Jack Charlton: Everybody was frightened of us, it was lovely

Jack Charlton: Everybody was frightened of us, it was lovely

Read about legendary defender Jack Charlton's Leeds United career in his own words

With 773 appearances to his name, legendary defender Jack Charlton has the distinction of being Leeds United's all-time top appearance holder, a record that is likely to never be matched.
A one club player, Jack enjoyed a 23 year spell with the Whites, winning First and Second Division titles, the FA Cup, League Cup, Charity Shield, Fairs Cup and World Cup.
From his arrival in Leeds to the common misconceptions of that famous Revie side, read Jack Charlton's Leeds United journey in his own words.

You're a Geordie through and through: how come you ended up at Leeds?
Mainly because I had an uncle who played there - Jimmy Milburn. My other uncles, Jack and George Milburn had been there before him. In those days, travelling away was a big thing. It took you three-and-a-half hours on the train to get from Newcastle to Leeds. When you went away from home, you had to stay with relatives. So, seeing as Jimmy was at Leeds United and Jack was still living in Leeds, they looked after me. It was very important having family there.
Did you have a choice of clubs that you could have gone to?
I could have had a trial with Newcastle, but my mother never let us go there because she said that Newcastle would get kids to sign a form which meant they'd never be able to go anywhere else to play football. She wouldn't have anything to do with them.
The biggest and brightest feature at Leeds in the 1950s was John Charles...
John was in the army when I first went to Leeds, and he got demobbed about a week later. It was like the hero coming home. All the lads were in awe of him - and he was a lad who was probably only about 20 or 21 years old himself! When I came into the Leeds team, they moved John to centre-forward and I came in at centre-back. We won promotion that year - my first season, my first attempt.
Is it true that you were close to leaving Leeds not long after you arrived?
Yeah, but not because of wages. It didn't matter where you were playing your football, you all got paid the same. Raich Carter (the then manager) left in 1958 and we had managers come and go quickly to no great effect. I'd got involved in the coaching side of things at an early age, with a player called George Ainsley. We used to go and do afternoons at schools and what-have-you when we weren't training. There was nothing like that going on at Elland Road. We didn't really have coaches - we had trainers. They looked after you on a physical level, putting you through runs and timing you, but there were no coaches to take you out and work you on any specific part of the game.
It was only when Don Revie took over that coaches like Syd Owen and Les Cocker came in and we took it from there. Suddenly I found out that people would listen to you. Before that I would probably annoy some of the trainers because I would question things. I got a name for being a big-head and a loudmouth. I wasn't - I was just interested in being taught how to look at the game in different ways.

Jack Charlton

You always had a reputation for being a rebel didn't you?
Yes. Well, that was probably where the rebellious streak came from because I was not happy at the way that things were done. Training in my early days where you turned up at ten o'clock, went on the pitch, ran up the long side, walked the short side, ran the long, walked the short. For a change you used to turn around and go the other way. Then you went on the car park and you played five-a-side. You never went on the field of play. It was only when they developed the new training pitches on the West Stand side of the ground that you got on the grass at all. 
Y'see, it hadn't been long before that England had been given a footballing lesson by Hungary, getting beat 6-3 at Wembley, and football started to change after that. People started taking an interest in developing the game tactically. I used to go to Lilleshall every summer from the age of 22 to get my coaching badges. By the time I was 28, I was a staff coach at Leeds.
You were obviously ambitious - but did you ever thing Leeds were a club capable of challenging for the top honours?
We were in the Second Division during most of my early years at Leeds. We got promoted once (1955-56) but we quickly went down again. We were in the Second Division when Don Revie came and we got promoted under him in 1964. But that period before he came was the slowest period of my life. I had asked for a transfer during that time - I wanted to get away. And that was mainly because there was no one moving things on; I wanted to work with people who thought about the game.
Is it fair to say that Revie's arrival was a turning point for you personally as well as for Leeds United as a club?
It was a big turning point for me because when Don came, I never expected him to change things in the way he did. It became a case of coming back after training in the afternoons to work on things that you were good at and on things you weren't good at. That meant everyone; Billy, Gilsey, whoever.
It was a revolution then?
Yeah, it was! Even something as simple as the warm-ups before the game kicked off. We used to do stretches outside the dressing room and kick a ball up against the wall to warm up. Suddenly we were out on the pitch and we were effectively training in front of the public. It was a bit strange at first, and then everyone got used to it. And soon every team in the country started warming up that way.
Did you get on with Don Revie from the word go?
Not really, no. It was only when I realised that there was something different happening in the club. Then the training there we longer just trainers - they were also coaches - they knew what the game was about. They knew how to improve you as a player.
I'd actually been to see Matt Busby at Man United with the idea that I might go there. He asked me to hang on until the September - he was going to have a look at a lad that was coming through before he went out and bought anybody. And I said, "No - no way. I've caused havoc at Elland Road because I was coming to see you. It was you who told me not to sign a new contract with Leeds... I'm going to go back and apologise to them and sign a new contract and bugger you - I'm not coming here!" So I went back to Elland Road, saw Don and did exactly that. The attitude of the trainers to me after that was completely different. Everything took off from there.

