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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 16:20 GMT
St David's Day funeral for Charles
John Charles beats England goalkeeper Ray Wood at Wembley in November 1954
Head man: Charles scores against England at Wembley in 1954

Welsh football legend John Charles will be cremated on St David's Day in Leeds, his family have confirmed.

The citizens of Swansea - where Charles was born - paid tribute to the former player on Monday when the city opened a book of condolence.

Calls are growing for a permanent memorial to the 72-year-old player whose trailblazing career encompassed both the English and Italian leagues as well the international stage with Wales.

His family have asked Swansea Council to find a choir from the city to sing at the service on March 1.

The 6ft 2ins star, who died on Saturday, was dubbed the Gentle Giant by his legions of Italian fans and has been described as one of the greatest Welsh sportsmen of all time.

But despite a series of civic and honorary titles late in life, many of his admirers believe he was under-recognised in his own country.

His death has renewed calls for action to secure a place for him in Welsh public life.

There should definitely be some sort of tribute to him - Big John was a legend
John Hartson

The Swansea-born Wales and Celtic striker, John Hartson - who wears the same No 9 shirt Charles wore on international duty - has called for their home town to provide a memorial to the man who was awarded the keys to the city in 2002.

And Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has suggested a new stadium in Wales' second city could be named after him.

"We have lost a great Welshman," he said. "There will be flags flying at half-mast in the minds of fans all over the world."

Hartson, 28, who played for Arsenal and West Ham, said: "I had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice and he was a real gentleman.

John Charles
Italian fans labelled Charles the Gentle Giant

"Obviously, both of us being from Swansea meant that he would always take the time to have a chat.

"There should definitely be some sort of tribute to him - Big John was a legend.

"If there's anybody that deserves the accolade of having a stadium named after them it's John Charles. He was a really proud Swansea boy and a great Welshman."

Wales manager Mark Hughes said Charles would have been a world star in the modern era.

"What struck me - and there is very little television footage of him in his prime - is that when you saw him you realised he was a modern-day player in a different era," he said.

"That was why he was such a great player. There is always the debate on whether the past players could perform in the modern game, but there would have been no argument that big John could have done."

'John Charles Way'

Swansea-based cultural historian Peter Stead, who co-edited the book For Club and Country - Welsh Football Greats, said Cardiff should also offer its tribute to the man who helped Cardiff City win the Welsh Cup.

He said: "Perhaps naming a road outside the Millennium Stadium, maybe John Charles Way, something of that sort."

A spokesman for Swansea City and County Council said they would look into the possibility of putting up a statue of the Gentle Giant.

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


SEE ALSO:
Wales remembers national hero
21 Feb 04  |  South West Wales
John Charles dies
21 Feb 04  |  Football
Charles: The Gentle Giant
21 Feb 04  |  Football
Juve lead Charles tributes
21 Feb 04  |  Football
Your tributes to John Charles
21 Feb 04  |  South West Wales


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