by Example - John Charles
a bunch of arrogant, overpaid drunks kicked
our top football club through the gutter we need a
timely reminder of the greatest player ever to play
for Leeds United.
Phil O'Connor salutes a proper role model, on his
70th birthday. Not so much as a booking in his entire
learned that John passed away on 21st February 2004
after falling ill whilst promoting a book in Milan,
Italy. Juventus football club took care of the Gentle
Giant, making sure he was safely brought back to Yorkshire
to be closer to his family. He died at Wakefield Pinderfields
in the heyday of the Don Revie era the old dudes talked
of John Charles. They would stand there, chewing
on their Embassy No.6, watch Mick Jones and Allan
Clarke take the '74 title, and tell us that these
fancy dans in their trendy sock tags were not fit
to lace John Charles boots.
course us young 'uns would put all this flat capped
rambling down to the usual boring old blokery, and
cheer on Revie's boys all the way to the Fairs Cup
podium. What could be better than the Leeds team we
now bore teenage Allan Smith fans with. "Mark
Viduka? you should have seen Mick Jones breaking bones,
matey..." Well not quite. The old gimmers were
right, you should have seen John Charles.
United's post war struggle to get back into the
top flight seems unreal today. Surely Leeds have always
been " back at the first attempt" boys,
and would never sink into the quagmire that the South
Yorks teams are now sinking into. But it took a genius
move by the man who signed him as a schoolboy, Major
Frank Buckley, to change Leeds fortunes and put the
team and the man on top.
kid born to a Swansea steelworker had made his
debut early and grown into a towering centre half
by the time he was 18. He'd already been playing in
that position for the Welsh national team (their youngest
player ever) , but it was Buckley's decision to play
him up front that made him a legend.
Suddenly he was unstoppable.A huge 14 stone, 6' 2"
centre forward, notably quick on his feet who could
fly like a bird. In the air he was awesome. Within
weeks he was crashing in the goals, copping 26 in
the 52-53 season. A season later he scored a club
record 42 goals while he captained his country at
center half! In 1956 he was on the top of his game,
powering Wales to qualify for the 58 World Cup Finals
(where he missed the game against Pele's Brazil through
injury), and taking Leeds United back to to the top
flight for the first time since the war. The big issue
of the day was how The Gentle Giant would fare against
England's best teams.
he does is automatic. When he moves into position
for a goal chance it is instinctive. My feet
do not do my thinking for me as they do for
a player like John Charles. That is why I can
never be as great a footballer as he."
year later he was the first division's top scorer
with 38 goals and was now the talk of Europe. A player
of his versatility was gold. Arsenal offered £40,000,
Manchester United and Sunderland £50,000. Lazio apparently
matched the then huge fee of £65,000 from Juventus,
however a £10,000 signing-on fee from Juve's owner,
FIAT's Umberto Agnelli made the deal irresistible.
Leeds needed the cash badly - Elland Road's west stand
had gone up in flames uninsured. Pro footballers were
paid a pittance in the bad old days, so John Charles
took the Lire.
glory didn't stop there, as Charles was even more
successful in Turin as he was in Yorkshire. At Juve
Charles scored an amazing 97 goals in 160 games, strolling
back to defend once he had put the team in front.
In five seasons Juventus won the Scudetto thrice and
the cup twice. He earned the nickname Il Massivo,
lived in a 17th-century villa overlooking the Po valley,
ran a Turin restaurant and was a major celebrity -
The King of Turin. Juventus fans still vote him above
the likes of Platini and Zidane as their greatest
later, back in Leeds, John would become involved in
several businesses. He ran the New Inn at Churwell
for a time, and for the Gomersal Park Hotel and still
lives in the city in a semi between Bradford and Leeds,
where he's recently recovered from a cancer scare.
Risdale recently honoured him as Leeds United's most
valued ex-player and the club published a book on
his life, Richard Coomer's King John. And finally,
in August 2001, he was presented with a CBE by the
Queen at Buckingham Palace, nearly 40 years since
he retired from the game.
a month where football in Leeds has been overshadowed
by a gang of overpaid, arrogant toughs who clearly
have no regard for their role as heroes to Yorkshire
kids, John Charles is peerless. His record of never
being sent off, or even booked throughout his career,
for club and country, is truly astounding. Lee Bowyer,
when he next sees a red card, or finds himself legless
in the street, needs to realize he has a long way
to go to prove himself a real man.
Mr Risdale, given the two-bob a week he was paid back
then, how about a testimonial to really pay
him his due?