TRIBUTES & OBITUARIES
The Hall of Fame:
John Charles is considered by many to have been the greatest all-round footballer ever
to come from Britain. It wasn't just that he was comfortable playing either centre-half or
centre-forward. He was world class in both positions.
He could also play full-back or midfield, if required, and such was his versatility that
he managed to break the Leeds United club scoring record with 42 goals in a season at a
time when he was appearing at centre-half in internationals for Wales.
There is no comparable player with that kind of range in the modern game.
He was the first Briton to make the grade in Italian football and, forty years on, is
probably the most successful export from League football to Serie A where his name is still
Certainly, Charles adapted quickly to the pace and skill of the Italian League and made
a more substantial and sustained impact than many of those who followed him, including
Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law and Ian Rush.
That is why he is a God to Juventus fans, the one they Christened "Il Buon Gigante" - the
Charles was born in Swansea on 27th December 1931, and joined the local groundstaff at
the Vetch Field. He was still only 15 when he moved to Leeds as an amateur and made his
first-team debut two years later in 1949.
At this time he was playing as a centre-half and within a year he had become the
youngest player to appear for Wales when, in March 1950 at the age of 18 years and 71 days,
he was capped against Northern Ireland.
Leeds, however, had other ideas. Charles was 6ft 2ins and weighed nearly 14 stone and in
the 1952-53 season the club decided to experiment with him as the spearhead of their attack.
Big, bustling centre-forwards were very much the style of the day in the 1950s. But despite
his tremendous physique, Charles was extremely agile for a man of his size.
He was supremely talented, possessing a delicate first touch and good control, and in
the air he was masterful. Not just because of his spectacular ability to rise above defences,
but also the awesome power with which he could head the ball.
Charles was an instant success as a striker. He scored 26 goals in his first season up
front and the following year, 1953-54, claimed that Leeds record and was the leading scorer
in the Football League.
By 1956, Leeds had finally gained promotion to the top flight, winning the Second
Division Championship. Would Charles be just as effective against the better defences in the
In that first season, against the game's leading clubs, he was the First Division's top
marksman with 38 goals. But his life was about to change. The lure of the Lira was about to
In April 1957, Charles captained Wales for the first time, against Northern Ireland in
Belfast. But of more importance to his future was the presence of Umberto Agnelli, President
of Juventus, at the game. Agnelli liked what he saw, but it took four months of negotiations
for a deal to be struck. Players' agents were almost unheard of at this time, but Charles
was represented during the talks by Kenneth Wolstenholme, the commentator who was to make
famous the phrase "they think it's all over . . it is now" when England won the World Cup
in 1966. Wolstenholme had long been an admirer of Italian football and was on personal terms
with many of the leading figures in Serie A. Eventually, in August 1957; Charles signed for
Juventus for £65,000 - a record transfer fee for a British player.
One curious facet of the deal was Charles's signing-on fee. The rule that limited
signing-on fees for a British player to £10 was not abolished until 1958. Yet Charles was
said to have received £10,000 - a figure that has never been challenged - despite the
restriction still being in place.
Once in Turin, Charles was paired in the Juventus forward line with the mercurial Omar
Sivori, an enormously talented but quick-tempered Argentinian inside-left. Charles was seen
as the perfect foil, the "Mr Cool" of the partnership, and the combination soon paid dividends.
Many a leading British striker has lost his touch once in the minefield of Italian
defences. Charles, however, was explosive and was voted the best player in Italy in his
During Charles's five years with Juventus, the "Old Lady" of Italian football won three
Serie A Championships and lifted the Italian Cup twice.
A measure of his greatness at this level of football is his strike rate. He scored 93
goals in 155 games - an almost unbelievable achievement in a League that was built on the
impregnable foundations of Cattenacio - the uncompromising Italian style of defence which
translates, literally, as doorbolt.
Fresh from his triumphs in that debut season at Juventus, the World Cup Finals beckoned
for Charles. It was Wales's finest hour in international football, the only time they have
qualified for the game's most glamorous competition. Even so, Wales, strictly speaking,
only made it by default. They had finished second in their qualifying group to Czechoslovkia.
However, all of Israel's opponents in the qualifying round refused to play them as a
FIFA ruled that all the group runners-up - except Uruguay who refused to take part -
should be put into a hat and whoever was drawn should meet Israel to decide the remaining
place for the Finals in Sweden. Wales were the lucky country and they beat Israel 2-0 both
at home and away. They played five games in the Finals losing only one, to the eventual
World Champions Brazil. They drew with Hungary, Mexico and the host nation Sweden. Hungary
and Wales finished joint second with three points each.
Goal averages were not used to split the teams and Wales had to meet Hungary again in a
play-off to decide who went forward to a place in the quarter-finals. Wales won 2-1.
Charles, however, missed the encounter with Brazil through injury and though Wales gave
them problems, they went down to the only goal of the game, scored inevitably by Pele.
Back in Turin, Charles continued to enhance his reputation as a great finisher and as
Signor Adaptable. It was not unusual for him to begin a match at centre-forward then, when
Juventus had established a lead, drop back and play at the heart of the defence. By 1962,
Charles and his family were feeling homesick and in August that year he returned to Elland
Road in a £53,000 transfer. His stay, however, was brief. He played just 11 games, scoring
three goals, and in November departed once again for Italy, this time to Roma for £70,000.
Sadly, the magic had gone. He had slowed down and the old dash had deserted him. He came
back to Wales in 1963, joining Cardiff City where he played alongside his brother Mel, who
was also a Welsh international.
Charles retired from League football in 1966, having played 38 times for Wales. He did,
however, have a brief spell in management with non-League Hereford United.
He drifted out of football and tried his hand both as a publican and a shopkeeper. What
remains is the unforgettable legend of the Gentle Giant - a man who was never sent off,
never cautioned and was the finest player ever to represent his country.
As Danny Blanchflower, captain of the great Tottenham double-winning side, said of him:
"Everything he does is automatic. When he moves into position for a goal chance it is
instinctive. My feet do not do my thinking for me as they do for a player like John Charles.
That is why I can never be as great a footballer as he."
From the BBC:
John Charles CBE is arguably the finest all-round footballer that Britain has ever
produced, a skilful giant of a man comfortable at either centre-forward or centre-half. He
is still revered at Juventus, where Charles enjoyed his best years and is still fondly
remembered as "Il Buono Gigante" - the Gentle Giant - who was never booked or sent off in
his career. It was his scoring exploits at the Stadio delle Alpi that won the hearts of the
Juve fans, with Charles bagging 93 goals in 155 league appearances. In his first season in
Turin, Charles struck 29 times for the Bianconeri and led the club to the First Division
championship while he was voted Italian Footballer of the Year. Charles also figured in the
top three in the European Player of the Year polls for 1958 and 1959. Born in 1931 in Cwmdu,
near Swansea, south Wales, Charles had joined Leeds United as an amateur by the time he was 15.
He had to wait two years until 1949 to make his debut, as a defender, and within a year was
capped by Wales. Turning out against Northern Ireland at 18 years and 71 days, he was then
the youngest player to pull on the red shirt. Charles' career really took off, however,
when Leeds decided to use him as a striker. The 6 ft 2 in goal-scorer's gift helped return
the Yorkshire club to the top flight, where he finished top scorer with 38 goals in Leeds'
first season back. Admiring glances were being cast from Italy and in 1957 Charles was sold
to Juventus for a then record £65,000. Following his magnificent debut season in Italy,
Charles - as captain - led Wales to the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. It is no
coincidence that 1958 is the only time that Wales has qualified for the finals. After five
successful years in Turin, Charles and his family were feeling homesick and in August 1962
he returned to Elland Road for £53,000. However, he played just 11 games, scoring three
goals, and in November departed once again for Italy, this time to Roma for £70,000.
Charles could never recapture his earlier success and he came back to Wales in 1963,
joining Cardiff City where he played alongside his brother Mel, who won 31 caps. Charles
retired from League football in 1966, although he had a brief spell as a player-manager
with non-League Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil.
"It's wonderful, but it came as a complete shock," said Charles. "I mean, I've been
finished a long time now. It's unbelievable. I've no idea why I've got it now." Charles'
recognition comes after two years in which he has battled against cancer. "I'm all right
now," he said. "I don't have to go to the hospital any more."
