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Swans and Dragons: Mel Charles

Shortly after John Charles signed a professional contract with Leeds United in 1948, brother Mel – aged just 14 at the time – joined him to Elland Road as a member of the club’s ground staff.

But while John went on to have a long and successful career with the Yorkshire giants, scoring 157 goals in 297 league appearances during his first spell, Mel soon returned to his native Swansea after failing to settle in Yorkshire.

Leeds’ loss was the Swans’ gain.

The versatile player signed for his hometown club in 1952.

His debut came in a 7-1 defeat to Sheffield United in December 1952 – the first of 245 league appearances he made in SA1, where he scored 68 goals.

Charles made his senior debut for Wales in a 3-2 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in April 1955, a game in which his brother John scored a hat-trick.

The first of his six international goals came in a 2-1 defeat to East Germany in a World Cup qualifier in May 1957.

He featured in all four of the Dragons’ games during that qualifying campaign.

Two wins and two defeats saw Jimmy Murphy’s Wales finish second in Group 4 and miss out on automatic World Cup qualification.

However, they were handed a second chance to make it to Sweden when selected to play Israel in a two-legged play-off.

Charles started both games as Wales won 2-0 in Tel Aviv, before triumphing by the same scoreline in Cardiff a few weeks later.

Charles featured in all five of the Dragons’ matches at the World Cup finals as Murphy’s men progressed to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten 1-0 by eventual champions Brazil in Gothenburg.

During his time with the Swans, Charles netted hat-tricks against Stoke City, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, whilst also scoring four goals against Blackburn Rovers on the opening day of the 1956-57 season.

His performances for club and county drew the attention of top-flight teams such as Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and, in March 1959, he was sold to Arsenal for £42,750 – the second-highest transfer fee paid by an English club at the time.

David Dodson and Peter Davies moved from Highbury to Vetch Field as part of the deal.

Charles’ parting gift to the Swans faithful was to score the winning goal against Cardiff City, as the Vetch Field club recorded their first ever victory at Ninian Park.

Charles’ time with Arsenal was blighted by injuries, but he still managed to score 28 goals in 64 games between 1959 and 1962.

Six of his 31 appearances for Wales came during his time with the North London club, as did one of his goals, as he found the net in a commanding 5-1 success over Northern Ireland in the British Home Championship in April 1961.

In February 1962, Charles returned to South Wales to sign for Cardiff City, where he scored 25 goals in 79 league matches.

Two months later, he netted four times for Wales in a 5-1 victory over Northern Ireland at Ninian Park, before representing the Dragons in two friendlies against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in May.

The last of his international appearances came in a 1-1 draw with Hungary in Cardiff the following March.

During the 1963-64 season, Charles played with his brother John at club level for the first time at Cardiff. The pair won the Welsh Cup during that campaign as the Bluebirds saw off Bangor City in the final.

He later turned out for Porthmadog, Port Vale, Oswestry Town and Haverfordwest before retiring from playing in 1972.

Charles’ son Jeremy followed in his father’s footsteps by representing both the Swans and Wales during his career.

In August 1981, Jeremy scored the Swans’ first ever goal in the top flight as they recorded an emphatic 5-1 victory over Leeds United at Vetch Field.

Meanwhile, Mel held a variety of jobs after retiring from playing, including working as a door-to-door salesman and butcher.

In 2009, he released his autobiography entitled In the Shadow of a Giant, which included a foreword from John Toshack.

One of Swansea’s great footballers, Charles died on September 24, 2016, aged 81.

Article tags:

Swans and Dragons

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