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Charlie Roberts 1903-1913 302 games 23 goals

November 15, 2009

Written by: Robi Prosser

Center-half Charles (Charlie) Roberts ranks alongside Johnny Carey, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona as one of the most influential captains in United’s history. He was also one of the truly great central defenders of his generation, despite gaining only 3 full caps for England. Early on in his career, Roberts played for Darlington St.Augestine’s and the famous amateur club, Bishop Auckland. In April 1903 he signed for Grimsby Town to take the first step in a senior career as one of the finest center-halves England has ever produced.

Slightly less than a year later Robert’s moved to Manchester United. It was reported that United paid just £600 for him. If so, it was a great bargain, for he earned himself a very special place in United’s folklore. Ernest Magnall was assembling a side to match the best. Roberts was destined for glory not only as a player, but also has Magnall’s trusted lieutenant on the field.

In 1904 Roberts madehis debut for United, and for the next nine seasons he was rarely missing for the first-team line-up. He quickly became established in United’s defence, forming one of the cornerstones of the club’s first great trophy-winning sides. Together, Charlie Roberts, Dick Duckworth and Alex Bell made up one  of the most outstanding half-back lines of that, or any other era.

Under Charlie Roberts’ captaincy United captured the league championship in 1908 and 1911, and lifted the FA Cup for the first time in 1909.

Roberts was a founder of teh players’ union, which the Football Association did their utmost to defeat in the months following United’s 1909 FA Cup win. New rules written into players’ contracts effectively forced them to renounce the union. Many players, fearing for their jobs, did just that. Several United players, including Roberts decided to fight for what they believed to be right, and in a sensational development the FA suspended them. Dubbing themselves “The Outcasts,” the group began to train independently for the oncoming 1909-1910 season, under the watchful eye of Charlie Roberts. Evetually, support for the Union began to return, the FA were forced to reassess their position and agreement was reached just hours before the beginning of the season. The outcome allowed Roberts to return to what he did best – captaining United’s defence from his central position.

Roberts’ nine years as a Manchester United star ended in August 1913, when he was transferred to nearby Oldham Athletic in exchange fo a record club fee for the time. He was now 30 years old, but his determination remained strong and he captained the Latics to second place in the 1914-1915 League Championship.

Roberts won only three England caps in his footballing careeer, perhaps because of his fight for the players’ union, but the northern based football league chose him for their representative side nine times, eight times while he was at United and once after he moved to Oldham.

On 25th February 1905, Roberts became the first-ever Manchester United player to be capped for England.

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