Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

King John Meets His Subjects Ahead of Toughest Challenge

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

King John Meets His Subjects Ahead of Toughest Challenge

Article excerpt


NEVER a man to shirk a challenge, John Charles, the Welsh legend, faces the uncertainty of the days ahead with the dignity, pride and bravery he demonstrated during a truly illustrious playing career.

He's 71 now and later this month goes into hospital for another biopsy. To the casual visitor to the Charles household on the outskirts of Leeds the effects of bladder cancer, diagnosed five years ago, and Alzheimer's disease are not immediately apparent.

He's as upright as a goalpost, still smokes, still lucidly recalls his great days with Leeds United and Juventus and, at 6ft 2in, still towers over you when he rises to greet you. "How are you then, boy?" he smiled.

We met the other day in the neat semidetached where he lives with his wife Glenda. A neighbour pointed out the house to me. "Aye, that's where John Charles lives," he said. "Go round back. They don't use front door."

Everyone knows John Charles in Leeds. Everyone knows him in Turin where he spent five years with Juventus, winning three Serie A Championships. They still call him 'Il Re' - The King. "He's feted there still after all these years," said Glenda. "They love him. It's quite moving really."

Glenda and John have been together for 25 years. This weekend they were invited to be guests of the Welsh Football Association at the European Championship qualifying tie in Italy.

Sadly, they had to decline the Welsh FA charter flight from Cardiff because it clashed with a long-arranged book signing in London to mark the publication of his autobiography.

"I felt they could have done more to get him there," said Glenda, who made alternative travel arrangements. "After all, he is the honorary secretary of the Welsh FA and he's unlikely to make another trip like this. It's 20 months since his last course of chemotherapy and he's going into hospital again to see what's happening. He's lost weight dramatically in the last few months."

Charles has fought his illness with typical stoicism. The son of a miner from Swansea, you sense that it's not in his nature to make a fuss about anything. He played for Leeds, Juventus, Roma, Cardiff and Wales between 1949-66 and Sir Bobby Charlton reckons that, had he played today, he would be a multimillionaire valued at around [pounds sterling]70million. Many observers rank him not far behind the likes of Pele, Maradona and George Best and the Italians recently voted him the best foreigner ever to play in Serie A.

"I enjoyed doing what I did when I did it," said Charles. "I enjoy watching the modern game and there's a lot of money to be made, but I think there was more enjoyment when I played.

"It's a much faster game today. I don't know if I could have coped with it.

I suppose I could, but they look much fitter now. …

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