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
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
He was a supreme athlete
with considerable stamina and pace despite his pale appearance, which led to
his nickname of "the ghost in boots".
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
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.
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.