He was signed as a sixteen year-old by Major
Frank Buckley after being on the ground staff at
his home town club, and made his United debut a
year later in a friendly against the then
Scottish First Division side Queen of the South
at Elland Road. It was a game that was to change
his life forever.
In the week earlier the visitors forward Billy
Houliston had ripped England apart in Scotland's
3-1 first post-war win at Wembley, but Charles
managed to do what respected English
internationals could not and marked Houliston
completely out of the game. Houliston was
quick to praise the young talent, labelling him
"the best centre-half I've ever played against."
The Yorkshire Post that day also took note of
the young Charles, its correspondent at the
time, Richard Ulyatt spoke of Charles as a great
prospect - how right he was.
year later he became Wales's youngest
international when he played against Northern
Ireland aged 18 years and 71 days.
When he was moved to centre-forward Leeds
suddenly reaped the benefits of his prowess in
and around the penalty area, scoring 26 goals in
his first season there in the 1952-53 season,
and then the next season saw him achieve a
record that has yet to be beaten at Elland Road,
and conceivably never will be. He scored no
less than 42 goals, the highest in one season by
and Leeds player ever, and the best record in
the country that year.
powerful header of the ball, just as many goals
came from his forehead as his famous boots.
Former team-mate Jack Charlton remembers just
how good and acomplished an all round player he
was. "John Charles was a team unto himself," he
"He was quick, he was a very, very strong runner
and he was the greatest header of the ball I
ever saw. His power in the air was phenomenal."
In 1956 Charles helped Leeds finally gain
promotion to the old First Division, winning the
Second Division Championship, and it gave the
brilliant Welshman the chance to test himself
amongst the best centre-halves in the country,
and for once people could compart him with the
best strikers too.
He surpassed them all. In that first season he
was the First Division's top marksman with 38
goals and many said he would have found the net
even more in a better team.
At that time he started to attract the interest
of Europe's top clubs. Real Madrid, AC Milan and
Juventus led the chase. Leeds resisted for a
year, but eventually, in August 1957, Charles
signed for Juventus for £65,000, then a record
transfer fee for a British player.
Moving to the ultra tough Italian league was
supposed to really test him, but again Charles
emerged as a winner in everything he did for
During Charles's five years with Juventus, the
"Old Lady" of Italian football won three Serie A
Championships and lifted the Italian Cup twice.
In 155 appearances he scored 93 goals and was
never, throughout his career, booked or sent
off. He became known in Italy as the "Gentle
Giant", and figured in the top three in the
European player of the year polls for 1958 and
canvas bearing the image of John Charles still
hangs today upon the walls of the players lounge
in the Stadio delle Alpi. alongside images of
footballing gods such of Sivori, Zoff, Altafini,
Capello, Cabrini, Tardelli, Rossi and Platini.
Those who knew John Charles well also knew him
as a jovial, carefree man and an entertainer.
Even recently at an Elland Road awards dinner he
was called up on stage to treat the assembled
guests to a song, and like many of his fellow
Welshman, he had a singing voice that did him
proud. He even went on to produce a record that
rose into the Italian hit parade.
In April 1962 he returned to Leeds United, but
he did not have the same impact as in his first
spell at the club. He admitted that Leeds
United had grown into a better team during his
absence, and that he was no longer the star of
the team. He subsequently regretted leaving
Juventus too early.
He played just 11 games, scoring three goals,
and in November departed once again for Italy,
and attempted an Italian comeback with AS Roma,
moving for £70,000, but the magic was missing
and he returned to Cardiff City. He was then a
player at Hereford and later took on the role of
manager there. He also turned out for Welsh side
Charles has also been a publican and shopkeeper.
John Charles helped Wales make it through to the
1958 World Cup quarter-finals, where they lost
1-0 to Brazil, a game in which he sadly took no
part through injury. In total he played 38 times
for Wales, scoring 15 goals, and was awarded the
CBE in 2001.
He went on to play for AS Roma and Cardiff City,
before finishing his career with non-league
sides Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil.
One thing he always was, and will continue to
be, is a legend of the beautiful game.
All material for this article is credited to the
official Leeds United website www.lufc.co.uk