John Charles, CBE (27 December 1931 – 21 February 2004) was a Welsh football player. Rated one of the best all-round players in the world of his generation, he was equally adept at centre-forward or centre-back.
John Charles was born in Swansea and joined Leeds United at the age of 17, for whom he scored 150 goals in eight years, including 42 goals in the 1953-54 season. In 1957 he joined the Italian club Juventus for a then-British record £65,000 transfer fee. 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. He won the nickname Il Gigante Buono (The Gentle Giant), both for his size and the fact that he was never cautioned or sent off in his entire career. The respect Charles earned from Juventus fans was shown when they voted him to be the best-ever foreign player to play for their team. This is a remarkable feat at a club which has had such foreign stars as Michel Platini in its first team. Even in his later years he found it difficult to walk the streets of Turin without being mobbed.
Following his time at Juventus, he returned to Leeds United, and also played for A.S. Roma, finishing his playing career at Cardiff City. He later became manager of Hereford and Merthyr Tydfil, and technical director of the Canadian team, Hamilton Steelers.
John Charles first played for the Wales national team shortly after his 18th birthday and 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.
Following his retirement, he ran a pub in Yorkshire for many 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. Charles became an Inaugural Inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
He remained greatly honoured in both Britain and Italy. 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, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, early on 21 February 2004.
John had a brother, Mel Charles and a nephew Jeremy Charles, who also represented Wales.