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Sir Bobby Charlton R.I.P.

With great sadness we join the world mourning the death of one of the greatest sportsmen in history, Sir Bobby Charlton. There will be countless articles and obituaries over the next few weeks. Here are extracts from Ed Glinert’s forthcoming “111 Places Manchester United Fans Shouldn’t Miss”.

When Bobby Charlton first came to Manchester in the summer of 1953 he got off the train from Newcastle at Exchange Station (now demolished) and was shocked at the grime all around.

I saw all the buildings completely covered in a thick layer of black. There was so much smoke belching out of all the factories and mills that it clung to the buildings.”

Charlton was put into digs at Mrs Watson’s, No. 5 Birch Avenue, Firswood, a quarter of a mile south of the stadium. Here on a road that now looks unrecognisable, two houses had been knocked together so that the Watsons could cater for as many as twenty lodgers; not just footballers but lorry drivers and commercial types as well. Mrs Watson was a surrogate mother to the Busby Babes. She cooked them breakfast and dinner which they would eat sitting at an oval-shaped mahogany table that smelt of beeswax.

“There were twelve of us and it was good fun because you never got away from talking about football. Everybody ribbed everybody and gags rattled off like machine-gun fire.”

Bobby Charlton discovered that it was two to a bed. His sleeping partner was an Alan Rhodes who never made it as a pro. Initally Charlton was sent to Stretford Grammar School because he was still of school age. Stretford Grammar managed to get him to play for the school team – even if there was a United youth team fixture at the same time. Charlton couldn’t afford a watch, so when waking early he would go to the communal bathroom, stand on the toilet, and look out the window to check the time on the blue clock of Stretford Town Hall.