Up to 1,000 guests, including some of the biggest names in British football, have started to arrive to honour the 86-year-old 1966 World Cup winner and Manchester United hero.
The Prince of Wales, who is the FA’s President, was joined by England manager Southgate, 53, and members of Charlton’s family for today’s service at Manchester Cathedral.
Old Trafford legend Sir Alex Fergusson, who as a manager led Man United to 30 titles, including 13 Premier League championships and five FA Cup victories, arrived at Manchester Cathedral to lead the Red Devil contingent.
He was joined by current England boss Gareth Southgate and former Three Lion’s captain and Man U star, Gary Lineker as the A-list stars of the footballing world continue to arrive for today’s service at Manchester Cathedral.
Other ex-United stars attending the funeral of the 86-year-old included former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who played under Fergusson when he was in charge – while Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Jonny Evans and Tom Heaton where among those representing the current crop of players.
However, international duties have prevented some of the squad from attending the funeral, with a crestfallen Erik ten Hag having previously sent his regrets due to an ‘unbreakable and long-standing personal commitment in the Netherlands‘.
Meanwhile, thousands of people lined the streets of Sir Bobby’s beloved Manchester to witness the sporting giant’s final trip through the city before he is laid to rest later today.
Outside of Old Trafford, a sea of floral tributes were left by fans who gathered to honour the sporting legend, while flags at the iconic football stadium were at half-mast in tribute to Sir Bobby.
As his cortege passed, fans clapped and cheered while others bowed their heads in respect to the footballing icon.
Sir Bobby, who made 758 appearances for his club and earned 106 caps for his beloved country, died last month after a battle with dementia.
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney, who is at the funeral and used to play with Sir Bobby, described him as a ‘classic gentleman’.
He said: ‘He was a classic gentleman of football… who can say they won everything for England and every trophy?’
Fans are expected to watch as Charlton’s funeral cortege passed Old Trafford before heading on to Manchester Cathedral for his memorial service, which will be attended by his family and other sporting legends.
An enormous poster depicting Charlton, who died on October 21 aged 86, in United colours was draped from the stadium’s exterior, while a message emblazoned across the stadium, said: ‘Sir Bobby Charlton, 1937 – 2023. Forever loved.’
On his way to Manchester Cathedral, Charlton’s cortege will pass the ‘Holy Trinity’ statue, which depicts the England hero celebrating a goal with fellow United greats Denis Law and George Best.
A United representative invited fans and members of the public to ‘pay their respects along the route’ ahead of the service, which begins at 2pm.
A steady stream of fans gathered outside Old Trafford this morning to await Sir Bobby’s funeral procession.
Many older fans had special memories of his playing career and personal encounters with the footballing legend.
Michael Webster, 71, grew up in Flixton, Greater Manchester, close to where Sir Bobby Charlton lived in a house provided by the club and recalled waiting on the street as a schoolboy to meet him coming home from training.
Mr Webster said: ‘Most days we’d wait for him and he always gave us the time of day.
‘He was just like a normal person going to the shops. It’s very hard to get near the players these days.
‘He was such a lovely man on and off the field.’
Mr Webster, who first saw Sir Bobby play when his uncle took him to matches aged nine and is these days a matchday steward at Old Trafford, added: ‘When I went on holiday to Turkey or Spain, I’d always take my Man United memorabilia and people would always just say ‘Ah, Bobby Charlton’.
‘There’ll never be another one. Eric (Cantona), Georgie Best, they were brilliant but he was unbelievable.
‘He put Manchester United on the map and I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.’
Chris Burns, 68, became a United fan as a 10-year-old and remembers seeing Sir Bobby in the World Cup semi-final in 1966. These days a season ticket holder in the Stretford End, Mrs Byrne even named her son, now 36, Charlton as a tribute to her hero.
‘I said I’m going to grow up and have a son and call him Charlton, and I did,’ an emotional Mrs Byrne said.
She said he captured her imagination as a schoolgirl because of how he went on to success despite losing so many teammates in the Munich Disaster of 1958.
Growing up in Royal Tunbridge Wells, she first came to watch United in 1969 when her father brought her on the train.
Among her treasured mementoes is a picture of her son Charlton meeting his namesake in the 1990s.
Mrs Byrne, who later moved to Manchester to work for the civil service and now lives in St Helens, added: ‘I’ve met Sir Bobby several times. In more recent years, we’d wait outside the directors’ box for him to arrive with his wife Norma, you’d smile at him, he’d put out his hand and you’d shake his hand and say I hope you’re doing well.
‘Norma would say, thank you, he’s doing OK, because he didn’t always answer.’
Sir Bobby was remembered as an ‘absolute gentleman,’ according to another devoted fan, Frank Worsley, 72.
Mr Worsley was among the crowd at Wembley when United beat Benfica 4-1 to become the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968 – when Sir Bobby Charlton scored twice.
