|Full name:||William John Charles|
|Date of birth:||December 27, 1931|
|Date of death:||February 21, 2004|
|Clubs played for:||Leeds, Juventus, Roma, Cardiff, Hereford|
Many Welsh football fans regard John Charles as the greatest footballing talent their country has ever produced. After being spotted playing for a local youth club team near his native Swansea, Charles was signed by Leeds at the age of 17 in 1948. He made his league debut against Blackburn in April 1949 playing at centre half, a position he occupied until the 1952-53 season when he converted to centre-forward with great success, scoring a massive 42 goals in the 1953-54 season.
He moved to Italy in 1957 to join Juventus for a then British record transfer fee of £65,000 and had five tremendous years with the Turin club, winning three league titles and two Italian Cups. Charles returned to Leeds in 1962 but failed to rediscover the form that had first made him such a favourite in Yorkshire. He moved on quickly, first to Rome and then back to Wales with Cardiff, where he won two Welsh Cups, finishing his league career in 1966.
Charles later dropped out of the football league to become player-manager, then manager of Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil before bowing out of the game in 1974 to run a pub in Yorkshire. But he was always a familiar figure at Leeds’ Elland Road ground right up to his death in 2004.
When Charles made his full international debut for Wales against Northern Ireland in 1950, aged 18 years and 71 days, he became the youngest-ever Welsh international. He was also one of the key players in the Welsh side that made it to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1958. Charles missed the match against eventual champions Brazil, which Wales lost 1-0, and many believe that had he played Wales would have pulled off a famous victory.
International Career Stats
Hull 1-4 Leeds (Second Division, April 28, 1956)
Leeds went into the final match of the 1955-56 season away at Hull needing just a single point to ensure promotion. And it was John Charles who provided the firepower needed to propel his side into the First Division. He opened the scoring with a snorting left foot shot in the sixth minute, then smashed home a penalty in the 62nd to put Leeds 2-1 ahead. Harold Brook scored two more Leeds goals, but Charles had taken his personal tally for the season to 29 and had all but single-handedly ensured promotion for Leeds.
Leeds 3-1 Sheffield Wednesday (First Division, November 10, 1956)
Leeds’ first season back in the top-flight only confirmed that John Charles was a forward of truly world-class ability. He scored a staggering 38 league goals in that season, including a memorable hat-trick in this home win against Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Sheffield Wednesday 2-3 Leeds (First Division, March 26, 1957)
Charles had already scored a hat-trick against Wednesday in the home league encounter back in November, but he wasn’t done with them yet. When Leeds went to Hillsbrough in March, Charles again tormented the home side’s defence, scoring another treble, this time with three headers.
Did You Know...?
Charles was never booked or sent off during his entire career, which is a remarkable achievement, especially considering he played in Italy at a time when rugged, some would say thuggish, defending was all the rage. Charles’ footballing philosophy was never to kick or intentionally hurt an opponent.
To celebrate their centenary in 1997, Juventus supporters were asked to vote for the greatest foreigner ever to play for the famous Turin club. They voted for John Charles.
The West Stand of Leeds United’s Elland Road ground is named The John Charles Stand in the Welshman’s honour.
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