Uniquely, “King John” was renowned as both a world-class centre-half and centre-forward.
Major Frank Buckley gave him his Leeds debut at 16. At centre-half he helped Leeds reach the FA Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 1950 and a year later he became Wales’ youngest international (going on to win 38 caps and starring at the 1958 World Cup finals).
Powerful in the air and a strong tackler, Charles was a formidable defender but an injury crisis in 1952 resulted in Buckley switching him to centre-forward with stunning effect.
Up front, his aerial prowess allied to a terrific shot, saw Charles terrorise defences; scoring 26 goals in 28 games, including three hat tricks. In 1953/54 Charles scored 42 goals and five hat tricks — both totals still club records.
Raich Carter began Charles in defence in 1955/56, but switched him to attack when he blooded Jack Charlton. In another sensational campaign, Charles scored 28 league goals as Leeds clinched promotion.
During his first Division One campaign, Charles top-scored for the fourth time with 38 goals, including hat tricks both home and away against Sheffield Wednesday. Offers flooded in, and the Leeds board finally accepted a world record £65,000 bid from Juventus.
In a five-year spell in Italy, Charles won three championships, the Italian Cup, a Footballer Of The Year award and was fondly dubbed the “Gentle Giant” for his supreme sportsmanship.
With his best years behind him, Charles played briefly again for Leeds, then Roma and Cardiff City before coaching, among a number of clubs, Swansea City.
In 2001 he was awarded a CBE for services to football.
Second on Leeds’ all-time scoring list, John Charles is a legend among supporters even though only the oldest of them ever saw him play.
John Charles sadly lost a long battle with illness and passed away on February 21st 2004.