John Charles was a footballing hero to many and was the first British player to be signed by a foreign club, joining Juventus of Italy in 1957 for a then record fee of £65,000. He was born in Swansea, had a poor upbringing and learned to play his football in the streets wearing clogs. He went to Leeds United when he was only 17 and was first capped for Wales just after his 18th birthday. Charles had tremendous speed, great presence and was a formidable header of the ball. He was equally effective first as centre-half, then as centre-forward. In eight years with Leeds, he scored more than 150 goals, including 42 in the 1953-4 season. His transfer to Juventus changed the face of British football by giving players the opportunity to make big money from the game. The transfer set a trend that was to see others such as Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law following in his footsteps. At Juventus, he was revered by the fans, who called him "Il Buon Gigante", the gentle giant.
He was well over six foot tall, weighed almost 14 stone and was never sent off or even cautioned. Charles enjoyed the Italian lifestyle despite the rigid regimentation and rigorous training schedules of the time. He bought a share in a restaurant, had a villa on the Italian Riviera, another in Turin, and Fiat ensured he had two top-of-the-range cars. At Juventus, he established a magnificent partnership with Omar Sivori, the Argentine forward, the two becoming the most feared combination in the Italian game. With Juventus, who had languished near the bottom of Serie A before his arrival, Charles won three championships and the Italian Cup.
In 1958, he took part in the World Cup in Sweden at the time when Pele was making his international mark.
Unfortunately, injury forced Charles to miss the quarter-final against Brazil, which the South Americans won 1-0. After five years and 93 goals, he returned briefly to Leeds, then went to Roma, before ending his playing career with Cardiff. He became manager of Hereford, then Merthyr Tydfil, and became technical director with the Canadian side Hamilton Steelers. After his retirement, Charles, whose brother Mel also played 31 times for Wales, ran a pub in Yorkshire for many years. He was awarded the CBE in 2001.