He was admitted to hospital in January after feeling unwell prior to an appearance on
Italian television. He underwent two operations in Milan and had part of his foot amputated
due to serious blood circulation problems before being flown back to England.
There will be a minute's silence for Charles before Saturday's Premiership match between
Leeds and Manchester United, at Old Trafford. Fans at Cardiff's Ninian Park will pay their
respects before the Division One game against Sunderland as will crowds at every Welsh
Premier ground. The Welshman, who also starred for Italian giants Juventus, was never
booked or sent off in his career. Former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton remarked
on how he was overawed by Charles when he arrived at Leeds as a player.
"I had just arrived at Elland Road and they were all talking about John Charles," said
Charlton. "He was quick, he was strong, and he could run with the ball. He was half the
team in himself. He was tremendous." Leeds issued a club statement expressing their sadness
at the death of Charles. "He was widely regarded as one of the greatest players the game of
football has known," it read. "A powerfully built man, John was truly a gentle giant and was
loved and admired by all who saw him play." Charles joined Leeds when he was only 17,
scoring more than 150 goals in eight years, including 42 in the 1953-4 season. He moved to
Italian giants Juventus for a then record fee of £67,000 in 1957 and scored 93 goals in 155
matches. Dubbed the "Gentle Giant" by Italian fans, he also netted 15 goals in 38 appearances
for Wales. Awarded the CBE in 2001, Charles also had spells with Roma and Cardiff. He played
in the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup, starring in the 1958 Finals. In 2002,
he was made a vice president of the Football Association of Wales. Swansea-born Charles
passed away at Wakefield's Pinderfields Hospital in the early hours of Saturday. Bob Harris,
co-writer of the autobiography 'King John', said: "The end was very peaceful." It was while
promoting the book in Milan on 7 January that Charles collapsed before a TV show with a
Obituary: John Charles
Former players queue up to pay tribute to one of the greats of the game
Sunday February 22, 2004
Kerry Dixon made the point before yesterday's Chelsea-Arsenal match that players from his
time would love the profile of the modern superstar footballer. It was the former Chelsea
striker's opinion that this is the real age of glamour, transformed in a mere decade. John
Charles lived in an entirely different era of celebrity, of course, a black-and-white image
on a page. Television did not track his every charge from centre-half or, later,
centre-forward. Charles was a newsreel hero in a time of unchallenged deference. He was on
swap cards and was talked about in awe, but he was not hounded by glossy magazines or the
subject of tired gossip.
While playing in Italy, he did drive sports cars and dine with film stars - once he even
received a £500 bonus - yet his was a restrained, old-fashioned fame. And, when he died, at
about 4.30am yesterday at Pinderfield Hospital in Wakefield, aged 72, he made a quiet and
dignified exit in keeping with the name his admirers at Juventus gave him, Il Buon Gigante
: the Gentle Giant.
Juve flew Charles back to Leeds in January in the club's private jet, after he had
collapsed before a guest appearance on Italian television. A blood clot had formed in his
leg and he had to have a foot amputated.
Dave Mackay, another quiet colossus of the 1950s and 1960s, went to see Charles recently
and was struck by how old he looked. In acknowledging the obvious, but being taken aback
none the less, Mackay put aside for a moment how time and illness can cut down even the
strongest. He preferred to remember him in his pomp.
Some images survive the years. Jack Charlton said Charles was 'the best header of a ball
I ever saw in my life'. Charlton, who played with him in the Army and succeeded him at
Elland Road, also remembers: 'He was the first player I ever saw who had a car.'
Terry Medwin, who played with him for Wales, put it simply and grandly at the same time:
'John always looked like a Greek god.'
Billy Wright, asked who was the best centre-half he played against, said: 'John Charles.'
He gave the same answer when asked ‘who was the best centre-forward’. Even allowing for the
blurring of vision that some times accompanies a tear-stained look backwards, that is a
In assessing Charles's place in football's list of greats, those of us unfortunate to
have never seen him play live rely on the testimonies of older eyes. Mackay, for one,
ranks him alongside any of Duncan Edwards (whom he must have resembled in stature and style),
Bobby Charlton, George Best, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves.
Quibbling about the batting order is futile. Bobby Robson, who played against Charles
over a long period, refused to indulge in the game yesterday, merely pointing out in that
emotion-filled way of his that the Welshman deserves to be con sidered in the illustrious
company of those named above.
The bare statistics are a good starting point, the most glaring one far more common in
Charles's time than now: he was never booked or sent off. That was in a career he started
in 1947 as a 6ft 2in 15-year-old on the groundstaff at Swansea, not far from his birthplace
of Cwmdu, and finished at Merthyr Tydfil when he was 41.
He moved to Leeds United as a 17-year-old prodigy with all the skill and none of the
snarl of an Alan Smith or Wayne Rooney - still on £20 a week. In a rare interview, he told
an old journalist friend 18 months ago: 'There is not as much fun in the game today. It is
all about money. Players these days are holding clubs to ransom and it has got to end or
one or two clubs, and big ones at that, are going to go bankrupt.'
It is a theme common to players of his period. It is not nostalgia, it is the way the
game has changed. It is heaving with rancour where, as Charles said, once there was laughter.
Within two years of moving to Yorkshire (which would be his final home), he played the first
of his 38 appearances for Wales - at 18 years and 71 days, the youngest to do so until Ryan
Giggs in 1992. After 308 games for Leeds, Charles was sold to Juventus for a world record
£65,000 in 1957.
The following year, he was a member of the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup
While he was adored in Wales and Yorkshire, it was in Turin that Charles cemented his
legend. He scored 93 times for them in 155 games over five years. In his first season, he
was voted Italy's footballer of the year. And, although he never lost his rolling Welsh
accent, in a way he became 'Italian'. Where even such quality players as Denis Law and Joe
Baker struggled to make an impression, Charles was an instant and enduring star. He went
abroad before Greaves, before Keegan, way before Beckham - and they will do well when their
time comes to receive the rave notices afforded Charles yesterday. A contemporary of
Charles's at Juve, the former Italian international Rino Ferrario, observed: 'He must have
had his problems in adapting to life in a new country but, whenever I saw him, he had a
smile on his face. He was the perfect gentleman.'
Giampiero Boniperti, a former team-mate, said, 'He was an extraordinary person, I would
say from another world because of his human qualities. He was a great friend and an
extraordinary team-mate. John was one of the most loyal and honest persons I have ever met,
a very special person, and not only because of his football skills. He managed to keep the
whole team united, and any quarrels or arguments quietened down as soon as he appeared on
the pitch or in the dressing room.'
It is true that Charles's CBE of three years ago arrived shamefully late. But that
reflects the creaking irrelevance of the awards system more than any slight on Charles,
who towered above such baubles.
The true worth of the man could be heard in the silence that descended on every ground
in the land yesterday. It was a minute removed from a raucous, brash world of false glamour
to reflect on a footballer whose contribution to the game in more innocent times could never
be measured in medals or platitudes.
From 100 Welsh Heroes:
The impassive good looks and broad chest captured by photographers 50 years ago
invariably portray John Charles as something of a matinee idol. But that’s where the
comparisons with David Beckham end. Charles was not a dashing showman. He was the best
centre-half and the best centre-forward in the world simultaneously. Unusually for a British
footballer, Charles is best known for the five years he spent playing abroad. He started his
career at 15 with Swansea City before joining a struggling Leeds United side in 1949. His
reputation quickly grew and the 42-goals scored for Leeds in the 1953-54 season remains a
club record. But when he joined Juventus of Rome for a world-record transfer fee of £65,000,
his life began to resemble a storyline taken from a Boy’s Own comic. Between 1957 and 1962
Juve won three league titles as well as one Italian Cup competition. To this day, this
illustrious club recognises the great contribution Charles made during his time there. He
is still considered one of the 10 best foreign players to have played for Juventus. The
nickname Il Buono Gigante, The Gentle Giant came from an amazing statistic. In 155
appearances for the club he was never once cautioned or sent off. But the dignity and good
grace he demonstrated off the pitch made him such a popular figure that he also developed
a following as a crooner in the Frank Sinatra mould, touring the ski resorts of Northern
Italy. For Wales he won 38 caps and scored 15 goals. His versatility was one of the main
strengths of the side he captained to a World Cup Quarter Final in 1958. Fellow Leeds
player Tom Holley once wrote: "Nat Lofthouse was asked who was the best centre-half he had
played against and without hesitation named John Charles. The same week Billy Wright was
asked, who was the greatest centre-forward he had faced, and he too answered “John Charles".
