Page last updated at 19:15 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2004

Wales remembers national hero

John Charles at Ninian Park
John Charles played for Cardiff toward the end of his career
Tributes have been pouring in to soccer legend John Charles regarded by many as Wales' greatest footballer.

The 72-year-old, who has died after a short period of illness, was legendary in the game in both the UK and in Italy.

Charles played for Juventus and Roma after a successful career with Leeds.

Wales' first minister Rhodri Morgan said the 6ft 2ins, 13-stone soccer star had iconic status among Italians who called him "il gigante gentile" - the gentle giant.

When you think of John Charles you have two abiding memories, a colossal football player and a modest gentleman
Swansea mayor, Lawrence Bailey

He said on Saturday: "We have lost one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th Century.

"It's only when you are in Italy - in Turin or Rome - that you realise just how high his reputation is.

"He is almost regarded as a saint in Italy as he resolutely refused to use his immense power and strength to overcome others.

John Charles
Italian fans labelled Charles the Gentle Giant

"If he knocked someone down he immediately picked them up to see if they were all right."

Mr Morgan said Charles, a "Swansea boy" who left home when he was a teenager to play for Leeds, was part of a "mythical generation" in Welsh football.

He starred in the 1958 World Cup and told Mr Morgan of his "immense regret" at not being able to play in a quarter-final match against Brazil which the Welsh side lost 1-0.

Mr Morgan said Charles was injured and believed the team could have drawn, if not won, if he had been playing.

He added: "I think even probably the modern stars would say he was a world legend."

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, said: "He was an international football legend, one of the greatest Welsh sportsmen of all time, and one who well merited his nickname of the 'Gentle Giant'."

In Charles' home town, the city council is to open a book of condolence so people can pay their respects to the man who played for Cardiff and Leeds United before finding international fame.

Although he never played for Swansea, a 1,000 strong crowd gathered to see Charles being given the freedom of the city in March 2002, a year after he was awarded the CBE.

Swansea Lord Mayor Lawrence Bailey said the city council would now look at creating a permanent memorial to his memory, possibly at the White Rock football and rugby stadium which is currently under construction.

Councillor Bailey said: "John Charles is a legend throughout the sporting world and would have graced any team in any era.

"When you think of John Charles you have two abiding memories, a colossal football player and a modest gentleman.

"We are deeply saddened by his death. Swansea and the sporting world have lost one of the all-time greats.

The book of condolence in the Lord Mayor's reception room at Swansea's Guildhall is available for signing between 0900-1700 GMT on weekdays.

video and audio news
BBC Wales' Bob Humphrys
"He remained the ultimate modest man, giving away his caps and medals because, all he needed, he said, was his memories. "

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