CHRIS WHEELER: A night of love as Sir Bobby Charlton worshippers are out in force to pay their respects to one of Manchester United’s greats – he was a man of the people and always will be
- Man United legend Sir Bobby Charlton passed away at the age of 86 on Saturday
- United’s players and supporters paid tribute to Sir Bobby on Tuesday evening
- Follow Mail Sport’s new Man United WhatsApp channel for all the breaking news
As the fans filed past the Trinity statue to pay their respects to Sir Bobby Charlton on Tuesday night, one man in a baseball cap stopped and bowed his head as if facing an altar. After a few moments of quiet contemplation he unclasped his hands and crossed himself.
MUFC The Religion, a banner used to declare at Old Trafford, and no-one was worshipped more than Sir Bobby.
Amid the swathe of floral tributes, scarves and jerseys laid out beneath Charlton, Denis Law and George Best flickered a solitary candle.
Behind the statue, among the pictures adorning the perimeter wall, there was an iconic black and white image of Charlton lifting the European Cup at Wembley in 1968 and a colour photo of Sir Matt Busby kneeling next to the trophy that meant so much to both men.
Other supporters stood behind metal railings and simply observed the scene. A separate area had been set up for the media to record the events. Stars of yesteryear came and went. Sammy McIlroy spoke to Sky Sports News.
Man United fans came out to pay their respects to Sir Bobby Charlton on Tuesday evening
Erik ten Hag led the tributes as he walked out from the tunnel behind a bagpipe player while being flanked by United’s youth team captain Dan Gore (left) and Alex Stepney (right)
It wasn’t all nostalgia, of course. The hawkers were doing brisk business, some having hastily produced black T-shirts with Charlton on the front. Beneath two banners draped on the front of Old Trafford paying tribute to arguably United’s favourite son, the Megastore was busy too.
A few yards away, police in full riot gear prepared for the FC Copenhagen fans to arrive. It was only a few weeks ago that 2,000 Galatasaray fans infiltrated the home end here, so they couldn’t be too careful.
But this was a night for love not hate.
A planned anti-Glazer protest had been called off, and the usual messages telling the owners to get out of the club were for once absent from the south-west quadrant of the stadium next to the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand and directors’ box where a wreath had been placed on seat number 122 by chief executive Richard Arnold.
‘Loved, adored, never forgotten,’ read a handwritten note.
When the United fans next to the Copenhagen supporters sang ‘there’s only Bobby Charlton’ shortly before kick-off, the Danes held their white scarves over their heads in a show of silent solidarity.
They were just as respectful when a lone bagpiper emerged from the tunnel followed solemnly by United manager Erik ten Hag, Charlton’s former team-mate and fellow European Cup winner Alex Stepney, and the Under-19s captain Dan Gore. Sir Bobby knew the significance of United’s youth more than anyone.
They placed a wreath in the centre circle before referee Marco Guida’s whistle signalled the start of a perfectly observed minute’s silence.
Ten Hag once again paid tribute to Sir Bobby in a match programme that carried a photo of the United icon on a black and white front cover.
Sir Bobby’s seat in the director’s box was left empty and a wreath was placed there instead
Both United’s and FC Copenhagen’s players observed a minute’s silence ahead of kick off
‘He is a loss for our club, of course, but also for the whole sporting world. He was a giant figure in the history of football,’ wrote Ten Hag. ‘He will always be someone who represented the best of Manchester United.’
Look around the press room at Old Trafford and among the old billboard posters for newspaper columns by Best, Law and Nobby Stiles – reminders of a bygone age – is a fascinating photo.
It is of Charlton and his team-mates being given a homecoming welcome by thousands of fans in Albert Square after winning the European Cup at Wembley in ’68.
The open-top bus transporting the United players was little more than a mini-van by today’s opulent standards. But that would have been more than enough for Sir Bobby. He was a man of the people, and always will be.
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