From Major football history exhibition at Wrexham Museum:
"In our intolerant and dangerous world, the story of John Charles - the greatest Welsh
footballer of all time and one of the world's very greatest - offers a powerful inspiration,
particularly to younger people. The Gentle Giant exhibition will not just remind an older
generation of a great man, who was a superb footballer, and acquaint a new generation with
the incredible story of John Charles's life. More importantly, it will inspire us all to
participate in sport - and in life - with a little more of the style, the fairness and the
dignity which characterised John's attitude to football and the human race"
Phil Cope, founder, The Gentle Giant Trust and creator of The Gentle Giant exhibition.
The Gentle Giant was a major touring exhibition that officially opened at Wrexham Museum
on October 15th 2004. Plans for the exhibition were started while John Charles was alive
and the big man himself was involved in its creation until his sad death in February 2004.
Though John Charles was a modest man, even he had to accept that his football career and
his life off the pitch made a great story - a story that would make a great exhibition.
John Charles Memorial Gallery
John Charles was born in Cwmbwrla, near Swansea in 1931. He played for Swansea Schoolboys
and then he joined the Swansea team as an apprentice. Swansea failed to see his true talent,
but Mr Pickard, a scout from Leeds United, did. Major Frank Buckley had John Charles on
trial for a month in the autumn of 1948. In January 1949, John Charles signed for Leeds
United. John Charles certainly made his mark on professional football while at Elland Road.
Initially he played at centre-half, but Buckley realised that the big Welshman would be even
better at centre-forward. John Charles soon proved his manager was right. He was the first
Welshman to be top goal scorer in the Football League, scoring 42 goals in the 1953-54
season. He top scored for Leeds in the 1952-53, 1953-54, 1955-56 and 1956-57 seasons. With
John Charles at centre-forward, Leeds went from being a Second Division team struggling to
avoid relegation to being in the First Division.
"Where was he in the world's pecking order? He was right up there with the very,
very best. Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Di Stephano, Best. But how many of them were world
class in two positions? The answer to that is easy: None of them."
Sir Bobby Robson
Internationally John Charles made his mark on the game. He debuted for Wales at the
Racecourse (just one of the many historic moments in Welsh football to occur at the
Racecourse ground) in March 1950 in a game against Northern Ireland, but match nerves and
lack of experience meant he did not play his best. It took him three years to establish
himself in the national side. (They must have had some good players to pick from, if the
likes of John Charles found it hard to keep his place!) His comeback was against Northern
Ireland in 1953 and he scored two goals in Wales's win. John Charles was part of the Welsh
team that beat England for the first time in seventeen years in a 2-1 win at Ninian Park in
In April 1957 Charles was seen by Umberto Agnelli, the owner of the Fiat car company
and the Italian side, Juventus. Competition for John Charles was fierce - Lazio, Milan and
Real Madrid all tried to buy him. Eventually Juventus won. Agnelli convinced Charles to
play for Juventus, where the Welshman had five glorious seasons in Italian football. He
flourished in the Italian game, where many players who have followed in his footsteps have
failed. The Italian fans loved him and he became a great ambassador for his nation.
John Charles was the leading goal scorer in his first season with Juventus scoring 28
goals in 34 matches. He was named Italian Footballer of the Year. Charles became one of the
Three Kings of Italian Football with Omar Sivori of Argentina and Giampiero Boniperti of
Italy. During his five years there, Juventus won both the Italian League and the Cup three
times. In all Charles scored 93 goals in 155 appearances for Juventus in the world's most
defensive league. Moreover, the MAFIA leant on the referees to ensure that Juventus, a
northern Italian side, and John Charles did not score too many goals.
Charles's international highpoint came in 1958 when Wales reached the World Cup Finals
in Sweden by beating Israel twice in two especially arranged qualifiers, after the Arab
countries refused to play the Israeli team. In the finals Charles scored Wales's first
World Cup goal and the team won the hearts of many abroad with their gutsy play. Charles
was a paragon of the "beautiful game" playing the ball and not the player, a gutsy player,
yet never booked. The Hungary team did not play so fair in their first round match against
Wales and Charles was injured in that match, but Wales got through to the quarter-finals.
Unable to play because of his injuries, Wales missed the big man and lost to Brazil by a
single goal scored in the 73rd minute.
Monday February 23, 2004
A precocious centre-half, capped for Wales while still a teenager, John Charles, known as
the "Gentle Giant", who has died in hospital from cancer aged 72, subsequently became
famous as a centre-forward, a compound of power, acceleration, heading ability and technique.
The former Leeds United and Juventus star was one of the greatest British footballers of
Born in Swansea, Charles naturally was apprenticed to Swansea Town. But Major Frank Buckley,
then manager of Leeds, heard of his prowess, and lured him away. By early 1949, he had
established himself as their dominating centre-half.
The next March he won his first cap for Wales (he was 18), against Northern Ireland, at
Wrexham. It was a disappointing debut. Charles was plainly nervous, and for some time he
lost his place to another gifted young centre-half, Ray Daniel, of Arsenal.
Outwitted in that first international by the veteran Irish centre-forward Dave Walsh, of
Aston Villa, Charles's massive physique, 6ft 2ins and 15 stone, availed him little that day.
He did get another chance at centre-half the following year, but that, too, proved a
difficult game against the Swiss. Wales scraped through 3-2, after building a 3-0 lead.
The turning point in Charles's career, which eventually took him to Italy, and the adulation
of Juventus fans, came when, in season 1952/53, Buckley decided to switch him to
centre-forward, at a time when the Leeds team badly needed goals. They got them. Charles
scored 26 League goals.
Wales brought him back again, this time as partner to their forceful centre-forward, Trevor
Ford. Northern Ireland were again the opposition, Wales won 3-2, and Charles was involved
in all three goals. A left-foot volley scored the first one, a fine header the second, and
he made the pass for the third.
Both Leeds and Wales now shuffled him around in different positions. In season 1955/56, his
30 goals in 41 games enabled Leeds to gain promotion to Division One. Any doubts that
Charles would be as formidable in the top division did not last long. He banged in 38 goals
in 40 games.
British players in the highly competitive, highly rewarded, Italian Serie A Championship
had long been a rarity, but in the summer of 1957, the Italian players' agent, Gigi Peronace,
took Charles to Juventus, the "aristocrats" of Italian football, the most popular club in
the peninsula - outside, ironically, their native Turin - known as La Signora d'Italia.
There, Charles came under the benign patronage of the Agnelli family, who, in later years,
when things went wrong, came to his financial rescue. Flanked on one side by the Italian
captain Giampiero Boniperti, on the other by the mischievous brilliance of the little
Argentinian, Omar Enrique Sivori, another new signing, Charles flourished immediately. The
Juventus fans adored him, nicknaming him "the Gentle Giant," (il buon gigante). He even
recorded, with some success, the song, Sixteen Tons. His transfer had cost what was then
the huge sum of £65,000, though Sivori had cost more. Despite the close, often illicit,
attentions of Italian defenders, the nudging, shirt tugging and obstruction, Charles
maintained his placid, long suffering demeanour. Once, when especially harshly treated, he
is said to have turned to Boniperti and pleaded: "You do something to them, Boni; I can't!"
That season, Juventus won the Italian Championship, and at the end of it John went off
to join his brother Mel, himself a notable centre-half, to play for Wales in the 1958 World
Cup in Sweden. Had he not been viciously treated and injured by the Hungarian team in a
sulphurous play off, who knows whether Brazil would have reached the semi-finals let alone
have won that tournament? In the quarter final in Gothenburg, John was unable to play.
Inspired by the bravery of Meland the goalkeeping of Jack Kelsey, Wales kept Brazil at
bay for most of the game and even the solitary, decisive, goal, by Pelé, was a fluke, in
off the boot of the Welsh right-back, Stuart Williams.
Initially, the Welsh team seemed to find it hard to play to John Charles, almost as if they
were overawed. At the Sandviken Stadium, against a Hungarian team which was a pale parody of
the mighty side which should have won the 1954 World Cup, Charles was chopped down three
times in the first 16 minutes. He managed to score the equaliser, only for the Hungarians to
be Wales's opponents in a group play off in a largely deserted Solna Stadium in Stockholm.
