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For the English footballer of the same name, see John Charles . For the American football player, see John Charles . For the Spanish King, see Juan Carlos I.

William John Charles, CBE (27 December 1931 – 21 February 2004), commonly known as John Charles, was a Walesmarker international footballer best remembered for spells with Leeds United and Juventus. Rated by many as the greatest all-round footballer ever to come from Wales, he was equally adept at centre-forward or centre-back. He has since been included in the Football League 100 Legends and was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

He was never cautioned or sent off during his entire career, due to his philosophy of never kicking or intentionally hurting opposing players. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, he was nicknamed Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant.


William John Charles was born in the Cwmbwrlamarker district of Swanseamarker during late 1931. Charles would play football as a child, with younger brother Mel Charles who also went on to become a professional, later playing alongside each other for the Welsh national team.

While still at school, Charles joined the boys section of the local team Swansea Town, who would later become Swansea City. When he left school at age 14, he was taken onto the groundstaff at Vetch Fieldmarker, yet because of his young age; Third Division Swansea never gave him a first-team call up. His only senior appearances came for the reserve side in the Welsh Football League.

Leeds United first spell

While playing for Gendros, a local youth club, he was scouted by Leeds United and given a trial in September 1948. At his trial he impressed and duly signed for them at the age of 17, relocating to Yorkshiremarker.

Major Buckley, then manager of Leeds, selected John in a variety of positions including right-back, centre-half and left-half for Leeds Reserves.

John Charles made his first team debut as a centre back for Leeds United in a friendly versus Dumfriesmarker club Queen of the South on April 19, 1949. Charles was tasked with marking the Scotlandmarker centre forward who in winning 3-1 ten days before at Wembleymarker had run the England defence ragged, Billy Houliston. The score was 0-0. After the game Houliston said 17 year old Charles was "the best centre-half I've ever played against".

Charles made his league debut against Blackburn Rovers also in April 1949, playing at centre-half. Two seasons later he played a couple of matches at centre-forward, scoring twice in the second match. This prompted a debate as to where John should play in the team, but he remained at centre-half until the 1952-53 season. He scored 150 league goals in eight years for Leeds, including 42 goals in the 1953-54 season.

He also played for the Army during his two years of National Service between 1950 and 1952, also dabbling in boxing, cricket, running and basketball. It was during this period that he suffered a serious cartilage injury, causing him to miss most of the 1951-52 season.

Playing in Italy with Juventus

In 1957 he joined the Italian club Juventus F.C. for a then-British-record £65,000 transfer fee. The transfer was notable as Charles became one of the first British professional players to be signed for an overseas team after John Fox Watson lead the way moving from Fulham to Real Madrid in 1948. In his five years at Juventus he scored 93 goals in 155 matches, winning the scudetto (Italian league championship) three times, and the Italian Cup twice.

The respect Charles earned from Juventus fans was shown when, on the occasion of the club's centenary in 1997 they voted him to be the best-ever foreign player to play for their team.

Returning to Britain

Following his time at Juventus F.C., he returned to Leeds United but his second spell at Elland Road was less successful. After five years in Italy he found it difficult to adjust to life back in England. He returned to Italy to play for A.S. Roma, initially with success. However he then began to suffer from injuries and personal problems and left to join Cardiff City where he was to finish his league career.

He later became manager of Hereford and Merthyr Tydfil, and technical director of the Canadian team Hamilton Steelers, who he became coach of midway through the 1987 season.

International career with Wales

Charles first played for the Wales national team shortly after his 18th birthday.

He was the heart of the side which made it to the quarter finals of the 1958 Football World Cup (the country's only appearance in the World Cup), but was defeated 1-0 by eventual winners Brazil (a goal by the emerging Pelé) in his absence due to injury. In total for Wales, Charles made 38 appearances and scored 15 goals.

Charles played for the Great Britain team against Ireland in 1955.

Life after football

Following his retirement, he was the landlord of the New Inn public house in Churwell, Leedsmarker for a number of years. He was awarded a CBE in 2001, and until shortly before his death he still attended every Leeds United home game. In 2002 he was made a vice-president of the Football Association of Wales, and in 2003, he was granted the freedom of the city of Swansea. There was a campaign to knight John Charles, but, in the end, this never happened resulting only in a CBE. Charles became an Inaugural Inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. The West Stand of the Elland Roadmarker Stadium is named "The John Charles Stand" in his honour for the great service he provided to Leeds United and a bust has been created, financed by Leeds United Chairman Ken Bates, to be displayed in the entrance to the banqueting suite (attached to the back of The John Charles Stand) in his remembrance. The South Leeds Stadiummarker, used by Leeds United for reserve matches, was renamed the John Charles Stadium in his honour. There is also a street named "John Charles Way" Close to the Elland Road Stadium

In January 2004 he suffered a heart attack shortly before an interview for Italian television, and required the partial amputation of one foot for circulation reasons before he was returned to Britain. He died in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefieldmarker, West Yorkshire, early on February 21, 2004.