He said: ‘That match, I’ll never forget. I bought a video of it and I still play it over and over again.’
Mr Worsley, a retired maintenance engineer whose company worked on redevelopment of Old Trafford in the 1990s, was among 200 fans chosen by the club to attend fellow United legend George Best’s funeral in 2005.
He said: ‘I just had to come today and pay my respects to Sir Bobby. He was a great ambassador for the club.’
Another fan with memories of the club’s great European triumph 55 years ago was Steve Bolton, 65.
The retired management consultant, of Knutsford, Cheshire, said: ‘I’m here to pay my respects to a great, great man.
‘He was the sweetest striker of a football I’ve ever seen.’
Mr Bolton, who has more recent memories of Sir Bobby doffing his trilby hat when he said hello to him in the supermarket, added: ‘He almost never got booked, he was a gentleman on and off the pitch, a legend – simple as that.’
For Mike Warburton, 69, from Stockport, who was at Old Trafford yesterday with his wife Christine, 67, and friend Mike Goddard, also 69, he ‘was the club’.
Mr Warburton said: ‘He was loved not only by fans of United but fans of many other clubs.’
Remembering his talent on the pitch, Mr Goddard recalled Sir Bobby scoring ‘two screamers that stand out to this day’, against Arsenal in 1965 and Tottenham in the Charity Shield.
Mrs Warburton added: ‘I always think he was driven by a bit of survivors’ guilt at having survived Munich. I think that fired him on. He was a total gentleman and an excellent player.’
A large police presence was visible in Manchester City centre on Monday morning.
The service at the cathedral will be led by Canon Nigel Ashworth and feature eulogies by family members and the club. It will remain private and won’t be filmed.
The great and the good of the football world will be among an expected 1,000 guests with United inviting representatives from every Premier League club.
Governing body chiefs, including Alison Brittain, chairman of the Premier League, Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA’s president as well as former presidents and directors of Manchester United were also in attendance.
It is expected every club will send a senior official to pay their respects to one of the best footballers England has ever produced.
Every living United captain has been invited to the service, alongside prominent former players including the Class of 92.
The club’s unpopular owners, the Glazer family, will also stay away amid fears of abuse from fans.
Other greats from the world of sport, including former Olympic champion Daley Thompson, are also expected.
Leading tributes today was Sir Bobby’s only surviving sibling, Tommy Charlton, who declared: ‘He was an icon to me but he was my big brother’, ahead of his funeral this afternoon.
Tommy Charlton, 77, believes the 1966 hero has been reunited with their older sibling Jack Charlton in heaven.
Tommy Charlton told the BBC: ‘He was my big brother. My fondest memories are when he was my brother. You’d meet him at the game and Bob would straighten your tie, and make sure your jacket was right and say you should have worn a different colour shirt. That was being a brother and I loved that’.
Sir Bobby is survived by his wife Lady Norma, their two daughters Suzanne and Andrea and grandchildren.
The gifted footballer, who was born in Ashington, Northumberland, on October 11 1937, is widely viewed as one of the greatest players to ever grace the game and played an integral role in England’s 1966 World Cup glory.
Former England right-back George Cohen also died, aged 83, in December.
A statement from the family of Sir Bobby, who went on to have a remarkable career after surviving the Munich air disaster in 1958, said: ‘It is with great sadness that we share the news that Sir Bobby passed peacefully in the early hours of Saturday morning. He was surrounded by his family.
‘His family would like to pass on their thanks to everyone who has contributed to his care and for the many people who have loved and supported him. We would request that the family’s privacy be respected at this time.’
Manchester United said ‘words will never be enough’ as they mourn ‘one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of our club’, while England described Charlton, who had previously held the record as all-time top goalscorer for both England and United, as a ‘true legend of our game’.
United great David Beckham said Charlton was ‘truly a national hero.’
Beckham came through the ranks at Manchester United, having attended Bobby Charlton’s Soccer School and was given the middle name Robert as his father was such a fan of the 1968 European Cup winner.
‘It all began with Sir Bobby. Sir Bobby was the reason I had the opportunity to play for Manchester United…
‘I will be forever grateful to a man I was named after, someone I looked up to and was a hero to many around the world not just in Manchester and our country where he won the World Cup in 1966,’ Beckham posted on Instagram.
‘A true gentleman, family man and truly a national hero… Today isn’t just a sad day for Manchester United & England it’s a sad day for football and everything that Sir Bobby represented…
‘Our thoughts go out to Lady Norma, their daughters and grandchildren x Rest in Peace Sir Bobby x @manchesterunited @england Today our hearts are heavy.’
Sir Geoff Hurst noted: ‘We will never forget him & nor will all of football.’
Prince William, who is president of the FA, has described Sir Bobby Charlton as ‘a true great who will be remembered forever’ in a personal message on social media.