Here, Charles was more brutally treated still, with no protection from a notorious Russian
referee, Latychev. At corners, Charles found his arms pinioned by one opponent while another
crashed into him from behind. He did not once retaliate. Indeed, the only known occasion on
which he did was in a match against Austria when his brother Mel was carried off on a
stretcher after a particularly vicious foul.
Wales again went a goal down and Charles, hacked to the ground yet again, had to go off for
treatment. But he limped back, put over a cross, and Ivor Allchurch volleyed the equaliser.
Later, exploiting defensive confusion, the Welsh right-winger, Terry Medwin, scored the
winner. So Wales, who had qualified only because they had been given a second chance in
play offs against Israel, had attained the quarter finals. In all Charles won 38 caps for
his country and scored 15 goals.
In Italy, he continued to be prolific. Playing all 34 games in his second season, as he had
before and would again, he scored 19 goals in the championship. Twenty-three goals followed
in season 1959/60, 15 in 1960/61.
But by season 1961/62, Charles seemed to be running out of steam. He scored only eight goals
in 21 appearances in Serie A and the following summer, Juventus transferred him back to
Leeds. Even that last season in Turin, however, had its peaks. Notably Charles's performance
at right-half in a European Cup game in the Bernabeu Stadium, where Real Madrid were beaten
at home for the first time in European competition.
Charles's years in Italy had had their disappointments, notably the end of his marriage to
his wife, Peggy, who at one stage decamped with a bathing attendant. Life for the wives of
Italian club footballers could be hard, with their husbands’ away training.
Returning to Leeds was something of a disappointment. Charles played only 11 games for three
goals before going back to Italy; this time to Rome. For Roma, he played 10 games, scoring
four goals, but it was plain that the Italian romance was over.
Nine months later he was back, anti-climactically, in Wales, to play for Cardiff City. He
made 61 League appearances in his initial two seasons, scoring 11 times in the first, but
only three times in the second. The third was depressing, just eight appearances for a mere
four goals. So Charles moved outside the league, eventually as player-manager for Hereford
United. His immense, endearing cheerfulness was unimpaired, but the spark had gone out of
Nevertheless, his remarkable power in the air remained, and though his managerial style was,
to say the least, eccentric, there were moments of success. Joining the Southern League
club in 1966, simply as a player, he scored 37 goals in 54 games in his first season. When
Bob Dennison left the club in December 1967, the player-manager's dual role went to Charles.
Hereford parted company with him in the 1971-72 season, and in December 1972 he joined
another Southern League side, Merthyr Tydfil, again as player-manager.
There he remained, in difficult economic circumstances, till 1974, when he returned to his
boyhood club, Swansea, as youth team manager. He left the job in the summer of 1976, when
Harry Gregg, club manager, former Northern Ireland keeper and an old friend, resigned. There
was a four-month spell as technical director of Canada's Hamilton Steelers, and then he was
For a time, he ran a hotel in the north of England, but that was unsuccessful. A hopeless
businessman, his attempt to run a sports shop and two pubs ended in disaster and pursuit for
unpaid rates. However, in Italy, he was still King John, lionised and lauded whenever he
made one of his frequent returns. He was awarded the CBE in 2001.
By his marriage to his first wife, Peggy, he had four sons. He married Glenda Vero in 1987.
She survives him.
William John Charles, footballer, born December 27 1931; died February 21 2004
Football: The Gentle Giant, legend in two lands
- The Independent on Sunday, 22-02-2004, by Ronald Atkin
Of all the trophies and mementoes he won or owned, the one John Charles prized most of all
was a mounted set of model footballers on his dining-room sideboard, the 11 most talented
men ever to play in the English League. The sadness was that, after a lifetime in which his
triumphs and modesty brought the inevitable nickname "The Gentle Giant", Charles could not
remember the names of some of the other 10 who stood beside him on that plinth.
By then, 16 months ago, when we talked at his modest semi- detached home in the Leeds
suburb of Birkenshaw, Charles was battling the onset of Alzheimer's with the same quiet
cheerfulness he had dealt with the earlier news of cancer of the bladder. Yesterday, The
Gentle Giant died in Yorkshire aged 72 as a result of complications following a heart attack
suffered in an Italian TV studio on 7 January while preparing to promote his autobiography.
Though some of the records set in a monumental career with Wales, Leeds and Juventus still
stand, Charles should have seen greater reward. But he was content with the hand life had
Born at Cwmdu, near Swansea, Charles began his life in football on the ground staff at
Swansea, but was snapped up at 16 by Leeds on a starting wage of pounds 8 a week. When a
scout named Pickard turned up at his home to formalise the signing, John's mother, who had
never travelled outside Wales, protested, "He can't go, Mr Pickard. He hasn't got a passport
yet". And when, in 1950, Charles made his debut for Wales (against Northern Ireland at
Wrexham) at 18 years 71 days, which remains a Welsh record, his parents were not there. They
considered Wrexham too far to travel to from Swan-sea. Charles went on to win 38 Welsh caps
and was a member of the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup, in 1958.
At Elland Road, Charles came under the eagle eye and protective wing of one of the
greatest of English managership, Major Frank Buckley, who converted him from a wing-half,
reasoning that the youngster's commanding stature would prove handy in the centre of defence
and, as it turned out, at centre-forward. In 10 seasons with Leeds he made 318 appear-ances
and scored 154 goals. His 42 in the 1953-54 season remain a club record.
In 1957, reportedly because they needed cash to rebuild their uninsured West Stand which
had burned down, Leeds sold Charles to Juventus for the then staggering, and record, sum
of pounds 65,000. Unlike many from the Football League who subsequently trod what would
become a well-travelled path, Charles settled well, played brilliantly and was adored by
the club's supporters, though he admitted: "It was a challenge and I was scared. I wondered
what I had put myself in for."
What he put himself in for was a wage rise, up to £20 a week, and handsome bonuses if
Juventus did well. Bonuses were accordingly plentiful in his five seasons there as Juve won
three titles and the Italian Cup twice. Charles played 178 times, mostly up front, and scored
105 goals. He is the only foreigner in Italian football's Hall of Fame and has been voted by
Juventus fans their best-ever foreign player, better even than Michel Platini.
Jack Scott, a goalkeeper with him at Leeds, considers Charles the best footballer ever.
Terry Medwin, who played alongside him in that 1958 World Cup team which lost 1-0 in the
quarter-finals to eventual champions Brazil, said, "John always looked like a Greek god.
He could have become a boxer, a rugby player. He could have been anything. He was probably
one of the greatest players in the world at that time, even though Pele was around." Jack
Charlton, who succeeded Charles in the Leeds defence, said: "While everybody else just
played the game, he went out and won matches on his own."
In 1962 Charles was transferred back to Leeds for just £12,000 less than Juventus had
paid for him. The return was a disaster. He missed Italy's lifestyle. So two months later,
Leeds sold him to Roma for £70,000, a move which also failed, because life in southern Italy
did not compare, in his view, with that of Turin. After one season there, Charles was
transferred to Cardiff City for £25,000 and finished his League career there.
He had stints as manager of Hereford and Merthyr but was never in charge of a League club.
"I don't think I was good enough," he said in 2002. "Maybe I wasn't nasty enough either."
He drifted into ownership of a pub in Leeds, was manager of a hotel, then a shop, and
coached for a spell in Canada before retiring.
After collapsing in Italy last month, Charles underwent surgery for a blood clot in his leg
and had part of his foot amputated. When it was decided he should spend his remaining time
at home, Il Buon Gigante was flown back to England in the Juventus club private jet.
Life and times: John Charles: Born: 27 December 1931 in Swansea: Died: 21 February
2004 in Wakefield.
VANTAGE POINT: A Gentle Giant to the very end By Rob Hughes
Published: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2004
Until he died, John Charles was the living example of a player and a man, blessed with the
greatest of talents and the humblest of temperaments.
Born a Welshman, he was known in England simply as "The King" and in Italy as "Il Gigante
Buono," the Gentle Giant.
Right to the end, he accepted acclaim without being fooled by it, yet in a curious way Big
John never grew comfortable with the idea that he meant anything to the current generation.
"Only grandfathers remember me now," he repeated to me, almost in a whisper, when we met at
a Charity soccer game last year.
