It was a simple tribute: a single black, white and red scarf tied around the neck of Sir Bobby Charlton’s statue at Old Trafford.
Of the thousands of fans who lined the apron of the stadium to pay their respects as Charlton’s funeral cortege drove past, one had climbed the 20-feet high bronze and marble United Trinity sculpture of George Best, Denis Law and Charlton to adorn the latter with club colours.
United marked the final journey of one of the club’s all-time greats with numerous black and white photographs depicting Charlton’s long and illustrious career as a player and a director and even his work with the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools, an initiative which ran for nearly 45 years and helped discover David Beckham.
Looking back at the life of an inspirational man pic.twitter.com/Geufc9M9Hh
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 13, 2023
High on the glass wall of the East Stand were two huge black and white photographs – one of Charlton in his Busby Babes playing days and the other of him as the club’s elder statesman – either side of the words ‘Sir Bobby Charlton, 1937-2023. Forever Loved’. Above it Premier League and club flags flew at half-mast.
The crowd began to swell after 1pm and it ranged from mothers with prams to teenagers to those who would actually have seen Charlton play live in his pomp.
There were tourists with suitcases either coming to or leaving Manchester – Mancunians and Scandinavians coming together to pay their respects.
One elderly man, front and centre at the Trinity statue, proudly sang the old songs celebrating Charlton, Best and Law and the Busby Babes. While his was a lone voice, his efforts were reciprocated with a gentle round of clapping from those nearby.
Another man took it upon himself to reverentially wipe down the huge marble base of the statue by sculptor Philip Jackson where a wreath in club colours had been placed.
As the 1.30pm arrival time approached, representatives from United’s under-18 and under-21 teams formed a guard of honour flanking the Trinity statue and, after what had been a bright and clear morning, the first spots if rain started to fall as the cortege approached.
When it arrived at Old Trafford a quiet ripple of applause broke out and it rolled down both sides of the crowd, three or four deep behind the barriers, and got louder as the hearse carrying Charlton made its way slowly past the statue.
As it headed for the exit on Sir Matt Busby Way, named after Charlton’s manager of the 1950s and 60s, many of the crowd followed it out as best they could before it took a right turn and headed for Manchester Cathedral in the city.
There, the Prince of Wales, who is the president of the Football Association, Sir Alex Ferguson and England manager Gareth Southgate joined some of Charlton’s former team-mates as well as current and ex-United players to remember one of the game’s all-time greats.