The Prince of Wales said: ‘Sir Bobby Charlton. First Division Champion. European Champion. World Champion. Gentleman. Legend. A true great who will be remembered forever. Thank you Sir Bobby. W’ said the tribute posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called him ‘one of the game’s greatest players’.
Charlton’s death was announced as Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs were preparing to start the second half, and – following their 2-1 win over Brighton – Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola paid his respects.
‘On behalf of the Manchester City family to his family, to the Man United family and for England football – these type of football players and personalities represent English football like no-one else can do it,’ he said.
‘So condolences from all of us, for his family especially. Next week when we go to Old Trafford, we’ll be present to make a first tribute.
‘I love this country for many things, but one of those things is how they take care of the legends of each club.
‘They are part of the club and they travel and they represent them. I think Sir Bobby Charlton represented United and English football like no-one else.’
Middlesbrough manager and former Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick said he was ‘devastated’ to hear of Charlton’s death.
He said: ‘My mind went back to the moments I shared with Bobby – an inspirational character and such an iconic figure, you don’t always get those in world football.
‘In a Manchester United family, he cared so much about the players, the club and showed nothing but pure support for us in his blazer and suit. He was proud to show what it was about to play for Manchester United and pass that on.
‘He had an incredible career and to be in a position to be humble enough to pass that on to support the players, when he could have just been a figure, is so inspirational.’
Sir Bobby had withdrawn from public life since he was diagnosed with dementia in November 2020, just four months after his elder brother Jack Charlton – another 1966 hero – died aged 85.
The brothers famously had a bitter feud for several decades but made amends later in life. Sir Bobby was, however, unable to attend his brother’s funeral due to illness. He was last photographed in public bravely posing for a Covid-19 jab to encourage others to do the same.
Sir Bobby was one of five of England’s 1966 winners to suffer from dementia after his brother, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilson and Martin Peters.
The midfielder, who joined United as a schoolboy in 1953, embarked on an extraordinary career after surviving the Munich air disaster – when he was 20 – which tragically killed eight of United’s Busby Babes and 23 people in total.
In a glittering 17-year spell with United – where he played as if every game was for his fallen team-mates – he won three league titles, the FA Cup and captained the Red Devils when they became the first English club to win the European Cup.
Sir Bobby, known for his powerful shooting and distinctive hairstyle, scored 249 goals for Man United – including two in the famous 1968 European Cup final win over Benfica.
Charlton is one of the ‘Holy Trinity’ along with George Best and Denis Law who are immortalised in a statue outside Old Trafford. In 2016, he also had the South Stand at the iconic stadium named after him which is opposite the Sir Alex Ferguson stand.
Sir Bobby also scored 49 goals for his country and won the Ballon d’Or in 1966 for his part in England’s World Cup triumph.
England paid tribute following his death, writing: ‘It is with a heavy heart that we have learned of the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton. An integral part of our 1966 FIFA World Cup winning campaign, Sir Bobby won 106 caps and scored 49 times for the #ThreeLions. A true legend of our game. We will never forget you, Sir Bobby.’
His goal records for club and country both lasted decades until they were overtaken by Man United legend Wayne Rooney, with Harry Kane more recently taking over as England’s top marksman.
Following his retirement from football, Sir Bobby managed Preston North End from 1973 to 1975 and was later director at Wigan Athletic. Returning to United as a member of the board of directors in 1984, Sir Bobby was a constant presence at Old Trafford until recent years.
He and his wife Lady Norma – who were married for over 60 years – would take their seats week in, week out to watch the Red Devils march out and play at the Theatre of Dreams.
Sir Bobby – who’s bitter feud with his brother Jack was well documented – was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994, having previously been awarded the OBE and CBE.
He also set up the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation in 2011 which focused on removing landmines in former war zones.
Sir Alex Ferguson once praised Sir Bobby for how he ‘handled the greatness’. In a tribute on his 80th birthday, the former United manager said: ‘Success can change people, and it’s never changed Bobby Charlton. He is what he is: quiet, shy and I think it’s fantastic.
‘An example for anyone who enters football. He has never forgotten his roots. That girl Norma has been his rock, all his life. She’s an unbelievable person and that is a great partnership.
‘I think he was responsible for me getting the job at Manchester United. We used to go to games all the time — although I don’t think Bobby enjoyed my driving! — so it was a great introduction.’
Sir Geoff Hurst was one of the first to pay tribute to Charlton, tweeting: ‘Very sad news today 1 of the true Greats Sir Bobby Charlton has passed away.
‘We will never forget him & nor will all of football… a great colleague & friend he will be sorely missed by all of the country beyond sport alone. Condolences to his family & friends from Geoff and Judith.’
Hurst once described his former team-mate as ‘one of the most gifted players of this or any generation’.