William John Charles was wrong about himself and wrong about his game. At Old Trafford on
Saturday, eight hours after he slipped into death at the age of 72, the teams of Manchester
United and Leeds United lined up in black armbands, and an audience of 67,744 observed a
minute's silence in deepest respect to him.
At Bologna's Renato Dall'Ara stadium on Sunday, Juventus players also wore armbands, and the
crowd again paid tribute to him.
More than 40 years after anyone had seen the prime of John Charles either in the white of
Leeds United or the zebra stripes of Juventus, the masses remembered him. For John Charles,
arguably the most complete and versatile player of all time, equally powerful as a goal
scorer or a defender, misjudged the effect of his own legendary status.
He emerged and thrived in the pre-television era and in a period when men still pursued a
career in sports for love rather than money. He felt that a player had his time and passed
the baton on. He never quite saw or heard or believed the reverence with which generations
of soccer followers passed on his prowess, so not only grandfathers, not even the sons of
grandfathers, but anyone with a feeling for the fabric of the game recognizes who and what
In a career spanning 1949 to 1966, he played 377 matches in the English league and 165 games
in Italy's Serie A and had 38 caps, including inspirational performances in Wales's finest
hours at the 1958 World Cup.
Statistics tell us he scored 172 goals in England, 97 in Italy and 15 for Wales. Yet the
numbers do not round out the picture because he was selected to bolt up the defense as often
as he was picked to lead the attack.
In any case, the statistic that means most is that Charles was never sent off, never once
cautioned by a referee, never seen to lose his temper or to throw his considerable weight
and force around. Hence the name: "The Gentle Giant." Hence his special place in the minds
of Juventus fans — who number 16 million and who in 1997 voted for the finest all-time
Their verdict: (1) John Charles; (2) Michel Platini; (3) Zinedine Zidane.
The other two are fresher in our minds as players who hurt the opponent by using the ball
and not force; but John Charles, almost 6-foot-3, or 1.90 meters, and weighing in around
200 pounds, or 91 kilograms, shared with both of them the balance of a ballet dancer.
"If I have to knock them down to play well," he wrote in his autobiography, "I don't want
to play this game. Players have to realize the public do not pay good money to see pettiness
The Gentle Giant proved that the meek could inherit the turf. He scarcely knew his strength,
and in a lifetime of watching soccer, seeing it shift from a game to a callous business, I
came rather late to see him play.
It was in 1977, at the Throstle Nest — a windswept ground in the moors west of Leeds.
Charles was 46, and he was playing for funds toward kidney units for local hospitals.
His two clubs, Leeds and La Juve, fielded teams, and the Italians sent men half his age,
told by their fathers that they were sharing a stage with someone most special.
Armed with a personal message from Giampiero Boniperti, a Juventus idol before Charles
joined the Turin club, I entered the dressing room. "Boni asks me to convey that he never has,
and never will have, a better partner in sport than John Charles," I told him. "Aha," Charles
said. "Tell him I appreciate that."The dressing room had a distinct aroma of whisky and
liniment, but a glimpse of Big John with his shirt off made clear was that even in his
mid-40s he was still a juggernaut among men. He was softly spoken but hard of muscle, and
opponents still tended to bounce off him. It was also clear that he was still reluctant to
accept a compliment.
Told at halftime that it was possible, even then, to glimpse his quality among younger
opponents, he replied: "I can't do it now, do you see? I run 10 yards and have to wait 20
minutes. You can't go back, mind. You want to, but the legs boss you. You do it in spasms."
The charity games and after those the fund-raising appearances continued even down the
years when Charles felt himself in decline, and through the latter years when cancer, then
circulatory problems and finally a heart attack placed him in the care of those same
hospitals he dedicated years to supporting.
It was fitting that the final illness struck him in Italy, where he had been invited as a
television pundit last month. He knew little about the aftereffects of heart surgery or the
need to amputate part of his right foot in Milan, but he did appreciate — one of his
favorite words — the helping hand Juventus gave to getting him home to die in dignity.
The club paid £14,000, or $26,000, to fly Charles, his wife, Glenda, two doctors and a
nurse to Leeds where, at 4:30 on Saturday morning, he silently succumbed. Roberto Bettega,
who rose from a Juventus ball boy to wear the club's No 9 shirt and is now to be vice
presidentof Juventus, said these words:
"We cry for a great champion, and a great man. John is a person who interpreted the spirit
of Juventus in the best possible manner and represented the sport in the best and purest manner."
Ivan Ponting, The Independent
Born: Cwm-du, Glamorgan 1931-12-27 Died: Wakefield, West Yorkshire 2004-02-21
The finest all-round footballer to come out of Wales is an accolade often accorded to John
Charles and yet, while well intended and as meaningful as any comparison across the ages can
ever be, it remains a chronic understatement.
With due respect to a nation which has produced some remarkable performers - from Billy
Meredith, whose international career began in the 19th century and continued until 1920,
through to Ryan Giggs, currently enjoying pop-icon status - there is a plausible body of
opinion which elevates "The Gentle Giant" to a yet more exalted plane. It places him, with no
hint of equivocation, among the greatest players the world has ever seen.
What made Charles special was his mastery of virtually every aspect of the game, his
awesomely muscular physique and commanding presence matched by a nimbleness and delicacy of
touch which seemed at odds with that massive frame. What caused him to be underestimated at
times, when fans and pundits alike assembled lists of soccer "immortals", was that the bulk
of his mighty prime was passed, between 1957 and 1962, in the service of Juventus: an era
when stirring deeds on foreign fields attracted far less attention than would be the case
The sad fact is that this amiable colossus, who was equally at home in the heart of
defence or as a goal-plundering spearhead and whose only perceptible flaw was a lack of
ruthlessness, spent just one season in the English top flight. That was 1956/57, when he
netted 38 times in 40 League outings for Leeds United, thus making himself an irresistible
proposition to the lira-laden Italians.
Born and raised in the Welsh valleys where rugby was a way of life, Charles was always
devoted to the round-ball code. However, on leaving school as a 15-year-old in 1946, he was
on the brink of accepting a factory job when a trainer at his local professional club,
Swansea Town (now City), persuaded him to join the Vetch Field ground staff. Thus the skilful
youngster, then slender and showing little sign of growing into the man-mountain who would
thunder across the world's football fields in years to come, found himself weeding terraces,
cleaning boots and, when time permitted, playing football.
As Charles filled out, and his soccer development kept pace with his physical advancement,
his vast potential became increasingly apparent, yet the Swans allowed their uncut gem to
slip away. The young leviathan was playing in a public park when he was spotted by a Leeds
scout, and he headed north to Elland Road in 1947.
After turning professional in January 1949, Charles made meteoric progress under the stern
but shrewd tutelage of United's manager, Major Frank Buckley, who insisted that all his
charges should labour prodigiously to hone their all-round game. Within three months the
Welsh teenager was promoted to the senior side, then ensconced midway in the old Second
Division, and he excelled at centre-half, a position he made his own in 1949/50, during which
he didn't miss a match.
By now Charles's burgeoning prowess was receiving widespread attention and that spring,
still only 18, he became the youngest full international in his country's history when he was
picked to face Northern Ireland at Wrexham. Though he didn't become a Wales regular until
1953, during the decade's early years he became an ever-more dominant force at the heart of
the Leeds rearguard as United strove unavailingly to attain First Division status.
However, the comprehensive nature of the Charles talents became apparent only after his
deployment at centre-forward, a periodic arrangement which became gradually more frequent and
then permanent with the emergence of Jack Charlton as a ruggedly capable stopper.
In 1952/53 "Big John" played the first third of the campaign at centre- half, then
switched to centre-forward and notched 26 goals in the 28 matches that remained. The
following term he netted 42 times - the League's next highest scorer managed 30 - and
subsequent occasional stints at centre-half served only to emphasise what the Leeds attack
But, while he was a towering influence at the back, it was difficult for any manager to
forego Charles the marksman. There were days when he seemed utterly unstoppable, majestic in
the air and a dreadnought on the deck, capable of both subtlety and imagination with the ball
at his feet, liable to unlock the most clamlike of defences with a sudden surge of
destructive acceleration climaxed by a pulverising shot with either foot.
Had he been born with the "devil" to complement all that power and expertise, then there
can be no doubt that he would have been hailed universally as the world's most complete
player. But, as he remarked when still a rookie: "If I have to knock them down to play well,
then I don't want to play the game at all."
