‘He has done more in his lifetime than most people have in 10’

There is a sign on the window of the house that Jack and Pat Charlton shared which, far away from all the unforgettable images that are conjured by just the name ‘Big Jack’, perhaps best sums up the final years of a remarkable life. 

‘A fisherman lives here with the catch of his life,’ it says.

Jack and Pat Charlton were married for more than six decades, a partnership which spanned one of British football’s most memorable careers, but it is impossible not to feel most deeply moved by that last period. 

This was when the wider spotlight had moved on but this hero of Ashington, England, Leeds and the Republic of Ireland was in greatest need of his family’s loving support.

Dementia takes a wide variety of paths and, while the cruel loss of memory is one inescapable destination, there is something still uplifting in watching how the Charltons absorbed Jack’s particular journey. 

It is captured in a superb new film, Finding Jack Charlton, which chronicles not just how he scaled football’s greatest heights but also takes us inside the family home during the two years before his death in July at the age of 85.

And so we see Charlton going fishing with his son John. We see him feeding the ducks and eating lunch with the grandchildren. We see him suddenly break into booming song — ‘Blaydon Races’ of course — and an occasional moment when something in his ravaged memory is suddenly jogged. The sight of Paul McGrath on video, which makes him visibly smile, is one wonderful such example.

“Just now and again you see bits of him,” says Pat, before acknowledging that, “he’s not the same Jack — his memory is not there and it’s a shame because he’s had some good memories.”

Pat explains that he could still recognise a former team-mate like Sir Geoff Hurst in person but would reply simply “who?” if you only said their name. The strength of the visual rather than verbal reminder seems especially evident when you see Charlton silently fix his gaze at a painting inside their home of England winning the World Cup. Brother Bobby is depicted front right and, in the background, there is ‘Big Jack’ himself on his knees in triumph.

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