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'The ghost in boots' ... a centre half who could run 100 yards in 11 seconds(world record was then 9.6 seconds).

The only United captain in the first half of the century to get his hands on the league championship (1908 & 1911) and the FA Cup (1909).

Upset the FA for wearing short shorts when they ordered that they should cover the knees.

CHARLES ROBERTS (1883 - 1939)

Charlie Roberts was born at 12 Fry Street, Darlington. He left elementary school at the age of twelve in 1895 and for six years worked as a mill furnaceman in a local ironworks. Roberts also made a reputation in local football and by the age of seventeen was playing for Darlington St Augustine's in the Northern League. By 1902-3 he had moved on to Bishop Auckland and after playing for the league against the Northern Alliance on 14 April was one of three 'Bishops' players to be transferred to Grimsby Town. He played for the Mariners for one season in the second division before joining Manchester United for a fee of £400.

This was a propitious moment to be joining United and not simply because the club was promoted to the first division in his second season (1905-6). The club had gone into liquidation in 1902 but had been rescued and was in the process of being transformed by a Manchester brewer, J. H. Davies. His money helped United to win the championship of the first division in 1907-8, the FA cup in 1908-9, and the league championship again in 1910-11. Suddenly Manchester United were among the leading group of clubs in English football. By 1910 they had moved to a modern stadium at Old Trafford.

These were the early years of the maximum wage for English professionals, in 1910, £4 per week, and the retain and transfer system. There were also growing crowds and newspaper interest. Some of the leading players were unhappy that they could not take advantage of an apparently favourable market to earn more. An association football players' union was set up in 1907 which provoked the football employers, who saw the commercial game not as a business but as a sport in which unions had no part.

Charlie Roberts was not only one of the most outstanding footballers of the pre-1914 generation but a militant fighter for the rights of the professional player. His strong character and determination made him a formidable opponent both on and off the field. He was an energetic member of the committee of the union, which briefly confronted the football establishment, and remained an activist until the early 1930s. On returning for pre-season training in 1909, the players of Manchester United were locked out of the ground for refusing to leave the union and Roberts had a famous team photograph taken entitled The Outcasts. He was very bitter when the dispute was lost and used the new Football Players' Magazine to berate the players for the failure of so many of them to see the need for collective bargaining:

"I know of no class of workpeople less able to look after themselves than footballers; they are like a lot of sheep ... You are forever asking 'what can the Union do for me?' The Union stands for those in need of help. If you don't need it, don't you think you ought to support it in the interests of those who do ?" (Football Players' Magazine, 3, 16 April 1914)

Roberts was an attacking centre half and was nicknamed Jack Johnson in his prime, because of his power and fearlessness. Roberts played in all three of the home internationals in 1905 but never appeared again for England. Billy Wedlock was a formidable rival for the centre half position, but some commentators thought that the blunt speech of Roberts and his union activities may have counted against him. In all he played 299 league and cup games for United, mostly as captain, before being transferred to Oldham Athletic in August 1913 for £1750. Under his captaincy Athletic almost won the first division in 1915. He was to be the club's manager for a couple of years in the 1920s.

He failed as a Conservative candidate in local elections in Manchester, but did succeed in business and Charlie Roberts (Tobacconists), by the late 1960s employed a staff of one hundred.
He sold a locally produced brand of cigarettes at his tobacconist shop called Ducrobel - named after the old United half back line of Duckworth Roberts and Bell.

Charlie is remembered by a commemorative plaque on the redeveloped shop-fronts in Ashton New Road depicting a footballer in full flight.

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