Many thought he would get his 50th in Mexico and plant a big flag in English football. Sadly, it was not to be. Charlton played well in the group stages of the World Cup and put in a strong performance in the Quarterfinals against West Germany. Though he was a constant annoyance for the exalted German defender Franz Beckenbauer, he did not score. As the match with West Germany wore on, Charlton began to tire, and manager Alfred Ramsey brought him off in the second half. West Germany roared back from a 2-0 deficit and went on to win 3-2, knocking England out of the World Cup. On the plane back home, Charlton told Ramsey that he was walking away from international football. His goalscoring record for England would stay at 49, and that record would stand for nearly half a century.
There’s a famous statue outside Old Trafford that depicts the “United Trinity” of Denis Law, George Best, and Sir Bobby Charlton. Like the statue, Charlton himself casts a long shadow. He was a member of the Busby Babes. He helped United become the first English team to win the European Cup. He survived the Munich Air Disaster, and became the face of a very public period of mourning. And for nearly half a century, he scored more goals than anyone else who wore three lions on their shirt.
Wayne Rooney’s accomplishment wasn’t significant just because of the number. It was because of the man who held the number.