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Finding Jack Charlton: “Seeing him with dementia was very difficult, but it didn’t define him as a person”

Jack Charlton
(Image credit: Noah Media Group)

Eleven men lined up for England in the 1966 World Cup final - five have since suffered with dementia. A moving new film documents the final years of Jack Charlton, as well as the joy of his time in charge of the Republic of Ireland.

Finding Jack Charlton is released next week, directed by Gabriel Clarke and Pete Thomas, with assistance from executive producer Andy Townsend. It was due for release ahead of Euro 2020, only for the coronavirus pandemic to force the tournament’s postponement. In July, Charlton passed away at the age of 85, having battled lymphoma and dementia.

While much of the film looks back at his remarkable 10 years in charge of Ireland, in which Charlton guided the country to the first three major tournaments of their history, the makers also spent time with him at home for heartbreaking scenes that documented his struggle, as his amazing memories gradually slipped away.

“We initially met with the family more than two years ago,” explains Clarke, who also works for ITV, and has developed a reputation as an excellent documentary maker in recent years. “I’d spoken to Andy Townsend about the idea of the story of Jack and Ireland being done from a more English point of view, about what he achieved over there. I knew there was a lot of footage available from my work at ITV.

“We have to say thanks to Pat Charlton his wife, his son, all the family and Jack himself for letting us film over certain periods during that 18 months. It wasn’t easy, but it was inspirational. Unlike Andy, I don’t have experience of dementia in my own family, so it was educational to me, and I hope it will be educational to other people.

“It didn’t define Jack, that was the one thing his family were clear to try to put across - he was still doing things he wanted to do, he was still with family and friends, and doing his best to go to his charity events.

“But there are moments in the film where he can’t remember things. That was very difficult to see, but that’s the condition, and that’s the aspect that people need to see, because that’s what’s hardest for the carer, the person living with him.”

Townsend was Charlton’s captain at the 1994 World Cup, and the film includes many great moments from their days together with Ireland.

“I won’t be taking any credit for the way the film was put together, that was very much down to Gabriel and Pete,” he tells FFT. “Gabriel needed to be connected with the right people, and I was able to do that - I initially connected them with the family, because I worked with Gabriel for 15 years at ITV and I knew that whatever he created would be quality, a fair and honest representation of Jack. When I first watched the film, I really loved it.”

The film makers unearthed a wide range of previously unseen handwritten notes that Charlton kept during his career, giving a great insight into his philosophy, both in terms of tactics and man management.

“Pat showed us a whole raft of photographs and she mentioned that she had these notes as well,” Clarke explains. “They were in a box and she dug them out - that’s the sort of thing you always like to have as a documentary maker, because you’re getting inside the mind of somebody. We got a sense of the original thinking, what particular philosophies he held, and how he was able to break down key points before a game.

"Some of them were little teamtalks, some were more to do with management - how you’re at your strongest when you get a job, and ‘be a dictator, but be a nice one’, which really sums him up. It could have been the sub-heading to the film. It was ‘We’re going to do it my way, that’s non-negotiable, but if we do it my way, you’re going to have a great time’.

"It was a wonderful window, along with the unseen footage we managed to get, especially from 1990. Hopefully with those notes, we captured the fact that behind the bluff, the exterior, the guy who liked a pint and a laugh, there was a lot of real, incisive, single-minded, innovative thinking.”

Charlton with his wife Pat

Charlton with his wife Pat (Image credit: Noah Media Group)

Although the film was planned to be released while Charlton was still alive, it’s a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to football, both in England and Ireland.

“We’d kept in touch with the family, so we were aware that Jack’s condition was deteriorating,” Clarke says. “It was very sad that he passed away, but it was going to happen.

“Jack always liked the camera - a bit like Bobby Robson and Cloughie, he was a natural in front of one. What struck me during filming was he was aware of the camera - there are moments in the film where he looks at the camera directly, and relates to it.

"Those moments stayed with me. He was a person who was always engaging, and was always trying to engage right until the end - always being generous, and always maybe wanting to be the star of it too.”

Finding Jack Charlton is out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download on November 23, and you can also read a special feature about his career in the next issue of FourFourTwo magazine, out on December 11.

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