The next player we look at in this series is ex Burnley, Swansea City and a number of other clubs and Welsh international, Leighton James.
Leighton James was born on the 16th February 1953 in Loughor, Swansea. The flame-haired wide player made his debut for Burnley in 1970 against Nottingham Forest when aged just seventeen. When James joined on schoolboy forms in 1968 for Burnley he was already a Welsh schoolboy international, but too many this slightly built player who off the field wore spectacles did not look like the star he would become.
He became a regular in the Burnley side in 1972, helping the team win the Second Division, following year an FA Cup Semi-Final and almost getting the club into Europe just missing out by one point with their league position of sixth place.Embed from Getty Images
In 1971 he made his international debut against Czechoslovakia, the player became a regular for Wales and his wide attacking play became a highlight. Predominantly left-footed but very capable with his right foot, James turned many a top international full-back in knots never knowing what trick was coming next. James was quick and his delivery from the flanks was outstanding in setting up many goals. James played a huge part in the successful 1976 European Championships for his country which showed him to be the real star he was.
James also scored many great goals also during his long career, picking the ball up in central positions driving forward before smashing an unstoppable shot on goal, leaving goalkeepers with no chance. In terms of his playing style if I was to compare him to a player in later years then it would be Chris Waddle. The similar statue, similar gait and the ability to take on an opposing player with either foot and both had plenty of tricks to beat a player.
After five seasons with Burnley, the Welsh winger joined reigning League Champions Derby County for a then club-record fee of £310,000. The player spent two years with “The Rams” again, getting to an FA Cup Semi-Final, however, when Tommy Docherty took over from Dave Mackay as manager, James days were numbered and months later left Derby transferring to Queens Park Rangers for £180,000. The player only stayed a year before a move back to where it all began at Turf Moor where he graced the claret and blue shirt for another two years.
In 1980 the player moved back to his home city of Swansea where he starred during “The Toshack Revolution” with promotions all the way through to the top division in England and Wales, The First Division. With Alan Curtis another Welsh star on the right-wing and James on the left, Swansea was a handful for all sides in the top flight and with a striker with the aerial presence of Bob Latchford feasting on their deliveries, Swansea was capable of always getting amongst the goals.
In 1983 James moved to the north east joining Sunderland where he played for one year, there followed a routine of short stays at Bury and Newport County before a third spell at his beloved Burnley where he played between 1986 and 1989.
His international career spanned twelve years from 1971 to 1983, there were many highlights in his 54 times capped career, including some great performances against the old enemy England including a dazzling performance against them in 1980 at Wrexham in a 4-1 victory and the winning goal in 1977 in the Home Championship at Wembley Stadium. James scored ten goals for his country in total, his international career ended in 1983 against, funnily enough, England.Embed from Getty Images
James as a player gave an appearance of being arrogant, and often upset people with his abrupt nature, this also has carried over in his career as a pundit and journalist, with some of his comments getting himself at times, in hot water. What this should never diminish though is his ability as a football player. In the mid to late seventies, Leighton James was one of the best players in the country from an attacking perspective. Top clubs wanted in with evidence of this being the reigning Champions Derby County breaking the club record to acquire his services. He was that good, a fantastic footballer.