THE argument over who is the greatest North-East sportsperson will always be fiercely debated. Jack Charlton, whose death was announced this morning at the age of 85, would never have claimed the title for himself. In his endearingly self-deprecating way, the Ashington native would probably have chuckled that he wasn’t even the best footballer in his family. Yet in terms of achievement, impact and retaining a long-lasting affiliation with his home region, the eldest of the footballing brothers that played such a pivotal role in English sport’s most celebrated moment spent a lifetime towering over the North-East sporting landscape.

As a rugged, uncompromising centre-half, his crowning glory came in 1966 when, along with his brother, Bobby, he was at the heart of England’s World Cup triumph. Having made his international debut just a year earlier, Charlton played in all of England’s matches as they lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, forming a formidable defensive pairing with his side’s skipper, Bobby Moore.

His club career was spent exclusively with Leeds United – save for a brief spell of national service with the Horse Guards – and he won every honour going, from the First and Second Division titles to the FA Cup and on to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which he lifted twice.

It is often suggested that Charlton made up for in effort and commitment what he lacked in natural talent, but that is to downplay both his abilities and the hugely-influential leadership qualities that made him such a valued member of Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds side. Put simply, Charlton wouldn’t have made a club-record 629 league appearances for the best Leeds team in history if he hadn’t been able to play.

Following his retirement, he moved into management, and on Teesside, it is his four-year spell as Middlesbrough manager in the mid-1970s that cemented his legacy as a footballing legend.

He took over a Middlesbrough side struggling in the Second Division, and turned down the offer of a formal contract, instead persuading the club’s hierarchy to agree to a gentleman’s agreement that stipulated he would not be sacked and guaranteed him time off when he wanted it for fishing and shooting.

He assembled one of the great Middlesbrough sides, featuring the likes of Jim Platt, Willie Maddren, David Armstrong, Graeme Souness, John Hickton and David Mills, and led his team to the Second Division title. Charlton’s side finished 15 points clear of their closest rivals, a remarkable feat in the days when it was only two points for a win.

Charlton was also responsible for introducing Boro’s ‘white band’, and he left the club on his own terms, stating that four years was long enough to stay in any position. Later, he regretted being so decisive, musing that Boro could have won the First Division title if he had remained in charge.

A subsequent spell in charge of Newcastle United was much less successful as it came during a period of considerable change on Tyneside, but Charlton still played a pivotal role in the development of Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle and handed a certain Paul Gascoigne his first contract with the Magpies.

After leaving Newcastle, Charlton’s next managerial role came with the Republic of Ireland, and delivered some more unforgettable moments. In his decade in charge, Charlton transformed the fortunes of the Irish side, reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990 and qualifying for the following tournament in the United States when England could not.

His reign has come to be remembered for a long-ball style and the plucking of ‘English’ players with long-forgotten Irish ancestry, but again that characterisation downplays Charlton’s brilliance. Few managers have ever extracted more from relatively limited raw materials.

Charlton remains a sporting hero in Ireland, but unlike Bobby, who turned his back on the North-East in order to put down new roots in Manchester, Jack never lost his love of his native Northumberland or desire to make a difference in the North-East.

He spent his later years back in Northumberland, fishing, shooting and enjoying a pint of Guinness in his local pub, and devoted countless hours to charity work despite his failing health. He became a passionate supporter of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and became something of a regular on the North-East charity dinner circuit, often laughing along raucously as comedians poked fun at his accent and struggle to remember names.

He had time for all who encountered him, and while his relationship with Bobby had become strained, the pair achieved some sort of a reconciliation when Jack presented his brother with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

Standing alongside each other on the stage, the brothers were afforded the kind of affection and acknowledgment that is reserved for the truly great. Together, they rose from the Ashington coalfields to rule the sporting world.