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John Charles
with Radio Five Live's Richard Littlejohn
 real 14k

Friday, 23 February, 2001, 13:57 GMT
Top Italian honour for Charles
John Charles in action for Juventus
John Charles was always dominant in aerial battles
Welsh football legend John Charles has been awarded the ultimate honour from the official Italian football authority.

Charles, one of Wales' most versatile and respected footballers, has become the first non-Italian player to be inducted into the Azzuri Football Hall of Fame.

Not even the likes of Maradonna, Platini or Zidane have received the honour.

Charles collected the honour at a special ceremony in Florence.

"It was wonderful," he said. "They phoned my wife and told her not to say anything until I got there.

"So she didn't say anything - it was very secretive."

The 69-year-old admitted that moving to Italy in 1958 was a daunting experience at first, but he soon won the hearts of the fans and players with his outstanding performances.

"The language was a bit of a barrier, but I used to make some noises and got on with them very well," he added.

Gentle Giant

Swansea-born Charles played 155 games for Juventus during his four year spell from 1958-62, scoring 93 goals in the process and helping The Old Lady to three Serie A championship titles and two Italian Cup triumphs.

He was even voted the best player in Italy after his first season in Italy.

Not surprisingly, his exploits earned him cult status with the Juve fans, and due to his 6ft 2" and 14 st frame was immediately christened 'Ill Buon Gigante' (The Gentle Giant).

"Winning the first championship was a wonderful thing," he said. "They hadn't won it for a while.

"And when we won it - it was unbelievable. I was sad to leave in '62, but I came back to good club in Leeds so I was happy about that."

Campaign

Although he was entered into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, BBC Wales are currently backing a campaign for Charles to receive a knighthood.

He is widely regarded as one of the greatest all-round footballers to come from Britain.

Although best known for his scoring prowess for Juventus and Leeds, Charles spent most of his time playing centre-half for Wales.

It is a widely held theory among Welsh supporters that Wales would have beaten Brazil in the quarter-final of 1958 World Cup if Charles had not have been ruled out through injury.

Wales eventually lost the match after a 17-year-old centre forward named Pele scored the only goal of the match.

Charles ended his playing career with Cardiff alongside brother Mel and now lives in Yorkshire.

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