The baby brother of World Cup heroes Bobby and Jack Charlton will make his England debut at the age of 72 – less than a fortnight after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Tommy Charlton will take to the field at Brighton & Hove Albion’s stadium this month when the Over 60s England side take on Italy in the first ever walking football international.
The grandfather-of-six will don a Three Lions red strip – almost identical to the kit his older brothers wore during the 1966 World Cup Final – after winning over national selectors during a trial at Burnley FC’s training ground in March.
Tommy, a pensioner who currently plays for The Mature Millers walking football club in Rotherham, described being picked to represent his country as ‘a dream come true’.
He said: “I never in a million years thought that I’d follow in the footsteps of my brothers and represent England.
“I was shocked when I got the call but am delighted to be in the squad for the first ever walking football international against Italy.
“There are so many good walking footballers in this country and it will be an honour to play alongside them and against a strong Italian side.”
On being diagnosed with prostate cancer Tommy said: “Finding out was a shock, like it would be for anyone. But I’m approaching the diagnosis with optimism.
“I still intend to represent England in the first ever walking football international and am very proud to be doing so.”
Paying d tribute to the sport of walking football and national governing body the Walking Football Association (WFA), which is backed by sporting educator UCFB (University Campus of Football Business) and its founder and Chairman Brendan Flood, Tommy said: “Walking football is a sport that has given me so much. It’s social, promotes better health and is played in the right spirit.”
“Paul Carr, the Chief Executive of the WFA and a mature student at UCFB in Manchester, has done an amazing job in raising the profile of the sport – with fantastic support provided by UCFB throughout his studies so far.”
Tommy, who was just 20 when he watched his two older brothers help England beat West Germany 4-2 and win the 1966 World Cup at Wembley, added: “When I get my boots and the England strip on I’m sure it will be a great feeling. I just hope we can put in a good performance against Italy and impress the fans who come out to watch us at what is a brilliant football stadium.”
Walking football is a rapidly growing sport and is now played in 35 countries, with a World Cup and European championship both to be held in England in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
There are over 1,100 clubs and an estimated 35,000 players participating in walking football – making it the fastest growing sport in the UK.
John Croot, who created the game, sits on the WFA board of directors – a not-for-profit organisation – alongside Paul Carr and UCFB chairman Brendan Flood.
Paul, 62, who studies BA (Hons) Football Business & Finance, founded the WFA in 2015 shortly before his ‘perfect pitch’ to the UCFB board as part of the educator’s Sports Entrepreneur Award.
He said: “Walking football has come along way in recent years, as has the WFA. On Sunday, May 13 both the England Over 50s and England Over 60s will play against two strong Italy teams in front of what we hope will be a sell-out crowd.
“These first internationals of their kind represent a great moment in the history of walking football as we look to grow the sport not just in the UK, but around the world.”
The over 50s and over 60s matches between England and Italy will take place at Brighton & Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium on Sunday, May 13. Kick-off is 10am with all ticket proceeds going to Prostate Cancer UK and Football Aid.
The winners of each contest will win the Just International Cup, after Just Group sponsored the international matches.
Stephen Lowe, group communications director, Just Group, said: “We’re all familiar with the benefit and enjoyment staying active in later life can bring and that’s why Just is the sponsor of this first ever walking football international.
“We’re proud to be able to support the England and Italy teams in inspiring people to keep healthy in later life and support the WFA in bringing this flourishing sport to a wider audience.”