For all that engaging placidity, he could look after himself, having a natural tendency to
enter challenges with his arms outstretched, his immense physical presence thus rendering him
a difficult man to dispossess.
On 13th August 1955, he represented Great Britain against the Rest of Europeat Windsor Park,
Belfast and in the 1955/56 Charles finally inspired Leeds to promotion, then hit the top flight
like an irresistible force of nature, outgunning all his First Division rivals to end the
season with thirty-eight goals, the most compelling statistic behind his club's creditable
Distressingly for his legion of devoted fans at Elland Road, their hero's derring-do had
made him a prime target for many of Europe's leading clubs, who had been seduced by his
strike-rate of a goal every two games, a ratio rendered all the more impressive because
roughly half of his appearances had been as a defender.
The interest came to a head in April 1957 when a fabulous display while captaining his
country against Northern Ireland captivated Umberto Agnelli of the giant Fiat corporation,
who also happened to be president of Juventus, then a slumbering behemoth of Italian football.
A record offer of £65,000 was made for his services and the cash-strapped Yorkshire club
accepted with alacrity but, even at a time when Football League players were at the mercy of
the iniquitous maximum-wage system, the home-loving Charles went through weeks of
heart-searching before opting for a future in Turin. Despite the life of luxury that beckoned
- his pay increased from £20 per week to an estimated £300 plus fabulous fringe benefits -
it was a brave decision, as few British footballers to that point had managed to thrive
After an uncertain period of acclimatisation, it was a trend he reversed to spectacular
effect. In his first season in a notoriously defensive league, Charles scored 28 times and
helped his new employers to lift the Championship, being voted player of the year for his
pains. As a result he became the darling of fans and press alike, receiving film-star
treatment every time he ventured outside either of his two capacious villas, one in Turin and
the other on the Italian Riviera.
Part of his appeal in his adoptive land was the vivid contrast of his modest, easy-going
nature with the passionate Latin temperament. He was a magnificently built, handsome fellow
blessed with boundless athletic talent, yet he refused to throw his weight around either on
or off the pitch. Thus he became "Il Buon Gigante" ("The Gentle Giant") and a national idol.
Ever sociable, Charles lived life to the full, investing in a restaurant and making both a
film and a record with a team-mate, the Argentinian star Omar Sivori, and life, it seemed,
could get no better.
Come the World Cup of 1958 he was the focal point of the finest Wales team there has ever
been, featuring the likes of the inside-forward Ivor Allchurch, the flying winger Cliff Jones,
the goalkeeper Jack Kelsey and his own younger brother, Mel, who played at centre- half.
Against most predictions they reached the quarter-finals, only for Charles to miss the clash
with Brazil through injury. Pele and company triumphed 1-0 and went on to win the competition,
leaving Wales to ponder on what might have been had their most inspirational contributor been
Back in Italy Charles helped Juventus to two more League titles and two domestic cup
victories before the dolce vita began to go sour. Absences from home caused by the Italians'
penchant for lengthy sojourns in training camps produced domestic strain, he grew weary of
spurious reports of his night life, he ran into business problems and was worried about his
As his homesickness grew, there were rumours of a move to either Manchester United or
Arsenal but in 1962 he returned to Leeds, his departure sadly acrimonious, for a fee of
Now 30, Charles was no longer the player who had left Elland Road five years earlier and,
although his homecoming provoked untold joy among his former admirers, the move was not a
success. After starring for one of the world's leading clubs, he found it hard to settle to
the grind of the English Second Division and played only a handful of games before joining
Roma for £65,000.
Poignantly, though, his former dash had disappeared and Charles failed to win a regular
place, transferring instead to Second Division Cardiff City, where he joined his brother Mel,
for a knockdown £25,000 in August 1963. By now he was considerably slower and more ponderous,
but still some of the old magic remained and the large crowd attracted by his debut was
rewarded with a freak 75-yard goal from a free-kick. Once more alternating between defence
and attack, Charles spent three years at Ninian Park before entering non-League ranks as
player-boss of Hereford United.
Though suffering from increasing weight problems, he overcame them by pure ability,
scoring more than a century of goals before his retirement in his 40th year and helping to
lay the foundations for the club's later successful application to join the Football League.
Thereafter a figure of such vast repute and experience might have been expected to land a
prestigious role, but Charles was never one for theory or tactics, preferring to rely on his
instinct, and he was confined to a spell as manager of Merthyr Tydfil and a stint of coaching
youngsters for Swansea before leaving the game in 1976 to run a pub in Leeds.
Later there was a consultative job in Canada but that did not last and Charles, who was
appointed CBE in 2001, returned to Yorkshire to live near Bradford with his second wife.
Thereafter he was beset by health problems, including cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and
last month he needed emergency heart surgery when he fell ill during a promotional tour of
Milan. Complications set in and part of his right foot was amputated before he was flown home.
In his declining years John Charles - who was voted Wales's all- time sporting hero in 2003,
coinciding with the publication of an autobiography, King John - remained a genial, engaging
character, perhaps rather bewildered to be no longer part of the game he had once bestrode so
regally. But those who remember the big man in his prime still bear eloquent witness to his
pedigree - and it was of the very highest.
Legend Of Calcio: John Charles
John Charles - Juventus
As much has been spoken of the man’s character off the field as well as his impact on it. A
master of two positions, centre forward and centre half, while always walking through life with
a smile on his face, the word Legend doesn’t even come close to describing this player.
John Charles was born 27th December 1931 in Swansea. His father was also a keen footballer
but had his own fledgling career cut short by injury. However, both his sons, John and Mel
would become professional stars as the football bug had been implanted at a young age, spending
every waking hour in the local park playing the game. At 12 years old he joined Swansea’s
schoolboy side and by 14 he was snapped up by Swansea Town, but he spent more time cleaning
boots and attending the pitch (as players did then) than actually playing the game he loved.
But it wasn’t long before he caught the eye of the bigger sides in England. Jack Pickard, a
scout for Leeds, was watching a local Swansea match and alongside the game taking place in a
local park, Charles was having a kick about with friends. Pickard saw the potential in the
young Charles stating that he felt, ‘as excited as a fight manager who had found a world
It wasn’t long before he joined Leeds United at the age of 16 after a two-week trial. He
made his debut in a friendly against Scottish club Queen of the South on 19th April 1949.
During the game he was asked to mark Billy Houliston, a man who only ten days earlier had ran
England’s defence ragged in a 3-1 win with Scotland. After the match Houliston said the 17 year
old Charles was “the best centre-half I’ve ever played against.” In that game he replaced the
injured Tom Holley, who after 20 minutes of the game said,” I knew then my footballing days
weren’t simply numbered, they were finished.”
After he had scored 150 goals in 297 games for Leeds, playing the first two years at the
club as a defender, Italian giants Juventus came calling in 1957 with a British record transfer
fee of £65,000. An offer they couldn’t refuse.Following six years without a Scudetto and even
flirting with relegation at times, Juventus were in need of a pick me up, and they got in the
form of the man they dubbed Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant. He formed an awe-inspiring
attacking tridente with Omar Sivori and Giampiero Boniperti. Altogether he netted 93 goals in
155 Serie A games during his five seasons in Turin. Capturing the Capocannoniere crown in his
first year in a league famed for its defensive approach. He also won player of the year after
28 goals in 34 matches. Many predicted he would flop in the peninsula, but he embraced the
country, the language and the people. He became a hero to Juventus fans and football fans in
Italy, for his manner both on and off the pitch. A prime example being his attitude to fans of
Juve’s arch rivals Torino.
After one match, in which Torino won 3-2, fans of his rivals woke him up at 3am later that
same evening, but instead of waving them away or calling the police, he invited them into his
home where they helped consume the entire contents of his wine cellar. His philosophy of fair
play was very much in evidence when he first played Torino: “I didn’t set out to win them over
but in my first Turin derby I beat the centre-half but accidentally struck him with my elbow
and knocked him clean out. I only had the goalie to beat but it didn’t seem fair so I kicked
the ball out for a shy so the fella could have treatment.” Charles said. Not just a proverbial
battering ram, Charles was blessed with an excellent turn of pace, two great feet, skill,
stamina and strength but his ability of head the ball put him literally head and shoulders
about the competition. While also being genuinely world class in two positions and it wasn’t
strange for him to begin a game at centre forward and end it at centre half when Juve were in
Following three Scudetti and two Coppa Italia triumphs, he was a God in Turin and had etched
himself into Italian football folklore forever. Wanting his children to have an English
schooling, he moved back to Leeds in 1962, but after only three months he found it tough to
readapt and moved to Roma where he only managed ten games. Injuries soon began to pile up and
his body was not the same as it had been in his pomp but Charles continued to play on and later
moved down the leagues with Cardiff City, Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil. Retiring in 1974.
