The Sunderland footballer who died a hero and lived an extravagant life

The books cover.
The books cover.
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There’s a proverbial relegation six-pointer going on between Sunderland and Stoke City tomorrow in the Premier League.

Aptly, a former hero of both clubs is also in the spotlight. We started our coverage of Leigh Roose last Friday on the 100th anniversary of his death at The Somme.

In goal in 1900-1901.

In goal in 1900-1901.

His story is told in the book Lost In France: The Remarkable Life and Death of Leigh Roose, Football’s First Superstar, by Spencer Vignes.

Today, we continue the tale.

Spencer Vignes first wrote about Leigh Roose in a newspaper article. That was around 17 years ago and it prompted dozens of replies.

More importantly, it led Spencer closer to the full story on a goalkeeper at clubs including Sunderland, Stoke City, Everton and Arsenal.

Leigh, front row third left, ready for an international match in 1906.

Leigh, front row third left, ready for an international match in 1906.

Before then, all that was known for sure was that Leigh had died somewhere during the First World War - possibly Gallipoli or The Somme.

Then came the newspaper article and many more vital people coming forward to fill in the blanks. Spencer described it as all the pieces of the jigsaw finally coming together and leading to his book which is published by Pitch Publishing priced £8.99.

Leigh’s tale is that of a middle-class university graduate in a working-class game, who became the best goalkeeper in the world – and is now regarded as a ‘Year Zero’ figure by many of his modern-day contemporaries.

The fiery temper and extravagant lifestyle which brought Leigh, an amateur player in an increasingly professional era, into regular conflict with the game’s lawmakers is also described.

Leigh in goalkeeping action.

Leigh in goalkeeping action.

And if you ever wondered why goalkeepers are only allowed to handle the ball inside their penalty areas. it’s because of Leigh, says Spencer.

Before then, goalkeepers could bounce the ball as far as the halfway line before releasing it.