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Leighton James : His own football revolution
Saturday, 20th Apr 2024 19:56 by Keith Haynes

With the passing of Leighton James yesterday we have a Saturday night treat for football fans, Swans fans and Wales followers the world over. Who can recall the magic boots imposing themselves on clubs throughout Wales and England ?

Leighton made his Wales debut at eighteen in 1971, it would signal twelve years of international recognition in the red of Wales. That debut was in then Czechoslovakia. He would go on to play fifty four games for Wales, scoring ten goals. His cult status at first Burnley in three spells and then at Swansea City he played his most rewarding football at these two clubs. He was born in Swansea but loved the Burnley area, he started his career there and the club forever had a place in his heart. Joining the Clarets in 1968 at fifteen, nobody then would know of the impact he would make on Burnley and the British game.

Burnley have him his chance in football, he earned international recognition whilst at the club and he would hold ties to the area for the rest of his life.

Derby County fans were overjoyed when the Rams signed him in 1975 in what was then a big fee of £300,000, there he scored fifteen goals in sixty eight games. His transfer to Queens Park Rangers in October 1977 saw Leighton in the capital for just one season. His desire to get back to Burnley massive, he rejoined his boyhood club in 1978. As a Derby player Leighton scored the only goal in Wales 1-0 victory in 1977 at Wembley from the penalty spot. That was Wales first victory at England’s national stadium. He found himself involved in many key Wales international games. Below we have a great interview with Leighton James.

In that interview it’s clear that Leighton displays a side to him very few people knew about outside of football. It is a fact he played some great football at every club he played for. Comments from all those clubs clog the news networks this weekend, and rightly so. Leighton joined Swansea City for £148,000 in 1980. There he would cement a relationship between him and the Swans fans that would last forever. Despite tormenting England in the home internationals (Leighton scored in the 4-1 drubbing in 1980) any game was a positive objective for Leighton (below)

He graced the home international championships where the whole country could admire his pace and trickery, his goals and guile against all comers. At the Swans he was involved at Preston North End in ‘that’ game which took him and his club in to the top flight. That day a curling shot after his usual wizardry out on the left wing was as sublime an effort than you will ever see. The many thousands of Swans fans behind the goal went berserk. The Swans are up, was the headline.

True to form Leighton just had to go back to Burnley, but this time via Sunderland, Bury and Newport County. Back at Burnley he would play another seventy eight games, he hadn’t lost it, but Burnley were in the doldrums, almost out of business.

Leighton was a football genius, and ranked as one of the most talented players in the top flight with the Swans. His foray into management saw his biggest success at Llanelli, under his guidance the club had their biggest attendances game for game in the clubs history. Management didn’t always go to plan, or was it Leighton James style and direct coaching methods didn’t suit the clubs he managed ? An insight in to Leighton James came when his media career took off in Wales. We have already reported his stripping down of an almost tearful Robbie Savage. You can enjoy that here. Home truths from a proper professional footballer to someone whose entitlement is there for all to hear.

Click ⚽️ Indy reaction to the death of Leighton James

Leighton James had such an illustrious career, the game changer for every situation. His hatrick against Derby County when at the Swans stands out for me. There’s so much more that could be said. The football clubs of this Island still cherish his genius and flamboyant wing play. On the left but with a smashing right foot. I had the pleasure of knowing Leighton James when working on one of my early books, he kindly forwarded it without hesitation. We celebrated at the Village Hotel in Cardiff, proud Swansea fans. From there a relationship grew that never really stopped. He was a true Swansea Jack and his introduction in to the Robbie James hall of fame is fitting. Black arm bands all round today for the Swans but I can hear Leighton now. He would be forthright and straight to the point. ‘Pah, I’m a football crackpot, and always will be, I can’t get enough of it’

And I’ll be honest, anyone who saw this man in the flesh with the ball at his feet, increasing revs as he tore down the wing in front of the North Bank were in the presence of genius. Walk tall mate, you will forever be remembered as a Welsh football great.

Leighton James 1953 - 2024.

⚽️ Former clubs -
Burnley (1968-1975, 1978-1980, 1986-1989), Derby County (1975-1977), QPR (1977-1978), Swansea City (1980-1983), Sunderland (1983-1984), Bury (1984-1985), Newport County (1985-1986)

All photographs licensed via Reuters

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Thrasher6 added 20:38 - Apr 20
Fantastic kow for me he was a West Walian at heart. Loved his roots...when his talent took him him to other knew he would gravitate back here. He was a great winger...we were two classic wingers.. Tommy Hutchinson and Leighton...(Tommy would rightly say who was the best..). He was very very good...

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