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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 18:40 GMT
John Charles made Freeman of Swansea
John Charles playing for Juventus
John Charles is a footballing hero in Wales
The man described as Wales's greatest ever footballer, John Charles, has been given the freedom of his home city.

Many footballing names were among the 1,000-strong crowd which gathered for the ceremony at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall to pay tribute to the man they called "the Gentle Giant".

John Charles
Record signing: Charles joined Juventus for 65,000 in 1957

Charles, 70, made his league debut for Leeds United at the age of 16 and became the youngest ever player to win a Welsh international cap at 18.

But his name is still legendary in Italy where, at Juventus, he was possibly the most successful British player of all time.

Charles was considered to be one of Britain's best all-round footballers, comfortable on the ball in defence or as a centre forward.

In the early days of his career, the young Welsh international broke the Leeds United club scoring record for one season with 42 goals.

His feat was even more remarkable considering he was playing at centre-half for Wales.

Gentle Giant

In May 1957, he set a then world record fee by signing for the Italian giants for 65,000 and his playing - he was never sent off or even booked during his career - led him to be called "Il Buon Gigante" - the Gentle Giant.

He won three Serie A Championships and lifted the Italian Cup twice during his time with Juventus and scored 93 goals in 155 games.

After a brief return to Leeds, he went back to Italy, playing for Roma, but his pace had gone and he returned to Wales to play for Cardiff City in 1963.

He quit league football in 1966 and then enjoyed a brief spell as a non-league manager at Hereford United.

A member of the only Welsh team ever to qualify for a World Cup finals tournament, in 1958, he was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 1999.

Great achievements

In the same year it was revealed he was suffering from cancer and had received radiotherapy and chemotherapy for the illness.

Leader of Swansea Council, Lawrence Bailey, said: "We are proud to recognise and acknowledge the great achievements of John Charles, who was born and grew up in Swansea.

"The city is honoured to receive him and present this award."

Other people to receive the freedom of the city include the Prince of Wales and former United States president Jimmy Carter.

BBC Wales is backing a campaign for Charles to receive a knighthood.

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 ON THIS STORY
Former BBC football commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme
"I've always said he is the greatest football player I have ever seen."
See also:

16 Nov 00 | Wales
Campaign to knight John Charles
16 Jun 01 | Wales
Welsh receive their honours
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