Sports Chaplaincy UK (SCUK): A tribute to Jack Charlton, OBE DL, Football Legend
By Rev. John K Boyers – SCUK Founder and Ambassador

Jack Charlton

On behalf of the Trustees, staff, chaplains and supporters of Sports Chaplaincy UK, this tribute to Jack Charlton, following the announcement of his death on 10th July 2020, is published here on our website.

We, like many others involved in sport, understand how ‘Big Jack’s’ remarkable career in football over many years, as a player with Leeds United and England, and later a manager at club and international levels deserves highest accolades. This tribute does not seek to simply repeat here words of admiration which are already written and spoken by those more qualified to reflect on the career of this one-club man: 762 games at Leeds United between 1952 to 1973; a World Cup winner with England in 1966 for whom he played 35 times; a successful manager with Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and the Republic of Ireland national team. This tribute is written because Jack Charlton was one of those in football who early on affirmed and endorsed the value of chaplaincy to football clubs. We tell that story as part of our tribute to a true ‘football legend.’

It was early in 1962 that the sport-loving Minister at Harehills Methodist Church, Leeds, the Rev John Jackson, organised what he called a ‘Sportsmen’s Service’ and invited the LUFC General Manager, Cyril Williamson, to attend. Jackson asked him if there was any chaplaincy at Elland Road, and if not, would they be open to the idea. Williamson brought the idea to the Board of Directors, supportively. Some weeks later, in March 1962, Jackson received a letter from the Board of Directors inviting him to be Club Chaplain. They and Manager Don Revie gave him what he described as ‘an open door …. the freedom of the ground, to talk with anyone employed by the club.’ Thus Jack Charlton was exposed for ten years to the consistent, caring, pastoral and spiritual support that John Jackson offered to first team, reserve and junior players and all other members of staff at Elland Road. The impact of confidential, sensitive, caring chaplaincy at Leeds United must have been considerable, for the concept appears to have been taken by Jack Charlton into every club where he worked as manager.

‘Big Jack’ played his last game for LUFC against Southampton on Saturday 28th April 1973, which ended his playing career and opened up a new one. Within weeks he took the job of manager at Middlesbrough FC beginning at the start of the 1973-74 season. Before even pre-season training started, Jack had bumped into Rev Bill Hall. Hall was the Church of England Chaplain to the Arts and Recreation in the North East. They met when Jack visited the ‘Fiesta Club’ in Norton, Stockton, a night club attracting top cabaret acts. Hall was present there that night to deliver his Durham Diocese chaplaincy work. They met and chatted. Jack said something like, ‘I’ve agreed to be Manager at Middlesbrough, and I need you to do chaplaincy work there. This is the date we start pre-season training, so I need you there that morning. Make a note of that date. Come in to see me. Don’t forget.’ Bill agreed he would, they exchanged details and the conversation ended. Before 10.00am on the given date, Bill Hall received a phone call. ‘Jack Charlton here. Where are you? I need you here, now.’ Bill Hall went, and so chaplaincy at Middlesbrough FC began. He was to work there for 25 years, including the short spell when Charlton returned briefly to Ayresome Park as caretaker manager, in early 1984. Jack had two other major spells in football management. After that successful first spell at Middlesbrough, he managed Sheffield Wednesday and later Newcastle United. At both clubs he supported chaplaincy.

At Sheffield he approached the Diocese of Sheffield because he wanted Wednesday to have a chaplain. They put him in contact with the Sheffield Industrial Mission which had a long history of workplace chaplaincy. Rev Gordon Wilson, a Methodist Minister working for the organisation, responded. Jack invited him to the stadium and there introduced him to the players: ‘This is Gordon, he’s our chaplain’. Gordon served the club for 12 years, which included the Hillsborough Disaster. In the early 1990s, Gordon spoke at the annual Sports Chaplains’ training and support conference at Lilleshall, about his involvements on that tragic day. It was a deeply moving account of care and availability beyond the call of duty. One never knows when the pastoral and spiritual care offered by a trained chaplain might be needed. Gordon Wilson moved on to British Aerospace at Filton, Bristol, in the summer of 1989. He was succeeded at Hillsborough by Rev David Jeans, then Principal at the Church Army College in the city, who is still involved with SWFC as chaplain to ‘The Wise Old Owls’ a monthly luncheon club for senior supporters.

Jack’s final club management job was at Newcastle United, joining ‘The Toon’ in June 1984 and resigning before the 1985-86 season began. Again, Jack’s support for chaplaincy became evident, but in a slightly different way from previously. At NUFC, Jack showed himself supportive of chaplaincy by encouraging the chaplain whom he inherited. Rev Canon Richard Bryant explained, “it was Arthur Cox, with Bill Hall’s connivance, who agreed to me being chaplain at NUFC in 1982.” Rev Bill Hall, (mentioned above re Middlesbrough) whose eyes had been opened to new areas where chaplaincy to recreation might work, began to set up chaplaincy to the professional football clubs in the North East. Jack’s initiative at Middlesbrough led indirectly to the 1982 appointment of Rev Canon Richard Bryant as the first chaplain at Newcastle United FC. When Jack arrived there in June 1984, he was pleased to inherit a chaplain! Richard served the club till 1989, when he passed the role over to Rev Tony Adamson, who was succeeded by Rev David Tully who served the club for 17 years from 1992.

Like so many others, Sports Chaplaincy UK pays tribute to Jack Charlton’s career as player and manager. But particularly we acknowledge the role he played in recognising that the presence of a chaplain at a club can be a significant pastoral and spiritual help to staff and players when problems, challenges, difficulties, illness, bereavement, relationship breakdowns and financial worries come along; or when a confidential private sounding board is needed. Jack knew life in football, and understood that for some people, some of the time, the confidential, listening, praying, accessible chaplain could be a crucial help. We pay tribute, as the country’s prime sports chaplaincy charity, to Jack Charlton and his insights into, and support for, Sports chaplaincy. May Jack Charlton rest in peace, and may the family and friends who mourn find, in their grief, comfort and strength from Almighty God.