Sir Bobby Charlton’s little known efforts for peace building in Ireland

Sir Bobby Charlton’s little known efforts for peace building in Ireland

Tue 24 Oct 2023 by Co-operation Ireland

Amid the tributes to football legend Sir Bobby Charlton paid at the weekend following his sad passing, few will remember how he brought a star-studded Manchester United team to Belfast on a December evening in 1995 to raise money for Co-operation Ireland’s peacebuilding work.

On a magical winter’s night that saw Eric Cantona and Paul Scholes take to the field at Windsor Park, a stronger than expected red devils team took on an International Select that included Peter Shilton and Glenn Hoddle.

In 2023 it sounds barely believable that a Premier League team would take part in a friendly in the middle of a season, but Co-operation Ireland Fundraising Director Terry O’Neill remembers that Sir Bobby Charlton was adamant he would bring Manchester United to Belfast to support peacebuilding efforts.

“It started earlier that year when I was approached by Sir Bobby following a charity golf classic at the famous Gleneagles course in Scotland,” recalls Terry.

“He had played that day and after learning more about what Co-operation North did, he said he wanted to help in any way he could.

“A charity match was mentioned and that’s how it was left.”

Luck, says Terry, was on the side of Co-operation North (The charity changed its name to Co-operation Ireland in 1998).

“Although Manchester United fans might not want to be reminded of this, they weren’t faring too well in Europe come the new season and exited at the group stages of the European Cup that year.

“That had an unexpected benefit for us, and with their fixture calendar opening up, Sir Bobby was true to his word and said he would bring the team to Belfast not only to help the charity but as a thank you to the massive local fanbase who support Man Utd.”

The hastily arranged fixture sold out within hours and a capacity crowd witnessed Man Utd go down to the International Select 2-1.

“The whole place was buzzing because this was just a week after President Bill Clinton had turned on the Christmas tree lights in front of Belfast City Hall. Thanks to Sir Bobby, £158,000 was raised for our programmes – a huge figure then.”

Terry said it wouldn’t have been easy for Sir Bobby to organise the event.

“I think it shows the mark of the man. He said he wanted to help and not only was he true to his word, but he gave us one of the most memorable nights in the history of Co-operation Ireland.”

Everyone at Co-operation Ireland would like to pass on our condolences to the Charlton family.

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