Club historian David Bull remembers Bob Charles, the former Saints goalkeeper, who has died aged 72.
Bob Charles was born during the Second World War to a father who had fought and been taken prisoner, in the Spanish Civil War, but who was now working at Folland Aircraft.
John Charles had the occasional game in goal for the Follands war-time side that boasted so many professional guests, especially from the Saints and Pompey, including Ted Bates. John might have turned pro himself after the War, but the salary of £8 a week that he was offered by Southampton FC was £1 pw less than he was earning at Follands. His son, Bob, would sign amateur forms for Bates, however, as a 16 year-old in 1958. Having kept goal for the Southampton side that won the English Schools Trophy in 1957, Bob had progressed to England honours at Schools and Youth level. His promotion from the Reserves to the first team was spectacular. On Saturday 26 September 1959, the 17 year-old ’keeper made his debut for the Reserves. Come the Monday, he replaced the injured Tony Godfrey in the first team at Shrewsbury. Even Terry Paine had a whole week between those two career-stages.
Bob kept his place – until top-of-the-table Southampton suffered two hefty defeats just before the transfer deadline in March. Whereupon, Bates signed the experienced Ron Reynolds for the run-in to the Third Division championship, although Bob’s 24-match run sufficed to earn him a medal.
The most remarked-upon game of that run came, however, in the FA Cup at First Division Manchester City. Sitting in his Shirley sitting room in 1995, Bob would take me through his memories of that afternoon in 1960, vividly conveying what that experience meant to an 18 year-old. In awe of Maine Road, a ‘massive place’ with 42,000-odd fans inside, he nervously told centre-half John Page that he hoped ‘they don’t get a cricket score, here.’ After 18 minutes, City took the lead and Bob was pessimistically thinking ‘ere we go.’ Although the Saints led 2-1 at half-time, his fears were not allayed. On 64 minutes, when Derek Reeves completed his hat-trick to make it 4-1, Bob at last allowed himself to think ‘we can win this!’ Or could they? He ‘looked up at the clock and she’s twenty past four – another 20 minutes yet.’ Then Reeves added his fourth and the Saints had won 5-1. All that remained was for the relieved young ’keeper to be congratulated by the legendary Bert Trautmann, whom he had watched concede five goals.
Within a year of that game, Bob’s Southampton career was over. His cause was not helped by a tendency to put on weight and then, soon after he’d down-graded to Weymouth, he suffered the further blow of a badly-broken elbow. Having wound down at Hastings, Bob spent the rest of his life in Southampton, working as a stevedore in the Docks for 20 years and then running a car-sales business in Portswood for a while.
His funeral will be at Wessex Vale Crematorium, at Hedge End, on Thursday 20 March, at 4 pm.
ROBERT JOHN CHARLES
26 Dec 1941 – 7 Mar 2014