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Goalkeeper Leigh was the George Best of his day

Published date: 06 May 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
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AN EXHIBITION is to feature the extraordinary story of the world’s first playboy footballer, who was killed in the First World War.

Goalkeeper Leigh Roose, the son of a Presbyterian minister from Holt, was an early superstar of the beautiful game.

He has been described as a prince among footballers and will be remembered at a temporary museum that’s being created at the Eagles Meadow shopping centre as part of Wrexham Football Club's 150th anniversary celebrations.

Roose’s star was still on the rise when he played in a historic match between Wales and Ireland at the Racecourse ground on April 2, 1906.

It was captured for posterity by the film pioneers Mitchell and Kenyon, in the first surviving film of an international football game.

A plaque to honour the film was unveiled at the Racecourse on the centenary of the big occasion in 2006 by the then Wales football team manager John Toshack.
Wrexham FC was established in 1864.

Organisers say the anniversary celebrations are particularly appropriate with the World Club looming as the Racecourse is also the world’s oldest international football ground still in use.

The first international match was held there in 1877 when Scotland played Wales.

Roose was one of the most remarkable characters to ever play at the Racecourse.

An appeal has now been launched asking for memorabilia that can be displayed in the museum when it opens between May 29 and 31.

According to Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley, they are looking for all manner of interesting artefacts including photographs, posters, football shirts, balls, cups, medals, sashes, and certificates that may be out there.

The idea has also been given the seal of approval by the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust.

Roose’s dashing good looks and mischievous charm made him a big favourite with the ladies back in Edwardian London.

In 1905, when the Daily Mail published a world XI to play another planet at football, he was the undisputed choice for the goalkeeper’s jersey.

The paper also described him as London’s most eligible bachelor, second only to the legendary Surrey and England cricketer Jack Hobbs.

That same year he was in the top 10 list of the most recognisable faces.

One of his best friends was another all-time Welsh footballing great, Billy Meredith.

The wing wizard, who came from Chirk, described Roose as “the prince of goalkeepers”.

But his life was tragically cut short when he died in the trenches on the Somme during the First World War.

Top sportswriter Spencer Vignes, from Yorkshire, has published Roose’s biography, Lost in France.

He said: “Leigh was the most famous footballer of his generation but his legacy seems to have died a death.

“He was part of a generation that was wiped out by the First World War.

“Leigh was the prototype for the modern-day goalkeeper. Up until he came along, goalkeepers were seen as more or less cannon fodder by opposition forwards.

“There was a technique called rushing goalkeepers where one guy would run at the goalkeeper and knock him down flat and another guy would put the ball into the empty net.

“He was the first guy to fight fire with fire by giving as good as he got. He devised his own way of playing the game which was a cross between rugby and football.

“The rules in those days allowed goalkeepers to walk or run with the ball to the halfway line before releasing it. Leigh had such a tremendous kick and long throw that he could easily put the ball in the opposition’s penalty area.

“The Football Association got so fed up with him that they changed the laws of the game which meant goalkeepers could only carry the ball in their own penalty area.

“He was an amateur footballer at a time when the game was going professional. The FA were constantly trying to investigate his expenses claims – which were huge.

“All he was supposed to get was travelling expenses for the day plus some other bits and pieces.

“Leigh was so good at what he did and he was so famous in Edwardian Britain that clubs recouped what they paid him with the money they made on the gate.

“It was worth it for the coverage they got because he would attract thousands more people who wanted to see him in action because he was a real showman.

“He would talk to the crowd and he was a fantastic gymnast. He’d often perform acrobatics on the crossbar when the ball was at the other end.

“The expenses weren’t just train fares. They paid the rent for his apartment in London and they paid for the finest suits from Savile Row.

“You can’t believe half the things that he got up to. He was like a Boys’ Own character – he was popular with his team mates and very popular with the ladies.

“He was a genuine eccentric.”

One of his clubs, Sunderland, had wanted to lay on a testimonial match for Roose but they weren’t allowed to do that because he was an amateur.

Instead, he was presented with a magnificent illustrated manuscript from the people of Sunderland saying how much the appreciated him.

Speaking in 2006, his late nephew Dr Cecil Jenkins from Shrewsbury had vivid memories of his uncle who won a total of 24 Welsh caps.

Roose’s glamorous life was, he said, in complete contrast to his upbringing as the son of a Presbyterian minister in Holt.

Dr Jenkins said: “I remember him taking my mother and me just before the First World War to lunch at Scott’s restaurant in Piccadilly.

“He was a real man about town. I was only about five or six and it was very exciting for a young boy like me.

“He was a medical student but he never qualified and he apparently led a very glamorous life.

“He was playing for Stoke at that time. He was working at a hospital in London and one match day he missed the train so he hired a special train, an engine and carriage, and handed the bill to the club.”

Eagles Meadow Manager Kevin Critchley said: “Leigh Roose was a footballing legend and it is fitting that he played in the historic match that is commemorated at the Racecourse.

“I feel sure the museum at Eagles Meadow will be a marvellous tribute to the history of this wonderful football club and the important historic occasions witnessed there.”

Fans with memorabilia they would like to share should ring 07970 318081 or email wrexhamfootball@ bakehousefactory.co.uk.

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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