m watching someone who’s done something inspiring or had huge successes on telly.
“That’s because that was my dad through and through – a simple man with simple ideas but a real inspiration and the best at what he did.”