His international career was less eventful securing only 38 caps and scoring 15 goals, but
he did play in the 1958 World Cup with Wales, however they were eliminated by Brazil 1-0 in
the semi-final by a goal scored by a young Brazilian named Pele. Charles never played in that
match as he was injured, but if he had been on the park Wales could well have played in a
World Cup Final.
Plenty have said he was magnificent and in 1997 Juventus voted John Charles the greatest
ever foreign player to turn out for the Bianconeri ahead of the likes of Michael Laudrup,
David Trezeguet, Zinedine Zidane, Pavel Nedved and Michel Platini. Even more impressive was
his award for the greatest foreign player ever in Serie A beating Diego Maradona and in 2001
he became the first non-Italian inducted to the Azzurri Hall of Fame. With talents comparable
to the likes of Pele, Maradona and George Best, his characteristics as a man set him apart.
Upon his death in 2004, former team mate Jack Charlton said: “John Charles was a team unto
himself. The most effective player I ever saw, the one that made the most difference to the
performance of the whole team, was, without question, John Charles.
Never booked or sent off in his career… A Legend of Calcio.
When the Welsh giant died, was there was a special tribute to him in Turin?
John Charles, dubbed 'Il Gigante Buono' (The Friendly Giant) was loved at Juventus for
many reasons, but i think it had a lot to do with the success he helped them achieve during
his time there, and his gentleman-like persona. Charles unprecedented 93 goals in 155 matches
helped Juventus win three league titles, amongst other honors. The Juventus faithful loved
the Welshman so much they showed their support for him when he was voted the greatest foreign
player in Serie A history. Meaning he beat out players like Maradona, Zidane and Van Basten!
John Charles was also loved by his teammates, with Juventus legend Giampiero Boniperti
expressing was an extraordinary person he was. “He was a great friend and an extraordinary
teammate. John was one of the most loyal and honest people I have ever met. A very special
person, not only because of his football skills. He managed to keep the whole team united,
and any quarrels or arguments quietened down as soon as he appeared on the pitch or in the
dressing room.” - Boniperti
When Charles made his final visit to Turin (Italy) in 2004 more then 40,000 fans showed
up to greet their hero and show their undying support. Charles was also named as one of the
50 Juventus players to be honored with a star on the outside of their new stadium.
To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate
its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Wales chose John Charles as their Golden
John Charles was, in the narrowest, best and most exacting sense of the term, a great
footballer. Imagine a man standing 1.88m and weighing around 88.5kg, with a huge torso
rising from slender hips to broad shoulders; with exceptional balance, effortless touch
and the spring of a high jumper. No wonder many good judges place Charles among the ten
supreme players in history.
In Italy, where Charles reached the peak of his career, he is fondly remembered not
only for the 93 goals he scored in 155 league games for Juventus between 1957 and 1962,
helping the club to three Serie A titles, but for a refusal to use his great strength
unfairly. A placid temperament thwarting all attempts at provocation – he was never
sent off or cautioned and scorned petty fouling – earned Charles the lordly sobriquet
that most clearly defines his career: Il Gigante Buono (the Gentle Giant).
Various honours came Charles's way; a CBE, and the freedom of his home city Swansea
from whence as a teenager he was spirited away to play for Leeds United AFC. Charles's
rise to fame was swift from the moment of his league debut for Leeds in 1949 as a
17-year-old centre-half. The following year, at the age of 18 years and 71 days, he
became the youngest player to turn out for Wales, winning the first of 38 caps, a total
that would have been much greater but for Juventus's reluctance to release him.
The big lift in Charles's career came in the 1952/53 season when he was tried at
centre-forward, one of the two positions in which he was irrefutably world-class. The
experiment was immediately successful as Charles scored 27 goals in 30 matches. The
following season he was the league's top scorer with 42 goals, still a club record, and
looked unstoppable. Having helped Leeds to promotion in 1956 he continued to cause havoc
in the top flight, 38 goals attracting the attention of Juve, who paid a British record
fee of £65,000 to sign him in 1957.
After his first season in Italy, when his tally of 28 league goals – remarkable in
the then ultra-defensive Serie A – was the prime factor in bringing Juventus the
championship, he was voted Italy's Footballer of the Year and hailed as the most
valuable player in Europe ahead of Real Madrid CF maestro Alfredo Di Stéfano.
When Wales qualified for the 1958 FIFA World Cup, their only appearance in the finals,
Charles scored in their opening draw with Hungary; he struck such fear into the
opposition that he was the most persistently fouled player in the tournament, sustaining
injuries that forced him to miss a quarter-final against Brazil. The South American side
went through by the only goal, fluked by the emerging Pelé, and went on to lift the
In 1962, his first marriage on the slide and concerned for his children, Charles
returned to play again for Leeds. Three months later he was back in Italy turning out
for AS Roma but with none of the impact he had made in Turin. At odds with Roma's coach,
beset by injuries, he made only ten appearances, lost his place in the Wales team and
was sold to Cardiff City FC. There followed spells in non-league football as the
player-manager of Hereford United FC and Merthyr Tydfil FC. In 2002 he was made a
vice-president of the Football Association of Wales and he died on 21 February 2004 in
Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Because the curve of Charles's ascendancy preceded the widespread televising of
football, glimpses of him are confined to grainy snippets of film, the most revealing
that of a soaring header which brought victory over AC Milan at the San Siro, and was
used for more than 20 years by Italian television to introduce a football highlights
Some felt that Charles had no peers at centre-half. Others that he was the complete
centre-forward. Asked to state a preference, he replied: "No question. A defender can
kick five shots off the line but goalscorers get all the glory."
Leeds by Example - John Charles
After a bunch of arrogant, overpaid drunks kicked our top football club through
the gutter we need a timely reminder of the greatest player ever to play for Leeds
United. Phil O'Connor salutes a proper role model, on his 70th birthday. Not so much
as a booking in his entire career.
We learned that John passed away on 21st February 2004 after falling ill whilst
promoting a book in Milan, Italy. Juventus football club took care of the Gentle Giant,
making sure he was safely brought back to Yorkshire to be closer to his family. He died
at Wakefield Pinderfields hospital. Respect.
Even in the heyday of the Don Revie era the old dudes talked of John Charles. They
would stand there, chewing on their Embassy No.6, watch Mick Jones and Allan Clarke
take the '74 title, and tell us that these fancy dans in their trendy sock tags were
not fit to lace John Charles boots. Of course us young 'uns would put all this flat
capped rambling down to the usual boring old blokery, and cheer on Revie's boys all
the way to the Fairs Cup podium. What could be better than the Leeds team we now bore
teenage Allan Smith fans with. "Mark Viduka? you should have seen Mick Jones breaking
bones, matey" Well not quite. The old gimmers were right, you should have seen John
Leeds United's post war struggle to get back into the top flight seems unreal
today. Surely Leeds have always been " back at the first attempt" boys, and would
never sink into the quagmire that the South Yorks teams are now sinking into. But it
took a genius move by the man who signed him as a schoolboy, Major Frank Buckley, to
change Leeds fortunes and put the team and the man on top. The kid born to a Swansea
steelworker had made his debut early and grown into a towering centre half by the
time he was 18. He'd already been playing in that position for the Welsh national
team (their youngest player ever) , but it was Buckley's decision to play him up
front that made him a legend. Suddenly he was unstoppable. A huge 14 stone, 6' 2"
centre forward, notably quick on his feet who could fly like a bird. In the air he
was awesome. Within weeks he was crashing in the goals, copping 26 in the 52-53
season. A season later he scored a club record 42 goals while he captained his
country at center half! In 1956 he was on the top of his game, powering Wales to
qualify for the 58 World Cup Finals (where he missed the game against Pele's Brazil
through injury), and taking Leeds United back to to the top flight for the first time
since the war. The big issue of the day was how The Gentle Giant would fare against
England's best teams.
