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John Charles

Welsh forward, nicknamed the 'Gentle Giant', who starred for Leeds United and Juventus in the 1950s.

Born in Swansea in 1931, Charles joined Leeds United in 1947 as a junior and made his debut with the club in 1949 playing at centre-half.  The following year he became the youngest player to win a cap for Wales.

Charles played as a centre-half until the 1952-3 season when he was moved to centre-forward.  His goals helped secure promotion for Leeds to the First Division in 1956 and the following year was the top goal scorer with a total of 38 goals.  He scored 150 league goals in eight years for Leeds, including 42 goals in the 1953-54 season.

In 1957 he joined the Italian giants Juventus for a then-British record 65,000 transfer fee.  Over the next five years he scored 93 goals in 155 matches, winning three Italian League championships and two Italian Cups.  The respect Charles earned from Juventus fans was shown when, on the occasion of the clubs' centenary in 1997, they voted him to be the best-ever foreign player to play for their team.

Charles returned briefly to Leeds in 1962 but he was unsettled and later acknowledged that leaving Juventus was "the biggest mistake of my career".  He returned to Italy to play for Roma for a year.  He ended his career back in Wales joining Cardiff City in 1963 and retiring in 1966.

He had been one of the star players of the Welsh team that qualified for the World Cup finals in 1958. He played 38 times for his country in total and scored 15 goals.

Charles is remembered for his skill in the air, although he was also admired for his precise ball control, unusual in a player who weighed nearly 14 stone and who stood over six feet tall.  His stature and the fact that he was never sent off or even cautioned earned him his nickname first bestowed upon him by admiring Italian fans as Il Buon Gigante.

After his retirement from the game, he ran a pub in Yorkshire for many years.  He was awarded a CBE in 2001 and continued to attend every Leeds United home game until his death in 2004. His reputation as a great centre-forward did not diminished over the years and in 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 fifty years.  Tom Holley, the Leeds United centre half whom Charles replaced when he first emerged at Elland Road, later became a journalist and recalled: 'Nat Lofthouse was asked who was the best centre half he had played against and without hesitation named John Charles. The same week Billy Wright was asked who was the greatest centre forward he had faced, and he again answered John Charles.' Another Leeds United legend Jack Charlton agreed: 'John Charles was a team unto himself. People often say to me, 'Who was the best player you ever saw in your life?', and I answer, probably Eusebio, di Stefano, Cruyff, Pele or our Bob - but the most effective player I ever saw, the one that made the most difference to the performance of the whole team, was, without question, John Charles.'