By Tony Attwood
If you know about your Arsenal history you will know of Mel Charles, and of course his even more famous brother John.
What you may not know that after he got too old to play professional football he was ‘virtually penniless’. He was reduced to working as a door to door salesman, a scrap metal dealer (along with John), as a butcher and potato merchant. By and large these businesses failed, perhaps due in part to the fact that Mel was illiterate.
Melvyn Charles was born on 14 May 1935. Both brothers played centre half (the old number 5) and centre forward. Mel also played right half (right midfield).
Mel started out with Leeds United but couldn’t settle there and when given a chance to he returned to, and turned pro with, Swansea Town in 1952. Seven years later he moved to Arsenal for just under £43,000 plus two players in – March 1959.
It was a record transfer between two British clubs in his autobiography, and Mel Charles “wrote” in his ghosted autobiography that “signing for Arsenal was the most terrible choice I ever made,” which wasn’t very nice although other statements countered this.
This was after the close of the transfer deadline day at the time, for Mel did not play in the league team for the rest of the season, but did play against West Ham on this day in the Southern Floodlit Challenge Cup. His first league match was a 0-1 home defeat against Sheffield W on August 22 1959.
Mel stayed with Arsenal for three years but he was injured much of the time (ligament damage) and eventually went to Cardiff for £28,500 where he won the Welsh Cup, playing in the same team as his brother John. After that he played for Porthmadog (one of the first multi-millionaire plaything clubs), Port Vale (then managed by Stanley Matthews), Oswestry and Haverfordwest.
Although that is hardly a dramatic set of clubs he did captain Wales (playing 31 times for his province), and played in the 1958 World Cup finals. He was never booked.
Perhaps Mel Charles biggest problem was that he signed for Arsenal in the era that this site calls The Darkness – the Swindin/Wright era of not even a sniff of a trophy, not even a top four finish.
In total he played just 64 games in three seasons, scored 28 goals, and that was that.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
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