John had a brother, Mel Charles and a nephew Jeremy Charles, who also represented Wales.

In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Charles on its list of 100 League Legends.

On the November 29, 2003, to celebrate UEFA's Jubilee, he was selected as the Golden Player of Wales by the Football Association of Wales as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years.

In 2004, John was voted at number 19 in the 100 Welsh Heroes poll.


In the foreword for Charles' autobiography, Sir Bobby Robson described him as "incomparable" and classed him among the all-time footballing greats such as Pelé, Diego Maradona and George Best. He also notes that Charles is the only footballing great to be world class in two very different positions.

Jimmy Greaves once stated that "if I were picking my all-time great British team, or even a world eleven, John Charles would be in it". Other footballers have also named him as one of the best, including Jack Charlton, Nat Lofthouse and Billy Wright.

Charles' accomplishments with Juventus led to him being voted 'the greatest foreign player ever in Serie A', ahead of Maradona, Michel Platini, Marco Van Basten and Zinedine Zidane - this in 1997, 34 years after his last appearance in the league. In 2001 he became the first non-Italian inducted to the Azzurri Hall of Fame.


  • Serie A: Champions (1958, 1960, 1961)
  • Coppa Italia: Winners (1959, 1960)
  • Welsh Cup: Winners (1964, 1965)
  • Italian Player of the Year: 1958
  • The John Charles Centre for Sportmarker in Leedsmarker is named after Charles.
  • The West stand at Elland Road is named "The John Charles Stand" and the entrance lobby to the Banqueting Suite attached to the back of the stand contains a bust of John, in memory of all John did for the club.
  • A street near Elland Road in the Lower Wortleymarker area of Leeds is named " John Charles Way"
  • The John Charles Lounge in Aberystwyth Town Football Club's ground is named after Charles

Career statistics

These statistics are incomplete, missing figures indicated by –
Club performance
Club Division Season League Cup Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Leeds United Second Division 1948–49 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Second Division 1949–50 42 1 5 0 0 0 47 1
Second Division 1950–51 34 3 2 0 0 0 36 3
Second Division 1951–52 18 0 5 0 0 0 23 0
Second Division 1952–53 40 26 1 1 0 0 41 27
Second Division 1953–54 39 42 2 1 0 0 41 43
Second Division 1954–55 40 11 2 1 0 0 42 12
Second Division 1955–56 41 29 1 0 0 0 42 29
First Division 1956–57 40 38 1 1 0 0 41 39
Juventus Serie A 1957–58 34 28 4 1 0 0 38 29
Serie A 1958–59 29 19 4 5 2 0 35 24
Serie A 1959–60 34 23 3 3 0 0 37 26
Serie A 1960–61 32 15 3 1 2 0 37 16
Serie A 1961–62 21 8 4 2 10 0 35 10
Leeds United Second Division 1962–63 11 3 0 0 0 0 11 3
A.S. Roma Serie A 1962–63 10 4 10 4
Cardiff City Second Division 1963–64 33 11 1 0 1 0 35 11
Second Division 1964–65 28 3 0 0 6 0 34 3
Second Division 1965–66 7 4 0 0 3 0 10 4
Hereford United Southern Premier 1966–67 42 26 9 11 0 0 51 37
Southern Premier 1967–68 0 0
Southern Premier 1968–69 0 0
Southern Premier 1969–70 0 0
Southern Premier 1970–71 24 10 4 1 6 1 34 12
Merthyr Tydfil Southern Premier 1971–72 0 0
Career totals 602 304 51 28 30 1 683 333


  3. Description of John Charles senior debut in the Billy Houliston profile
  4. Oxford Times, 24th February 2004
  5. LUFC Official Web-Site (2006). "John Charles Honoured" (accessed 10th Aug 2006)
  7. - Europe's Football Website (2003). "Golden Players take centre stage" (accessed 13th Aug 2006)
  8. 100 Welsh (2004). "100 Welsh Heroes" (accessed 21 December 2006)
  9. BBC Sport, 23rd February 2001

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