Undoubtedly the most accomplished footballer of his time and, in the opinion of many Welsh football fans, the finest footballer Wales has ever produced, John Charles was born in Cwmbarla, Swansea, on 27 December, 1931. At the age of 15 he joined the local football (soccer) club's groundstaff. Three years later, in 1949, spotted playing a game in a public park, he was enticed away to the professional English club, Leeds United, where their disciplinarian manager, Major Buckley, took young John under his wing.
Record Goals Lead to Record Transfer Fee
Starting out playing in the heart of Leeds defence-unit as a centre-half, John later switched to centre-forward, a position in which he proved just as effective, scoring a club record of 42 goals in one season. In 1957, Juventus, at the time the giants of Italian football, decided that John Charles was the player they wanted... at any cost. To get their man, Juventus spent a (then) world record £65,000, a figure almost double the previous record.
Il gigante buono ('the gentle giant'), as he was dubbed by the fanatical Italian crowds, became an instant hit scoring 28 goals in a country notorious for its defensive football. At one stage during his time with Juventus, John was voted Italy's 'Player of the Year'.
A Painful World Cup
In 1958 John was a member of the Welsh team at the World Cup in Sweden - the only time Wales have qualified for the final stages of the World Cup. Wales progressed to the quarter finals where they met the favourites, Brazil. Unfortunately, due to some over-the-top treatment, dished out to him by defenders in earlier matches, John was injured and had to watch from the sidelines as 17-year-old wonder-kid, Edson Arantes di Nascimento, otherwise known as Pele, scored the only goal of the game
Plenty of Success in Italy
After five seasons with Juventus, where his silky skills played a large part in the club winning three Italian championships and an Italian Cup, Leeds United bought him back (in 1962) for a brief and unhappy spell. Later that year he was transferred back to Italy where he turned out for Roma. In 1963 he returned to Wales to play for Cardiff City before dabbling in football management with the smaller British clubs Hereford and Merthyr Tydfil.
Wonderful Disciplinary Record
In a career spanning almost 25 years with six clubs, during which time he represented his country 38 times, John Charles was never cautioned (shown a yellow card); an incredible feat considering the harsh treatment meted out to him by defences worldwide.
John eventually went back to Yorkshire to become a publican (pub owner). In 1987 he became technical director at Hamilton Steelers in the Canadian soccer league.
Playing Career Statistics
- 1946-49 - Swansea Town
- 1949-57 - Leeds United
- 1957-62 - Juventus
- Aug 1962-October 1962 - Leeds United
- 1962-63 - Roma
- 1963-66 - Cardiff City
- 1966-71 - Hereford United (player-manager)
38 Caps, 15 Goals
- 1950 v Northern Ireland
- 1951 v Switzerland
- 1953 v Northern Ireland, France, Yugoslavia
- 1954 v England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Austria
- 1955 v Yugoslavia, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland
- 1956 v England, Scotland Austria, Northern Ireland
- 1957 v Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Czechoslovakia
- 1958 v Israel, Israel, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Hungary
- 1960 v Scotland
- 1962 v England, Brazil, Brazil, Mexico
- 1963 v Scotland
- 1964 v Scotland
- 1965 v Scotland, USSR