Leeds United’s ‘Gentle Giant’ Charles heads into bookstores

John Charles heads towards goal at Goodison Park in November 1953.
John Charles heads towards goal at Goodison Park in November 1953.
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HE is a much-missed footballing great revered in not one but two adopted home cities.

Born in Swansea, John Charles was a towering presence for Leeds United and Italian side Juventus during the 1950s.

And now a new novel is set to provide a fictionalised account of the aftermath of his transfer from Elland Road to Turin in 1957 for a British record fee of £65,000.

Penned by Leeds writer Robert Endeacott, The Gigante tells the story of Charles’s triumphant debut season in Italy – where he was nicknamed Il Gigante Buono, or the Gentle Giant.

It also follows his life away from the pitch with first wife Peggy as they tried to adapt to a different culture in an era when footballers seldom moved abroad.

Leeds fan Robert, 52, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Peggy lives in Garforth now and she has been a great help.

“She and John had three young sons by 1957 and being a stranger in a strange land was not easy but they both came through it with great success.

“I also spoke to [Charles’s former Juventus team-mate] Umberto Colombo and he gave me some stories that have only been touched on before.”

Beeston-based Robert’s previous novels include One Northern Soul and Dirty Leeds, which, like The Gigante, weave fiction together with real-life events from United’s past.

He also had a foray into music writing in 2014 with Peaches, a book about punk rock legends The Stranglers. “I absolutely loved writing The Gigante and it’s been described as my best work so far,” said Robert.

“I made two visits to Turin with the support of Arts Council England and basically tried to follow in John and Peggy’s footsteps when I was out there.

“Actors often say they want to get inside a character’s head when they are playing a part and it’s no different when you are a writer.”

Charles, who in his latter years lived in Cleckheaton, is regarded by many as the finest footballer in United’s history.

He was also named the best foreign player to appear in the black and white stripes of Juventus when the Turin club celebrated its centenary in 1997.

Equally adept at centre-forward and centre-half, the proud Welshman was awarded the CBE in 2001 following a YEP-backed campaign. He died in 2004 at the age of 72.

n The Gigante will be published next month by Ockley Books. For exclusive updates, e-mail gigante@ockleybooks.co.uk.