"He still owes me £40!" - Sheffield Wednesday legend Mel Sterland pays emotional tribute to Jack Charlton
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The World Cup winner has died at the age of 85 after a brave battle against lymphoma and dementia.
He leaves behind a football legacy few can match and together with his assistant Maurice Setters lead Wednesday out of the doldrums in a six-year spell as Owls boss that took them from the foot of the Third Division to promotion and on their way back to the top tier.
“He got players in and he was old school,” Sterland told The Star this morning. “It was just what the club needed. He got the job done and did just enough for the club to set it back on its way, and then Howard took over and the rest followed from there.
“It wouldn’t be the club it is and has been without Jack and Maurice. There are a lot of very sad people in football today. It’s a very sad day.”
Charlton’s larger-than-life personality is one all that knew him will remember fondly, Sterland said. His eye for a player brought the likes of Bob Bolder, Terry Curran, Gary Megson and Mick Lyons to the club alongside the development of Peter Shirtliff, Kevin Taylor and ‘Zico’ himself.
Having started out as a striker and then a midfielder in his early days, it was Charlton that first played Sterland at right-back.
“I owe an awful lot to him,” he said. “An amazing guy he was and I’m truly gutted.
“There are just so many funny stories that come to mind when it comes to Jack, he was such a big personality. We loved him. He was a superb guy, an absolute diamond bloke.
“I’ll never forget him having a fight with Terry Curran, and you’ve got to remember that really we were only young lads at the time. TC wanted to play down the middle, Jack wanted him to play on the right wing and this went on forever. So they had this dust-up in the middle of training!
“I won’t say who won but you can probably imagine. And then they get up and shake hands afterwards. You’ve never seen anything like it.
“He was just a huge character like I say, so much of the stuff he used to do you just wouldn’t get away with now.”
Sterland was a teenager when Charlton arrived at the club and said any pretence around the fact he was a World Cup winner just didn’t exist due to his genuine man-of-the-people personality and outlook on life. His style of man-management, he said, was uncompromising but fair, and his handling of young players forward-thinking.
His no-nonsense approach put the right-back on his way to a career of over 450 appearances and earn an England cap. But it effectively started as a shaking boy left waiting outside Charlton’s office.
“I went in to sign my pro contract and I was frightened as hell,” he remembered, chuckling. “We didn’t have any agents in those days and I was just this 17-year-old kid knocking on the door of Jack Charlton. I asked my dad what to ask for and he said £250 a week.
“Well I got to his office and knocked and there was nothing. I knocked again and again and I’m starting to think ‘is this a wind-up or what?’ I was absolutely frightened to death.
“Anyway, I knocked a fourth time and heard this ‘come in’, and he was sat there at his desk with a cigarette in his hand and with his flat cap on was sat there reading the Racing Post, just like you can imagine.
“I go in and and he goes ‘So, what is it that you want?’ I said £250.
“Well he nearly choked. He dropped his cigarette on the floor, his flat cap came off, he didn’t even look at me, he said ‘Right sign this or get out’ and slid a piece of paper across the desk to me and went back to his paper.
“It had £50 per week on it and £50 per appearance. I signed it and left pretty sharpish.”
Sterland will never forget watching Charlton ‘scrounge’ beloved cigarettes from spectators that had come to watch Wednesday train as he walked up and down greeting them and asking their opinion. And once again laughing looking back, he said there will now always be the small matter of £40 between them.
He said: “We were playing down at QPR and I’d missed the coach, I’d had to stop at the chemist for some deodorant and someone had blocked me in, so I had to get a pal to drive me down in the end.
“Anyway, we got down and we won 1-0 so he said he wasn’t going to fine me but we were playing cards on the way back. I beat him good and proper and he has owed me £40 ever since, I’ll never get that back now but I’ll forgive him that, what a special bloke.
“He was such a positive guy around the football club and he just had something about him you wanted to be a part of, you wanted to follow him.
“I’m gutted, truly gutted. It’s a very sad day. You think of the guys at Leeds, they’ll be devastated as well, Irish people will be devastated, the whole football world.
“Jack was a proper football man, but a diamond bloke first and foremost. He just made us laugh and laugh.”