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Ex-Wales, Burnley and Swansea winger James dies aged 71



England goalkeeper Peter Shilton committed this foul that gave Leighton James the chance to score the penalty that gave Wales a 1-0 win against England at Wembley Stadium in May, 1977

Leighton James, the former Wales winger who played more than 600 games in the Football League, has died at the age of 71.

Capped 54 times by Wales, James played 399 games for Burnley in three spells and spent two years at Derby County.

James also represented Swansea City, Sunderland, Bury and Newport County in a 19-year playing career before turning to management with several clubs.

Burnley and Swansea said they were “saddened” at James’ passing.

Clarets chairman Alan Pace said: “We are sorry to hear the news of Leighton’s passing.

“He left an indelible mark on this football club and stories of his playing skills still echo around Turf Moor.

“Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Swansea said James was “widely-regarded as one of the Swans’ finest players”.

The Welsh club added James “was a key figure in the side that secured a first-ever promotion to the top-flight in 1981, scoring a stunning goal in the victory over Preston North End at Deepdale to complete the club’s rise.

“He went on to star the following campaign as John Toshack’s side took the fight to the elite of English football, eventually finishing sixth in the First Division.”

Following the end of his playing career, James continued to be involved in football as a media pundit and was renowned for offering robust opinions.

James was born on 16 February, 1953 in Loughor in Swansea and began his professional career with Burnley, making his league debut in November 1970 against Nottingham Forest.

After five years, 180 appearances for the Clarets and 45 goals, First Division champions Derby County paid a club record fee of £300,000 to take James to the Baseball Ground.

James moved on to Queens Park Rangers before returning to Burnley, but he was forced to seek fresh pastures again when the Clarets were relegated to the third division.

A move home appealed and James joined his local club Swansea City, helping them from the third division to the first in a period where James played some of his best football as part of the meteoric rise under manager John Toshack.

Swansea swept from the bottom division to the top division in barely three years and enjoyed landmark wins over Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

James ended his club career with spells at Sunderland, Bury and Newport County before returning in 1986 to Burnley for a third spell, finally retiring in 1989.

Before Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale, James was the left winger who would get club and international fans pulses racing.

Less than a year after making his Burnley bow and still a teenager, his first senior cap for Wales came in their 1-0 defeat away to Czechoslovakia.

James never played in a major tournament for Wales, but he did play his part in some famous victories.

His penalty secured a famous win over England at Wembley in the British Home Championships, but arguably his best international display came when he scored and generally dazzled in Wales’ 4-1 victory over England at Wrexham in 1980.

James scored 10 times for Wales, making his last appearance in 1983.

After his playing career James went on to manage a number of non-league clubs in England and Wales, the most high-profile being Accrington Stanley in 1997-1998.

In Wales he has managed Llanelli, Aberaman and Haverfordwest County.

James also became well known in Wales after his playing days for some of his forthright views expressed as a radio pundit and newspaper columnist.

That was best illustrated in 2006 when James had an explosive on-air argument with Robbie Savage over Savage’s decision to retire from international football.

James also worked as a lollipop man at Penyrheol Primary School in Swansea, but suffered a stroke in 2014.

Swansea’s players will wear black armbands as they pay respects to James at Huddersfield on Saturday, 20 April, as will their under-21s as they host Bristol City on the same day.

Likewise Burnley’s players will do so in the Premier League at Sheffield United.

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