Before his legendary exploits at Old Trafford and Wembley, Sir Bobby Charlton learned to kick a ball in Ashington.
The former coal mining town in Northumberland remains proud that two of their own, Sir Bobby and his older brother Jack, went on to be part of England’s fabled 1966 World Cup-winning side.
Their journey to lifting the Jules Rimet trophy together began behind their house on Beatrice Street, where they’d play football for hours. More than 50 years on, you can still see the black marks on the brick wall they’d use as a goal.
Ray Young now lives at their former home and says he can remember how he felt watching the brothers in the final. “I was quite proud,” he said. “To see somebody from Ashington winning something, because they’ve not won it again.”
Ray fondly recalls how Jack would make regular visits to the house and the fact he was seen more in the community. He died in Ashington in 2020, and his funeral was held there, but Sir Bobby, who will be buried in Manchester tomorrow, also has indelible ties to the town.
After the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, which killed a number of his teammates and left him badly injured, he recovered in Ashington.
During that time, he was pictured at home with his mother Cissie as well as playing football on the street with local youngsters.
Speaking to people in the town centre, a short walk away from a statue of his uncle Jackie Milburn, who went on to become Newcastle United’s record goalscorer, you could sense their pride that Sir Bobby crowned a dynasty of outstanding players.
“Make no mistake about it, I might be biased because I’m an Ashington lad, but he’s the best footballer I’ve ever seen,” said one man.
While another woman Sky News spoke to called Ashington “the centre of football.” “We’ve had so many that have come from here and I’m just hoping they get some more out,” she added.
One place Sir Bobby’s legacy has always been felt is at Ashington Community Football Club, where pictures of him line the changing room walls.
In 1989, with the club struggling financially, he arranged for some Manchester United players to come and play against them. The gate receipts from that game along with the ticket sales for talks he gave in the town, helped the team from Ashington stay afloat.
The club, which is once again raising funds for its survival, this time through a crowdfunder, has existed since 1883 and is closely connected with the Charltons and the community.
In their first home game since Sir Bobby’s death, they invited people to sign a book of condolences and had a minute’s applause before kickoff. They also played in a special red and white strip to commemorate Sir Bobby’s time spent playing in those colours for both Manchester United and England.
Ian Skinner, the team’s manager, has his own connection with the Charlton family, his grandmother Esther Milburn was Bobby and Jack’s aunt. Those family ties meant Ian saw the pair on a number of occasions.
He says their success is rooted in the fabric of a community where men would work for hours in the pits.
“The town’s renowned for working hard and being very humble,” he said. “I’ll always remember conversations with Jack and Sir Bob, where they talked about how football saved them from having to go down the mine and how they felt fortunate.”
Ian also summed up a sentiment that he feels is being shared in the area as the country prepares to say farewell to one of its best-ever players.
Sir Bobby’s legend will always be linked to Manchester, but in Ashington, he will always be one of theirs. He said: “I see them as equal, down-to-earth gentlemen who never forgot where they came from.”
“Albeit Bobby wasn’t seen here as often, he’s helped the football club on a number of occasions,” he added.
“Everybody’s seen that iconic sign at Old Trafford, born in Ashington, made in Manchester and that rings true, but he never really forgot his roots.”