6 April 1959: First Arsenal game for Mel Charles, (in Southern Floodlight Challenge Cup)


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.

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4 Replies to “6 April 1959: First Arsenal game for Mel Charles, (in Southern Floodlight Challenge Cup)”

  1. Not only did Mel Charles say that signing for Arsenal was a mistake he said he should have joined Tottenham . Instead they signed somebody called Davenport Mackay.

  2. At the time I remember a lot of excitement about the signing of Mel Charles. I think supporters thought that they were getting an equivalent of his great brother John. Like his brother, Mel could play at centre helf or centre forward, mostly the latter in his games for Arsenal.

    Arsenal at the time was nothing special at all, while Tottenham were on the way to building their double side, so it’s no surprise if Charles felt retrospectively that he should have signed for them.

    Noting that he was never booked, the main criticsm of Mel Charles in his time at Highbury was that he didn’t put himself around enough for a man of his physique. Maybe injury was a partial reason for that, but in those days centre forwards were generally battering rams, and centre halfs similarly expected to deal with them.

  3. Sadly Mel Charles has passed away at the age of 81 it was announced today.

    I well remember the excitement when he was signed for a then record transfer between British clubs of £46,000 in 1959 and felt it was the final piece in the jigsaw to enable us to go better than third which we finished that season. Frustratingly, as you point out Tony, he was sold to us after the transfer deadline so was unable to play in the remaining league games.

    His autobiography is an interesting read of that era and the biggest disappointment was of course his injuries which hampered his career so. He had a great Wales record and although overshadowed by his brother John was still a very decent player.

    . RIP

  4. I just stumbled across this by chance. [My Uncle Frank was a great Arsenal fan in the late 1930s, and I inherited my enthusiasm for Arsenal from him.] Growing up I lived in south London, 3 stations south of Stanford Bridge; and followed the game quite keenly though very rarely attending matches. But: I am convinced that I saw Mel Charles’ first appearance for Arsenal, going with my fiend John, and that it was an evening game, under floodlights, against Glasgow Rangers. It was one of the very few games that I sw at Highbury.

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