Rooney, Charlton and the record

Wayne Rooney has achieved 50 goals playing for England and thus overtaken Bobby Charlton’s record by a single goal. Certainly the occasion of his 50th at Wembley against a resilient Swiss team, the first having come against a feeble San Marino, caused him huge, almost historic joy.

Wayne Rooney scores from the spot against Switzerland to becomes England's all-time leading goal-scorer.   -  REUTERS

Manchester United team-matesGeorge Best (left) and Bobby Charlton were not the best of friends. One occasion when Best went into a pub which displayed a large portrait of Bobby and threw eggs at it.   -  Getty Images

At last, almost painfully at last, thanks to a couple of penalty kicks converted within the space of a few days, Wayne Rooney has achieved 50 goals playing for England and thus overtaken Bobby Charlton’s record by a single goal. Certainly the occasion of his 50th at Wembley against a resilient Swiss team, the first having come against a feeble San Marino, caused him huge, almost historic joy. Head titled back, he threw his arms up to the heaven in exultation, while the huge crowd and his fellow internationals shared his joy.

Just how significant an occasion it was, other than in terms of mere statistics, may be debatable! For, since Bobby Charlton got his goals, things in international football have radically changed. There were no San Marinos, Andorra s and now quite ludicrously Gibraltars for Charlton to make hay against. Moreover, two major factors must be taken into consideration. First that Charlton at Wembley scored goals which won England the World Cup. A glorious long distance shot from an angle out on the right against Mexico, two masterfully taken goals in the semi-final win against Portugal. It should also be remembered that while for most of his career Rooney has been a centre forward, an out and out striker. Bobby never was.

In the 1962 World Cup in Chile, he was an outside left and an elegant one, making great use of his speed, his swerve and the left foot on which he had worked so hard, being in fact a naturally right-footed player. He was highly effective in Rancagua where England defeated Argentina.

When it came to Wembley in 1966 and the World Cup finals, he was nominally performing at centre forward, but in fact in a deep-lying role, just behind the front pair of whom, in the final, the powerful Geoff Hurst would score a memorable hat-trick. That day, neither Bobby nor Franz Beckenbauer, then a precocious 21 year old were seen at their best, Beckenbauer being in some sense sacrificed by the West Germans to man-mark Charlton.

In 1970, when the teams met again in the quarter-final in hot, breathless Leon, some critics blamed the England manager Alf Ramsey for substituting Bobby, thus blaming him for conceding room to attack for Beckenbauer, who no longer had Bobby to mark. As one who was there, I agreed the substitution was a mistaken move, seemingly postulated in Alf’s belief that the game was already won, when it wasn’t, and that Bobby could thus be given a rest. In fact Beckenbauer had already scored, thanks to an error by the stand in keeper Peter Bonetti. 

As for Rooney, the sad fact is that he has never succeeded in the various World Cup Finals in which he has taken part. In Germany, in 2006, when to be fair he probably wasn’t fully fit, he petulantly got himself sent off in the quarter-final against Portugal, for kicking an opponent. Four years later, in South Africa he snarled at a group of England fans, who were deriding their team’s poor performance, and made scant impact on any of the games. And in Brazil, where for some strange reason manager Roy Hodgson in England’s first game against Italy stuck him out on the left wing, he made no real impact.

Indeed the only international tournament in which he excelled was in EURO 2004 in Portugal where he dazzled in England’s opening matches, both making and scoring goals, only alas to be kicked out of the quarter-finals in Lisbon by the Portuguese, a match which England would surely and comfortably won had he stayed on, drawing 2-2 and going out on penalties. Indeed for all his undoubted abilities, a powerful right-footed shot, skill on the ball, force in the air, it might be said that at international level for all his goals Rooney has never fully achieved the brilliant promise he showed for England as a teenager, capable of inspiring and galvanising a team largely composed of players far more experienced than him.

Neither on nor off the field has he set the same pristine example as Bobby Charlton, the white hen if you like, who never raised a stray. It is hard to remember Bobby committing a deliberate foul, but Rooney has been sent-off while playing for England not only in Lisbon but also for a gratuitous foul in Montenegro. Earning a suspension, which ruled him out of England’s first two matches in the subsequent European Championship Finals. Off the field, he has been known to frequent what might euphemistically be called ladies of the night. Charlton seems impeccable.

Charlton, beyond doubt, is one of the most globally popular players England has ever produced. “English! Bobby Charlton!” a Russian taxi driver in Moscow would exclaim to you. Yet there are one or two curious aspects to his famous career with Manchester United with who he is indelibly associated and with whom he remains a cherished senior figure, the fact is that he so nearly joined Newcastle United. 

I know this because I was told the whole story by Jackie Milburn, the centre forward idol of Newcastle United fans for glittering years, and a relative of the Charlton family, who came from Washington in the North East. I often saw and spoke to Jackie when Newcastle came to play in London and he once told me how Bobby, as a precocious 15 year old was all set to join nearby Newcastle, who had got him a job in Kemzley House there, headquarters in the North East of the big newspaper group, when suddenly it emerged he had signed for Manchester United.

Cissie — Bobby’s mother as she was of the big Leeds and England centre half, later manager of Ireland, Jack (also part of the 1966 World Cup-winning team) — later apologised to Jackie. “They offered us GBP750,” she said, “and you couldn’t afford to refuse.” That was money then.

And it’s not well known that at Manchester United, even at their peak, there were two distinct groups, the English, with Charlton a hero, and the Celtics, Scots and Irish, who were all in favour of George Best and Dennis Law and had thought Bobby overrated. Indeed there was one occasion when Best went into a pub which displayed a large portrait of Bobby and threw eggs at it.

Bobby should have played in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden but was ludicrously kept on the sidelines. He’d not had a good game en route to Sweden when England lost 5-0 in the heat to Yugoslavia but nor did anybody else. I used to chat with him, a somewhat doleful figure, in the lounge of the Park Avenue Hotel in the centre of Gothenburg where England were staying. Absurdly, they capped in the vital play-off against Russia two players Peter Brabrook and Peter Broadbent, who had never played for England before. England lost 1-0. There was an outburst of recrimination in the strongly pro-Bobby Press.

And the brothers fell out badly when their dominating mother would not accept Bobby’s wife Norma. Though, both helped win the 1966 World Cup.