When viewed in terms of the world stage, of all the players who have represented the Bluebirds’ strip, one unquestionably stands head and shoulders above the rest - albeit his games for the club were played in the autumn of his career when he had passed the peak of his footballing prowess.
In the foreword to his autobiography, Sir Bobby Robson described him as ‘incomparable’ and classed him among the all-time footballing greats such as Pele, Maradona and George Best. He also notes that he is the only footballing great to be world class in two very different positions (centre half and centre forward).
Jimmy Greaves once stated that ‘if I were picking my all-time great British team, or even a world eleven, John Charles would be in it’.
Praise indeed from two footballing giants.
Though better known for his time at Leeds United and Juventus, John Charles still managed to represent the Bluebirds on 68 occasions, scoring 18 goals between 1963 and 1966 during which time City were in the old Second Division.
Space here does not allow for an adequate assessment of his footballing career nor abilities, but the following young fan's amusing eye witness account of Charles' debut for the Bluebirds against Norwich in 1963 might just capture a little of the aura that surrounded the man.
The signing of the legendary John Charles from Roma was a coup by anyone’s standards. His debut against Norwich City was also memorable by anybody’s standards - for more reasons than one.
Horror of horrors, he led the team out with a cigarette in his hand, taking one final drag and then chucking the butt away as he ran onto the field. He then proceeded to score the most bizarre of goals - from all of 75 yards.
When City were awarded an indirect free kick on the edge of our own penalty area, Big John waved everyone up into the Norwich box, and with a giant swing of his boot sent the ball sailing into the Norwich area. Debutant goalkeeper Kevin Keelan was caught in two minds and could only deflect the ball into the net.
It was too bizarre to be true – but believe me, that’s how it was.
Sadly John Charles is no longer with us - he died in 2004 - but the man, daubed Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant, during his time at Juventus (he was never booked nor sent off in the whole of his professional career) lives on in the memory.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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