Swans and Dragons: Leighton James

10th April 2018

In a regular website feature, we look back at former Swansea City players who have also turned out for Wales at full international level.

Less than a year after Leighton James made his professional debut for Burnley, in 1970, the Loughor-born winger received his first senior cap for Wales in their 1-0 defeat away to Czechoslovakia.

James featured in four of Wales’ five matches during the 1971-72 season and also made several appearances for the Dragons’ under-23s that campaign.

His first senior international goal came in a 2-0 victory over Poland in March 1973 and, a couple of months later, he was part of the Burnley side that achieved promotion to the old First Division.

James played in all 42 of the Clarets’ league matches during the 1972-73 season, scoring 10 times as they secured the Second Division title.

In total, James made 335 league appearances and scored 67 goals for Burnley in three separate spells at Turf Moor between 1970 and 1975, then 1978 to 1980, and 1986 to 1989.

James featured in all six of Wales’ qualifying matches for the 1976 European Championship, as the Dragons topped Group 2 with 10 points after five victories.

He bagged a brace in a 3-1 away win in Luxembourg in May 1975 and, six months later, played a starring role in the 1-0 triumph over Austria at The Racecourse that sealed Wales’ place in the quarter-finals of the competition – then known as the play-offs.

However, the Welsh dream ended when they were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by Yugoslavia.

Although with only the semi-finals and final of that year’s competition played in the host country, Wales’ achievement of making it to the last eight is often overlooked.

During 1975, James moved to Derby County and later played for Queens Park Rangers before returning to Burnley in 1978.

During those years away from Turf Moor, he scored twice for Wales in their 3-0 victory over Czechoslovakia in a World Cup qualifier in March 1977, while his penalty secured a famous win over England at Wembley in the British Home Championships a few months later.

James also scored in Wales’ 4-1 victory over England at Wrexham in May 1980. Earlier that month, he had become a Swansea City player, and netted on his debut in a 2-1 win at Charlton Athletic on the final day of the 1979-80 season.

James then played a key role in helping the Swans achieve promotion to the top flight for the first time the following season, with 15 goals in 40 Second Division matches.

James shone for Swansea in the First Division, too, scoring nine times in 38 league games during the 1981-82 season, as John Toshack’s side finished a creditable sixth in the table.

After netting twice in 19 league appearances during the first half of the following campaign, he departed South Wales for Sunderland in January 1983.

In all, he scored 27 goals in 88 league appearances for the Swans between 1980 and 1983.

The following month saw James turn out for Wales for the last time in a 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley.

James was on the move again in 1984 as he signed for Bury after scoring four goals in 52 league appearances during his time at Sunderland.

He then spent the 1985-86 season with Newport County before enjoying that third spell at Burnley, which also saw him serve as the club’s youth-team manager.

After retiring from playing, James became a coach at Bradford City before embarking on a career in management.

He started out at non-league clubs such as Gainsborough Trinity, Morecambe, Netherfield, Ilkeston Town and Accrington Stanley, before moving back to Wales to become manager of Llanelli – a position he has held twice.

He also held the top job at Garden Village and Aberaman Athletic, while his most recent post was with Haverfordwest County in 2011.

Since hanging up his boots, James has also worked in the media, with the BBC and South Wales Evening Post, while he spent over a decade as a host on Real Radio’s popular sports phone-in show.