Jack and Don

Is it true that it was Don Revie who made you realise that you were good enough to play for England?
Yeah, well when he first got the job, he said to me: "You've got enough ability, if you were to screw the nut and do the job right, you could play for England." I said, "Don't be stupid." I'd never seen myself in the light at all. And sure enough when I'd decided that Leeds United was where I was going to be, there were changes made and were working in a way I understood and liked.
A lot of people forget that you won a World Cup Winners medal with England before you'd won a major honour with Leeds United!
I was very fortunate. I didn't get in the England team until I was 28, just coming up to 29.
There's the famous story you tell about when you found out about your first selection for England.
Yeah. Playing Man U in semi-final replay at Nottingham. Don told me after the game - we'd won 1-0 and Billy scored the winner. All the other lads knew before the game. (Despite the prompt, Jack doesn't tell the full story: after finally learning of his international call-up, a jubilant Jack went immediately to tell his brother Bobby the good news. Bobby was in the Manchester United dressing room with the rest of the downcast team, Jack oblivious that his good news would not overshadow the fact that Leeds had just deprived them all of a Cup final appearance!).
So from then I not only had only had a career at Elland Road, I had a career with England as well. I had probably the six busiest years of my life then. Our season didn't start until September and finished after the Cup Final in May. So you had all those games for Leeds and England crammed into that period. In those six years at Leeds, we were snowed under with games - we were involved with games in every competition.
I finished up with 35 caps but I missed a lot of games for England because of all the commitments with Leeds - we were playing in Europe and semi-finals and finals of competitions, replays. You were always playing twice a week - or three times if you think Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday. It just went on and on like that so I had to pull out of England games quite a few times.
What are the moments at Leeds that you cherish above all others?
One has to be Don telling me that I'd been picked for England after that semi-final. And then there's Liverpool when we won the Championship (1968/69 season). I remember us wanting to come off the field and the crowd wouldn't let us. We stood there and looked at the Kop and it was amazing. All the Liverpool fans stayed where they were after the game, and they were all standing up and cheering us like hell. And you've got to remember, there was never a more competitive game in the League than the ones between Liverpool and us.

Jack and Bobby

There were plenty of disappointments - any which stand out?
Just a general disappointment. Had we been given time to prepare and do things properly, we would have won a bloody sight more than we did. We spent most of the time in hotels away from home between games, just waiting to play. You've got to remember that we didn't have 30 players in the first team squad in those days - we only had a squad of about 18.
What's your assessment now of that Revie team you played in?
It was wonderful. We were frightened of nobody. Everybody was frightened of us - and it was lovely! It was a great feeling to go somewhere and have people looking at you in awe, them knowing that if they got any result against you, it would be a good result.
Why did that team get the reputation of being ruthlessly professional?
In Don's first year we got promotion to the First Division. The first year up we came second in the league got to the Cup Final as well. And that was the year when we started getting the reputation. We had Bobby Collins in the team and Booby would have killed his mother to get a result! His attitude went through the team - that feeling you're only going to be successful if you give it your all.
There was never nobody at Elland Road that was really nasty. We just matched the people that we played against. If they were a bit silly, we would be better than them. We would be stronger than them. It was probably just two seasons when we got this reputation. But it stayed with us.
Don't tell me that Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray, Terry Cooper, Paul Reaney and Paul Madeley were dirty players. Norman got a bit of a reputation but it was because he was a good tackler. A hell of a tackler. Billy and Gilesy in front never stopped running, getting under people's feet and not letting them make their final pass.And they were good at it. We were competitive and we had to be more competitive than the people we were playing against. And we were.
Leeds set the mould in terms of committed professionalism?
That's right. Under Don Revie we probably become the most professional club team in the World. We were probably the best-informed team in the world. We had reports on every team we were going to play, weeks before we actually played them. People made the word "professionalism" a nasty word in those days. We were very proud that we were considered to be the most professional side in the business.

Jack with medal

You got your fair share of goals in your Leeds career...
I scored 95, apparently, in all competitions for Leeds. I always seemed to scored against Coventry City. Maybe that's why I've got a soft spot for them. 
Was it a great relief when we actually won the FA Cup in 1972?
Well, it was, yes - it was always a relief making that breakthrough into winning things instead of finishing second or third or fourth. I'm very pleased that apart from the European Cup, we won everything.
What about the rumours of you having a little black book containing a list of sworn enemies on the pitch?
It was just something about the way the game was at the time. If someone did something really nasty to you, and I mean really nasty, the kind of thing that needed to be taken out of the game - I'd get them back if I got the chance but I would do it within the laws of the game when the ball was there. People ask me who was in the little black book, and I say there was nobody. I just had a good memory of people who'd done nasty things to me.
I was never ever a dirty player. I was a good tackler - you can tackle as hard as you like. I was brought up in the North-East where we were taught how to tackle. It's part of the game. People ask me if our Leeds team would survive in the game today. Of course they would. They'd adapt to the way the game is now as we adapted to the way the game was then.
You left Leeds in 1973 and went to manage Middlesbrough. A year later Don Revie left Leeds - did you have any ambitions to be Leeds manager yourself?
When Don left, Leeds was a big club and I was probably too young to be considered for the post. It went very well at Middlesbrough; I finished up as Manager of the Year in my first year. We destroyed the league so I had a tremendous start to my managerial career. After that I always seemed to be in a job when the Leeds job became available. So I never applied for it.
You were at Leeds United for over 20 years - the club obviously means an awful lot to you?
Yeah. The two teams that I look for the results of before anyone - like with real anxiety... y'know, when you're driving up the motorway or looking for a paper - are Leeds and Newcastle. I was brought up "black and white" as a kid, and then I had my career at Leeds.

Jack Charlton

Interview originally published in the April/May 2001 editions of 'Leeds Leeds Leeds'