Former Sunderland superstar goalkeeper to be commemorated in his home town

The plaque with the image of Leigh Roose on, which marks the historic Wales v Ireland game in 1906.
The plaque with the image of Leigh Roose on, which marks the historic Wales v Ireland game in 1906.
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The story of a Sunderland legend who became the world’s first superstar footballer with a unique place in international football is to be commemorated in his home town.

Welsh goalkeeper Leigh Roose played more than 90 times for the Black Cats between 1908 and 1910, helping them finish runners-up in the Football League twice and avoid relegation in a third season before a broken wrist ended his career at the club.

Former Sunderland goalkeeper Leigh Roose.

Former Sunderland goalkeeper Leigh Roose.

That stay also included a famous day at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park in December, 1908, when Roose was in the Sunderland side that trounced Newcastle 9-1, a record win over the old rivals.

The Wrexham-born star’s career also took him to Stoke, Everton, Arsenal, Port Vale and Huddersfield, and he won 24 caps for Wales, inspiring a project by pupils of two schools in Wrexham organised by the town’s Eagles Meadow shopping centre to show support for the Wales football team as they prepare for the Euro 2016 championships.

Now professional artists will be working with the youngsters at two schools in Wales to create a giant Euros-themed collage, which will go on show in a shopping centre.

The aim is to back the Welsh team and the collage will also commemorate an historic match at Wrexham’s Racecourse ground 110 years ago which featured Roose, the prototype for today’s celebrity footballers.

Roose, who was from Holt, near Wrexham, played for Wales against Ireland on April 2, 1906, when the game was the subject of the first surviving film of an international match.

The silent black and white film, which lasts for two minutes 10 seconds, is now lodged for safe keeping with the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, in Aberystwyth.

It was, by all accounts, an eventful match during which the ball burst just before half-time.

A newspaper report at the time revealed “the weather delightfully fine and the ground in perfect order”.

The game, which ended in a 4-4 draw, was watched by a crowd of between 5,000 and 6,000 fans.

Roose won a total of 24 caps for his country and was one of the great characters of the game in the Edwardian era.

When his career came to an end, Sunderland had wanted to lay on a testimonial match for him, but they were not allowed because he was an amateur.

Instead, he was presented with a magnificent illuminated address on behalf of all the people of Sunderland saying how much they appreciated his contribution.

Before his move to Sunderland, Roose was involved in an unsavoury incident after a game at Roker Park where his Stoke City side lost 1-0.

At a post-match meal, a Sunderland supporter shouted insults at Roose and other Stoke players. Rising from his chair, he went over to the man and punched him in the face.

As a result of this incident Roose was banned from playing by the Football Association for 14 days.

Although an amateur, Roose was paid expenses, and when the Football League asked for a copy of claim he had submitted to Sunderland, Roose made a joke of the situation by including ‘Pistol to ward off opposition – 4d. Coat and gloves to keep warm when not occupied – 3d. Using the toilet (twice) – 2d’.

Sunderland insisted that they only paid Roose his travel expenses. Unable to prove otherwise, the Football Association dropped its case against the club.

It is 100 years since Roose was killed in the brutal trenches of the First World War. A decade earlier his star was still in the ascendant, with his dashing good looks and mischievous charm making him a big favourite with the ladies in Edwardian London.

In 1905, when the Daily Mail published a world XI to play another planet at football, Roose was not only the undisputed choice for the goalkeeper’s jersey but was also described as London’s most eligible bachelor.

He lived an extremely glamorous life, keeping an apartment in the centre of London and buying his suits from Savile Row, while also in 1905 he was in the Mail’s top 10 list of the most recognisable faces, and among his many female admirers was the music hall superstar Marie Lloyd.

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.

Roose’s star was still in the ascendant when he played in a historic match between Wales and Ireland at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham 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 commemorate the match was unveiled at the Racecourse in 2006 by the then Wales team manager and Liverpool legend John Toshack.

Top sportswriter Spencer Vignes has written Roose’s biography, Lost in France.

He said: “Leigh was the most famous footballer of his generation. He 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 ,and off the back of that he devised his own way of playing the game, which was a cross between rugby and football.

“He would talk to the crowd and he was a fantastic gymnast so he would often perform acrobatics on the cross bar when the ball was at the other end.”

“You can’t believe half the things that he got up to.

“He was popular with his team mates and very popular with the ladies – he was like a Boys’ Own character.”

Eagles Meadow shopping centre manager Kevin Critchley said: “Wrexham is the birthplace of football in Wales. The Welsh FA was set up here.

“It has always been and always will be a football-mad town and it is right and proper we remember the important part Wrexham has played in the history of world football, along with the story of the remarkable Leigh Roose.

“The high point for the Welsh team was reaching the World Cup finals in 1958 when another legend, John Charles, was the star – but the national team has under-performed since those heady days.

“Wales has now finally reached the finals of another international story when we’ll all be backing Chris Coleman’s boys to bring us glory.

“I am sure the whole town will be getting behind the Welsh team and this art project is our way at Eagles Meadow of showing support with the help of the artistic pupils at St Giles’ and Alexandra schools.

“The design will come together during workshops in the schools over two days using vinyl collage.

“The designs will be bold and simple so that they can be readable from a distance and I am sure the end product will be a work of art that the children will be proud of and it will go on display at Eagles Meadow for the duration of the Euros.

“The free flag-making workshop for children on June 2 promises to be a lot of fun. With all the materials they need at hand, children can craft their own Welsh flag to support their team during the Euros.

“Meanwhile, the collage will feature an inscription about the Racecourse hosting the match which was the subject of the first surviving film of an international match and will commemorate Roose, 100 years on from his death in the brutal trenches of the First World War.”