Kenny Hibbitt has described as ‘a dream’ the meetings he had with Sir Bobby Charlton on and off the pitch.
We were reminded at the Molineux dinner held in the midfielder’s honour five autumns ago that the football knight had not only been his hero – but good enough to send him a signed letter to commemorate the happy occasion.
That framed keepsake on Hibbitt’s wall has been savoured even more these last three days since the news broke of the Manchester United and England legend’s passing at the age of 86.
“It’s my pride and joy,” he said of an item that moved him deeply at the sell-out event in September, 2018. “I loved Sir Bobby….always have. He was a pure footballer and a fantastic guy.
“I faced him quite a few times when he was coming towards the end of his career and I just had to treat him as another opponent when we were playing United. But I used to look his way when we were kicking in before the game and appreciate what a star he was.
“When I was younger, it was a dream of mine to meet and face him and I used to watch him on TV. I probably saw the 1963 FA Cup final between United and Leicester without remembering it much but I definitely recall his contribution to the 1966 World Cup and the European Cup final two years later.
“He was so elegant across the pitch and it was hard to know which was his natural strong side because he could pass and shoot so well with both feet.
“He inspired me to work my socks off and try in some way to emulate what he brought to the game. My brother, Terry, and I would spend hours stood 20 yards apart, passing – right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.
“It was all aimed at trying to be more like him. To me, he had everything – and such charisma!”
Charlton faced Wolves in those famous FA Youth Cup meetings of the two powerhouse clubs in the 1950s.
He was also an England colleague of Billy Wright, Ron Flowers and others from Molineux and predictably took some toll on those in gold and black over the years, although the suffering was by no means one-sided, with Wolves enjoying good results against United at various times.
What marked Charlton apart from all but the elite few, though, was the ambassadorial role and respect he commanded for decades after his playing career was over.
This young survivor of football’s most famous flight was as impressive on screen, in the boardroom or on his worldwide travels as he was in action. And Hibbitt is thrilled that their get-togethers continued.
“We did a couple of Sky shows side-by-side and I embarrassed him once when I named him after being asked by Dickie Davies who my favourite all-time player was.
“What he did for football is amazing and I’m so grateful that I also met him a few times when I went to Old Trafford with my referee assessment work.
“I have felt very sad since we heard the news about him and I’m sure lots of others have been the same.”