"Everything he does is automatic. When he moves into position for a goal chance
it is instinctive. My feet do not do my thinking for me as they do for a player like
John Charles. That is why I can never be as great a footballer as he."
A year later he was the first division's top scorer with 38 goals and was now the
talk of Europe. A player of his versatility was gold. Arsenal offered £40,000,
Manchester United and Sunderland £50,000. Lazio apparently matched the then huge fee
of £65,000 from Juventus, however a £10,000 signing-on fee from Juve's owner, FIAT's
Umberto Agnelli made the deal irresistible. Leeds needed the cash badly - Elland
Road's west stand had gone up in flames uninsured. Pro footballers were paid a
pittance in the bad old days, so John Charles took the Lire.The glory didn't stop
there, as Charles was even more successful in Turin as he was in Yorkshire. At Juve
Charles scored an amazing 97 goals in 160 games, strolling back to defend once he
had put the team in front. In five seasons Juventus won the Scudetto thrice and the
cup twice. He earned the nickname Il Massivo, lived in a 17th-century villa
overlooking the Po valley, ran a Turin restaurant and was a major celebrity, The
King of Turin. Juventus fans still vote him above the likes of Platini and Zidane as
their greatest ever player.
Years later, back in Leeds, John would become involved in several businesses. He
ran the New Inn at Churwell for a time, and for the Gomersal Park Hotel and still
lives in the city in a semi between Bradford and Leeds, where he's recently recovered
from a cancer scare. Peter Risdale recently honoured him as Leeds United's most
valued ex-player and the club published a book on his life, Richard Coomer's King
John. And finally, in August 2001, he was presented with a CBE by the Queen at
Buckingham Palace, nearly 40 years since he retired from the game.
In a month where football in Leeds has been overshadowed by a gang of overpaid,
arrogant toughs who clearly have no regard for their role as heroes to Yorkshire
kids, John Charles is peerless. His record of never being sent off, or even booked
throughout his career, for club and country, is truly astounding. Lee Bowyer, when
he next sees a red card, or finds himself legless in the street, needs to realize he
has a long way to go to prove himself a real man. And, Mr Risdale, given the two-bob
a week he was paid back then, how about a testimonial to really pay him his due?
Outstanding footballer who was revered in Britain and in Italy for his goals
and his grace
John Charles was probably the finest footballer that Wales has ever produced, and
a player whose career with Juventus brought him international renown as both centre
forward and centre half. Few foreigners have been so revered in Italy, where he was
known as “The Gentle Giant” and where Juventus supporters still vote for him as their
favourite import. Charles was the complete player. He scored 105 goals in 168 games
for the club in Italian competitions but was often withdrawn into defence when his
team was ahead. He could also be a driving force in midfield and when Real Madrid,
winners of the first five European Cups, lost their first home game in the competition
in 1962, to Juventus, he was playing at wing half.
Although Charles was 6ft 2in tall and weighed 14 stone, he seldom used his size
and strength unnecessarily. He was never cautioned, let alone sent off, during his
career. He never retaliated, even when he was fouled. Once in a game in Bologna,
where coincidentally yesterday Juventus played in a match marked with a minute’s
silence, Charles was scythed down. Charles then proceeded to lecture his aggressor,
who bowed his head, while the referee looked on compliantly. His relatively short
legs, compared with his long broad back, meant that he possessed a quickness of turn
which deceived many offenders, particularly as he often appeared to play at half-pace.
He also possessed a footballer’s brain. His contemporary, Danny Blanchflower, captain
of the Tottenham Hotspur team, which won the “Double”, once said of Charles:
“Everything he does is automatic. When he moves into position for a goal chance, it
is instinctive. My feet do not do the thinking for me as they do for a player like
William John Charles was born in Cwdmu, near Swansea. His father Ned failed to
turn up for a trial with Brentford because his mother had put his wet leather boots
in the oven overnight, making them unwearable for days afterwards. John was the
outstanding figure among his talented contemporaries from South Wales, the others
including his own brother Mel, as well as the Allchurch brothers. He joined the
local groundstaff at Swansea Town but was quickly spotted by Major Frank Buckley,
the Leeds manager, and taken north, although his mother protested to the scout that
he could not go to England, because he did not have a passport. Charles made his
League debut aged 17 at centre half, and then at the age of 18 years and 71 days
became the youngest player to be capped by Wales. He won a total of 38 caps, scoring
15 goals, although he frequently appeared in the defence and during his spell at
Juventus was often prevented from representing Wales. His goalscoring, particularly
with his head, inspired Leeds to secure promotion in 1956 to the First Division.
Jackie Charlton, a successor at centre half in the Leeds defence, said he was “the
best header of a ball I ever saw in my life. He was a team unto himself. He was
quick and a very, very strong runner”. The following season, he became the leading
marksman in the First Division with 38 goals.
In 1957 he was transferred to Juventus of Turin for £65,000, a record for a
British player. There he linked up with Omar Enrique Sivori, a member of the
Argentine international inside forward trio known as “The Angels with Dirty Faces”
which had just won the South American Championship. The fee for Sivori was a world
record £91,000. Together with Giampiero Boniperti, the Italian who was later to
become club president, they formed a contrastingly talented striking force. The
guile and explosive temperament of Sivori, the 1961 European Footballer of the Year,
offset the calmness and power of Charles, who described his partner as “clever as a
flea and mad as a hatter”. The pair became friends and Sivori liked to recall how
Charles once collided with a goalpost so heavily that it twanged like a tuning fork
for some moments afterwards, but not with noticeable ill-effect on the player.
The Welshman was an instant success. After his first game, an Italian newspaper
carried the headline: “Charles e Mezza Squadra” (Charles is half a team). Charles
himself recalled the Italian experience as “one big party. Whenever I went out, I
couldn’t move for people wanting to talk to me as I went down the street”. Juventus
went on to win the League title with Charles scoring 28 goals and being voted the
player of the season in the Italian League. In his five seasons with the club,
Juventus won three League titles and two Italian cups, although the club made little
impact on the European Cup. In their first match in 1958, they suffered one of the
biggest upsets in the history of the competition when after leading 3-1 from the
first leg, they were beaten 7-0 in the return by Wiener Sportklub of Austria.
He was released by Juventus for the 1958 World Cup when Wales qualified for the
finals of a major championship for the only time in history. He was greeted in
Sweden by Derek Sullivan, the wing half, with the words: “John, you are the greatest
thing to have arrived here since sliced bread.” However, Charles was heavily marked
and was so savagely fouled in the victory over Hungary that he could not take part
in the quarter- final which Brazil won, with Pele playing in his first tournament,
getting the only goal. Had Charles been available, the result might well have been
After 1962, Charles’s career declined sharply. He was transferred back to Leeds,
where he was regarded as a returning messiah with supporters asking him to autograph
their white five-pound notes. However, he missed the atmosphere of Italy and went
back to Roma, which was again not a successful move. He then went to Cardiff, next
to Hereford, where he was player-manager of the Southern League club for seven years,
and finally managed Merthyr. He never was appointed to a leading club, once remarking
with characteristic modesty and probable accuracy: “I don’t think I was good enough.
Maybe I wasn’t nasty enough either.”
He subsequently ran a pub near Leeds, while coaching at Sheffield Wednesday, and
had a period in Canada. Like many footballers of his era, his income had not reflected
his popularity and he also did not show much business acumen with what money he had
earned. The pub failed and he was prosecuted for the non-payment of rates. A
testimonial at Leeds in 1988 provided financial relief and he then opened a shop with
his second wife Glenda. He was appointed CBE in 2001.
In his last years, he suffered severe health problems, including a tumour being
removed from his bladder and then Alzheimer’s Disease. This caused him even to forget
some of the names of the other ten players who had been voted the most talented
individuals who had ever played in the English League and whose miniature models were
a cherished possession on the sideboard of his home in the Leeds suburbs. On January 7,
he collapsed from a heart attack in an Italian television studio just before he was to
be linked up in a live broadcast with his old partner, Sivori, and also suffered
kidney trouble. He underwent surgery on a blood clot in his leg and had to have part of
a foot amputated. He was flown back to England in the private jet of Juventus and died
in hospital in Wakefield. He is survived by his second wife and four sons.
John Charles, OBE, footballer, was born on December 27, 1931. He died on February
21, 2004, aged 72.