Swans and Dragons: Robbie James
In a new website feature, we look back at former Swansea City players who have also turned out for Wales at full international level.
Such was Robbie James’ ability as a young player that he was handed his Swansea City debut when aged just 16.
His Swans bow came in a 2-1 Division Three victory over Charlton Athletic at Vetch Field on the final day of the 1972-73 season.
It was the first of no fewer than 593 appearances the Gorseinon-born star would make for the club in all competitions through until 1990.
He currently stands fourth on Swansea’s all-time league appearances list, behind Wilf Milne, Roger Freestone and Herbie Williams.
James quickly established himself as a first-team regular with the Swans, playing 29 league matches and scoring twice in his first full campaign as a professional, 1973-74.
The Swans plied their trade in Division Four that season having suffered relegation the previous campaign.
James’ impressive form brought him to the attention of Arsenal and he was loaned to the Gunners in November 1974.
However, a day after leaving South Wales, the versatile midfielder was back having suffered with homesickness.
James featured in 42 of Swansea’s 46 league matches during the 1974-75 season, scoring eight goals in the process.
One of his most memorable strikes for the club came on New Year’s Day 1974 as he hit a 30-yard piledriver in a 4-2 victory over Rotherham United at the Vetch.
His goalscoring exploits in a Swans shirt continued as he netted eight times in 42 league matches in 1974-75. There were eight strikes in 45 Division Four games in 1975-76 and 14 in 46 in 1976-77.
James was key to the Swans achieving back-to-back promotions in the late 1970s.
He got 16 goals in 42 as the club went from the Fourth Division to the Third in the 1977-78 campaign.
Then there were 14 goals in 43 league games in 1978-79 as the Swans were promoted to the second tier.
It was during the Swans’ rise up the Football League that James was finally handed his senior debut for Wales, as he started in the Dragons’ 7-0 victory over Malta at the Racecourse Ground in October 1978.
He then starred alongside fellow Swans Alan Curtis and John Toshack as Wales beat Scotland 3-0 at Ninian Park in May 1979. Toshack scored a hat-trick.
The first of James’ seven goals in 47 appearances for Wales came in a 1-1 draw away to Northern Ireland in May 1979.
In 1981, the Swans achieved their first promotion to the top flight of the Football League, with James scoring eight times in 35 Division Two matches as Toshack’s side finished third in the table.
The First Division was very much to James’ liking and his brace in a win against Aston Villa in December 1981 put the Swans top of the table at Christmas.
He netted 14 times in 42 league games in 1981-82 as the Swans ultimately finished sixth.
Sadly, relegation in 1982-83 and a difficult financial position off the pitch saw him depart come the end of that campaign.
James moved to Stoke City, then Queens Park Rangers, before signing for Leicester City in 1987.
He never managed to score for the Foxes in his 28 appearances – 23 of which were in the league (Division Two) – and returned to Swansea midway through the 1987-88 campaign.
He helped the Swans achieve promotion to the Third Division via the play-offs during that season and managed 17 goals in 108 appearances overall in his second spell at the Vetch.
James remained a regular in the Welsh national squad throughout the 1980s, scoring in draws with Iceland and Spain during the 1981-82 season, while he also netted in an incredible 4-4 draw away in Yugoslavia in 1982.
Further goals came against Romania and Yugoslavia in 1983 while his final international strike came in a 2-1 away defeat to Scotland in 1984.
Fittingly, James’ last appearance for Wales came in Swansea in March 1988, in a 2-1 defeat to Yugoslavia.
In 1990, James left the Swans for Bradford City, and he later turned out for the likes of Cardiff City, Merthyr Tydfil, Barry Town and Weston-Super-Mare.
He joined Llanelli as player-manager in 1996 where tragically, on February 18, 1998, he collapsed and died during a match against Porthcawl. He was just 40 at the time.
James is remembered here at the Liberty Stadium, with the Robbie James Wall of Fame – featuring a bust of one of the Swans’ greatest ever players – located outside the ticket office.