The next entry in the great footballers you’ve never seen…

Ask your Dad or Grandad and they’ll have very clear memories of watching The Gentle Giant:

John Charles

The 6ft 2in Welsh legend was originally signed in 1948 by Leeds United after a trial and initially played at centre half. In fact in his first team debut (in a friendly against Queen Of The South) he was given the task of marking Billy Houliston, who a few weeks before had run the English defence ragged when playing for Scotland (in a match they won 3-1), but when Houliston was up against the 17-year old John Charles, he never got a shot in and the match ended in a nil-nil.

When playing for Leeds and a couple of seasons later he was put up front and scored twice in his second match at centre forward, but spent the rest of his time at the back. Two years after his professional debut Charles was named in the Welsh national squad and in 1958 he appeared – and scored in the World Cup finals.

Whilst also at Leeds he played a pivotal role in helping them get promoted from the old 2nd Division back into Division 1, but after a terrible fire gutted the West Stand the club were in financial straits so they listened to offers for their star center half-turned striker.

John Charles at Juventus

It would be the Italian club Juventus who came calling and they paid a world record (at the time) fee of £65,000 for him. Unlike other British players years later Charles settled very well in Italy and n his five years at Juve he scored 93 goals in 155 matches. He was an intergral part of a side who won the Scudetto three times and the Italian Cup twice.

John was given the nickname of “Il Gigante Buono” because in all his time playing for Leeds, in all his time at Juventus and for Wales, Roma, Cardiff and Hereford afterwards the big near-14 stone centre forward was never cautioned. In his entire career was never sent off.

In 1997 on their club centenary the Juventus fans voted him to be the best-ever foreign player to play for their team. John Charles is still talked about by the supporters at the Stadio Olimpico, even by those who never saw him play.

As mentioned John found himself suited to Italian football and was very at home in Italy. He had a powerful set of lungs on him and we are privileged to be able to hear the great one sing some (gentle) love songs:

» John Charles w/William Galassini Orchestra – Love In Portofino

» John Charles – La Fine

Some video of the Juventus 1957/58 season, including the arrival of John Charles:

» Link to video

Extra Time:
The Welsh singer Lorraine King sings a tribute to King John which reflects on his life:

Lorraine King – Il Gigante Buono:
Stream only. Find more by this artist here.

» A visual representation of the song:

Further reading:

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