Following the news that ’66 World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst stated he would donate his brain to science after research linked heading footballs to dementia, Gabriel Clarke and Pete Thomas’ poignant documentary Finding Jack Charlton’s release is timelier than ever. As well as being a comprehensive look at Jack Charlton’s illustrious career on and off the pitch, the film is a powerful look at the legend’s final year as he battled the degenerative disease.
Filmed during the last 18 months of Charlton’s life, this emotional insight into the life and career of the icon stands out from the pack of countless sporting docs of recent years due to this uniquely personal approach. With exclusive access, the film takes us into Jack Charlton’s home for a fly-on-the-wall look at his battle against dementia with the help of his loving family – his wife Pat and son John both feature heavily, bravely discussing their beloved husband/father’s struggle. With this powerful footage as a framing device, the film reminisces Jack’s extraordinary career from his time as a player through to his status as an Irish hero as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team. Throughout, we’re given glimpses of an unwell Jack reacting to the footage we’ve seen in the documentary and, heartbreakingly, failing to recollect these key moments of his career. It is a truly powerful and sobering approach, similar in style to the stunning Glen Campbell doc I’ll Be Me which dealt with a similar disease.
But the film’s tone is, on the whole, triumphant. The film is a moving look at when sport truly meant something, and transcended the politics or attitudes of the time as a means of bringing people together. Charlton’s career cemented him as a legend in Irish history, despite being from Northumberland, at a time when tensions between the English and Irish were especially high. Football fans and detractors alike will surely agree on Jack Charlton’s status in history after seeing this documentary which proves that he was more than just a sporting star – he was an inspiration.
Thanks to Jack’s family’s participation in the film, Finding Jack Charlton has access to detailed, hand-written notes that Jack kept throughout his career that offer an intimate portrait of the man’s philosophy. It is from these notes that we are given our greatest insight into Jack, and although the film is at times heartbreaking and difficult to watch – especially for the many thousands who are affected by this disease daily – it is on the whole a celebration of a life well lived. The film does dedicate a healthy amount of time to scientific studies of the correlation between football and dementia, Charlton’s wife Pat concludes that she probably wouldn’t have wanted to take the sport away from him anyway. He simply loved it too much. There is certainly a lot more discussion to be had on this matter – which the aforementioned Sir Geoff Hurst is currently campaigning – but this is not that film.
While there has certainly been no shortage of footie docs over the last few years, none have been quite as tender and heartfelt as this poignant portrait of a true legend.