London: England football great Sir Bobby Charlton underwent "minor surgery" after being taken ill before the Laureus World Sports Awards in London, organizers said.

Manchester United hero Charlton, a member of the England side that won the 1966 World Cup, had been due to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Laureus Foundation, an organisation that promotes youth and community sport programmes around the world.

However, the 74-year-old started to feel unwell on Sunday and then needed an operation, said to be for the removal of a gallstone.

A Laureus statement said: "Sir Bobby Charlton was unable to receive the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in person at the Laureus World Sports Awards in London this evening.

"Sir Bobby felt unwell on Sunday and returned to Manchester earlier today for minor surgery."

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who received the award on Charlton's behalf, insisted all was now well with England's record goalscorer.

"Sir Bobby is fine, but it was felt he should go back to Manchester," Ferguson said. "He is very annoyed not to be here to receive this Award.

"I'll be taking the statuette back to Old Trafford for him. He loves the work he does for Laureus and I know how delighted he is to have received this tribute."

Charlton, who survived the Munich air disaster, was honoured on the 54th anniversary of the tragedy that claimed the lives of several of his United team-mates.
"It was already a very emotional night for Bobby," Ferguson explained.

"This is the 54th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, when we lost eight of our young players. Through that time, Bobby has kept his fantastic humility, and that makes him very special to me.

"Manchester United is Bobby's life. He came to the club as a 15-year-old boy and he's been with us ever since - he is one of our ambassadors now."

Charlton was one of the key figures in persuading United to stick with Ferguson when the early years of what has since become a trophy-laden career at Old Trafford were proving unsuccessful and the Scottish managerial great said: "In my own 25 years at the club, Bobby has supported every step I've taken.

"At the beginning, they were very small steps. Later, they became big steps.

"But without his support, I don't know where I'd have been," Ferguson said.