Soccer-Thousands of fans welcome Charlton funeral cortege at Old Trafford

By Lori Ewing

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) -Manchester United great Bobby Charlton was remembered both as one of English soccer’s finest players and a “humble” and “fantastic” man by the thousands of fans and some of the sport’s biggest names who bid him a final farewell on Monday.

Charlton, a World Cup winner with England and one of United’s best ever players, died on Oct. 21 at the age of 86.

Former United manager Alex Ferguson, former players Andy Cole and Paul Scholes, England manager Gareth Southgate, Prince William and UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin were among the some-1,000 invited guests who attended the private service at Manchester Cathedral.

“I knew straight away what a great guy he was… Even on international duty it was about winning. A humble guy, a great family man. It never went to his head,” Charlton’s former team mate Alex Stepney told the BBC.

A throng of thousands of fans a dozen deep in places braved the blustery weather to applaud as Charlton made one final trip past Old Trafford.

His funeral cortege paused in front of the Trinity Statue of Charlton, George Best and Denis Law. The trio helped United become the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968.

A carefully laid collection of hundreds of bouquets and scarves around the statue’s base continues to grow.

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw were among the current United players to attend the service, with many absent due to international duties. Manager Erik ten Hag was not able to attend due to a commitment in the Netherlands.

The England team’s arrival at their training base at St. George’s Park was delayed on Monday to allow Southgate, Maguire and others to attend.

“Arguably we are talking about the greatest English footballer we have ever had,” former United captain Steve Bruce told Sky Sports. “Then of course, he had class as a man too. So when you have the mixture of the two you can understand why there are going to be thousands of people lining the streets.

“One simple thing he always said (when I joined United), ‘It’s a great club. Just enjoy it, enjoy the privilege of playing for this great football club.'”

Another former United captain Bryan Robson called it a “sad day for football, for Man United and Sir Bobby’s family”.

“He was a fantastic player, but not just that, he was a great person,” Robson told Sky News.

The ceremony was expected to include tributes and eulogies from former United chief executive David Gill and former Manchester United Foundation chief executive John Shiels, plus a personal tribute from Charlton’s family.

Hymns were to include “Abide With Me”, which is traditionally sung before the FA Cup final.

Charlton was a key figure in England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, playing alongside his brother Jack. He made 758 appearances for United, scoring 249 goals, winning three league titles, the FA Cup and European Cup.

(Reporting by Lori EwingEditing by Christian Radnedge)