Over the course of her 70-year reign, there were various occasions when Queen Elizabeth II’s path crossed with Manchester United.
The first connection – albeit indirectly – came in February 1944, when the then-Princess Elizabeth accompanied her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Wembley to watch the wartime international between England and Scotland, and looked on from the Royal Box as the King was presented to the Scotland team by their captain, Matt Busby.
King George VI was back at Wembley four years later to present the 1948 FA Cup when Busby was by now the Manchester United manager, the Scot looking on with pride as the King presented the trophy to the winning United captain Johnny Carey following our victory over Blackpool at Wembley Stadium.
By the time Busby’s side reached the next FA Cup final, against Aston Villa in 1957, Queen Elizabeth II had ascended the throne and was at Wembley to present United’s players with their losing medals following Villa’s 2-1 victory.
A year later, the reigning monarch was among the many millions mourning the victims of the Munich Air Disaster and sent the club a message of condolence and support, saying she was “deeply shocked” and extended her “sympathy and that of her husband to the families of those who have been killed and to the injured.”
United’s first trophy after the post-Munich rebuilding process came in 1963, when the Queen was again present at Wembley for the FA Cup final, and handed the trophy to jubilant United captain Noel Cantwell and winner’s medals to Busby’s players, including Bobby Charlton.
Charlton – and United team-mate Nobby Stiles – climbed those 39 steps to the Royal Box once more three summers later to receive World Cup winner’s medal from the Queen after England’s famous victory over West Germany.
Her Majesty was in attendance at the 1976 FA Cup final between United and Southampton, but trophy presentation duties had passed to the Duchess of Kent the following year, when the Reds defeated Liverpool.
Those joyous Wembley finals in 1963 and 1966 were not the only times the Queen and Charlton met. There was a famous occasion during a royal visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1998, when Her Majesty signed Manchester United footballs presented by two young United fans, aided by Sir Bobby, who was also in attendance. “She didn’t know what to do so I just helped to hold the ball,” Sir Bobby told journalists after. “This is a fantastic honour for Manchester United.”
The balls returned to the official United supporters’ club in Kuala Lumpur where they had pride of place in the clubhouse. A number of years later, Sir Bobby, and Lady Norma Charlton, were guests of honour at a special reception to mark the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, held at Buckingham Palace to celebrate people aged over 60 who had made a significant contribution to national life.
By that point Charlton was one of three United representatives to be knighted in the Queen’s Honours list. His knighthood in 1994 followed Sir Matt Busby’s honour in 1968, and preceded Sir Alex Ferguson’s knighthood in 1999.
The Queen also personally oversaw the investiture ceremonies when David Beckham and Ryan Giggs received their OBEs, in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Beckham regularly met the Queen at various events and receptions over the years across his many ambassadorial duties, while at United during the Manchester-held Commonwealth Games in 2002, and as England captain over the years.
Paying tribute to the Queen upon news of her passing, Beckham said: ‘What an outpouring of love and respect we saw for the Platinum Jubilee for her life of service. How devastated we all feel today shows what she has meant to people in this country and around the world.
‘How much she inspired us with her leadership. How she comforted us when times were tough. Until her last days she served her country with dignity and grace. This year, she would have known how loved she was.”