Leighton James' name has become synonymous with Burnley Football Club, not just because of the sheer number of appearances he made for the team, but for the tenacity, skill, and dedication he exhibited on the pitch. Often referred to as the "Welsh Wizard," James' tale is one of undying loyalty and a flair for football that set him apart from his contemporaries.
Launching his professional career with Burnley on his 17th birthday, James quickly made his mark, making his league debut in a victory against Nottingham Forest in November 1970. But his influence wasn't just limited to the club. Internationally, he became an integral part of the Welsh team, earning 54 caps and netting 10 goals.
James was a part of Burnley's illustrious journey to clinching the Second Division title in 1972/73, and he played a pivotal role in ensuring that Burnley held their own in the top flight in the subsequent seasons. His prowess attracted attention, and in 1975 he was sold to Derby County for what was then a club record fee. Stints with QPR and a return to Burnley followed, as did an invaluable contribution to Burnley's Anglo-Scottish Cup victory.
James' wanderlust saw him move across a number of clubs, with significant time spent aiding Swansea City's ascent from the third to the first division under John Toshack's management. His third spell with Burnley was particularly poignant, as he became the beacon of hope during a tumultuous time. Top-scoring in a season when Burnley languished at the very bottom of the Football League, James exhibited his dedication by playing out of his traditional position to cover for injuries. He even had a role in the memorable Sherpa Van Cup Final team.
Post his playing career, James dabbled in management, taking the reins at clubs such as Gainsborough Trinity, Morecambe, and Llanelli. However, his transition from the field to the sidelines wasn't always smooth, with the highs of leading Garden Village to a championship offset by challenges at other clubs.
James' charisma isn't just limited to football. His win as the Rookie Lollipop Man of the Year in 2007 showcased a different side of the legendary footballer. Today, while his playing days may be behind him, he remains a prominent figure in Welsh football circles, sharing insights as a TV and Radio pundit on RealFM Radio Wales. Leighton James' story isn't just about football, but about passion, commitment, and an undying love for Burnley and the beautiful game.