WHEN CHARLIE ROBERTS joined Manchester United he was a young man with relatively little league experience -just one season -and, at £600, he was regarded as a risky purchase. He soon proved to be an astute investment and became the heartbeat of the side.
Roberts joined United from Grimsby Town after playing locally in Darlington and then for the famous amateur club, Bishop Auckland.
Charlie Roberts was the first of many great Manchester United captains.
He was a supreme athlete with considerable stamina and pace despite his pale appearance, which led to his nickname of "the ghost in boots".
From his central halfback position, Roberts was the hub of United's first great team and, along with Alec Bell and Dick Duckworth, formed a formidable defensive line. His leadership skills were soon noticed and for most of his career he captained the side. Not just a stopper, Charlie Roberts was renowned for his ball distribution and passing skills. Early in his career at United his performances attracted rave reviews as the team strove for promotion from the Second Division. As a newspaper report on United's 2-0 win over Lincoln City in October 1904 mentioned:
One man on the home side stood out by himself both in attack and defence, this being Roberts. He was continually harassing the opposing defence and supplying openings for his forwards and bringing his confreres both at half and back out of difficulties.
His impressive performances attracted the attention of the inter- national selectors and he became the first Second Division player to play in all three Home Internationals in one season. However, he soon found himself out of favour. A prominent founder member of the reformed Players' Union, his outspoken comments and actions supporting the union hindered his international prospects despite the consistent excellence of his play on the pitch.
Captaining United to promotion in 1906, followed by league championships in 1908 and 1911 and the FA Cup in 1909, he and United were at the peak of their powers. Internationally, he was ignored despite consider- able support from journalists and fellow players. The Football League called on his services nine times for inter-Ieague matches.
Disputes over contracts and benefits forced Roberts to consider moving from old Trafford and to the surprise of many, United's board of directors were willing to sell their captain, although they turned down offers from Manchester City. In August 1913, Charlie Roberts joined Oldham Athletic for £1,500, a record fee for the Boundary Park club.
Charlie Roberts enjoyed an Indian summer at Boundary Park where he captained the Latics to their highest-ever league placing, runners-up to Everton in 1914-15. A knee injury eventually ended his playing career during the war, leaving him free to build up his tobacconist business. His DUCROBEL cigar became famous around Manchester -it was named after the United half-back line of Duckworth, Roberts and Bell.
Enticed back into football as the manager of Oldham in June 1921, he found the stresses of management too much to handle. He resigned in December 1922 to concentrate on his now flourishing wholesale and retail tobacco business based a short distance from United's old ground in Clayton.