Leigh Richmond Roose

Leigh Richmond Roose was born on 27 November 1877 in Holt near Wrexham. A goalkeeper, and a celebrated amateur at a time when the game was largely professional, Leigh Roose was regarded as one of the best players in his position during the Edwardian era.

Raised by his clergyman father after his mother’s untimely death, Leigh Roose left school in 1895 and attended Aberystwyth University. He also studied medicine at King’s College London, but did not qualify as a doctor.

A big man at over six feet tall and thirteen stone, Leigh Roose began his footballing career in 1895 with Aberystwyth Town. He earned great praise during this phase of his career. Indeed, the eminent Welsh historian Thomas Richards referred to him as Yr Ercwlff synfawr hwn – ‘This wondrous Hercules’.

From Aberystwyth Town, Leigh Roose went on to play for Stoke, two spells, Everton, Sunderland plus several guest appearances for other clubs, including Celtic, Aston Villa and Woolwich Arsenal. Leigh Roose retained his amateur status throughout his club career. However, he did cash-in on expenses.

On the international stage, Leigh Roose played for Wales, in 1900, in a 2 – 0 victory over Ireland. He won 24 caps in total, in an international career that spanned eleven years. The highlight of his career arrived in 1907 when Wales won the British Home Championship for the first time. Because Wales did not play their first international match against an overseas opponent until 1933 all of Leigh Roose’s games were played against England, Scotland or Ireland.

Leigh Roose used his physical presence to intimidate his opponents. He was powerful, recklessly brave and the possessor of amazing reflexes earning a reputation as a shot-stopper and penalty saver.

Leigh Roose was an eccentric and anecdotes about his behaviour appeared frequently in contemporary newspapers. One anecdote stated that in March 1909 he travelled with Wales to play against Ireland in a British Home Championship match. At Liverpool station he appeared with one hand heavily bandaged and informed the waiting press that he had broken two fingers, but would still play.

News of Leigh Roose’s disability reached the Irish fans and they turned out in huge numbers in anticipation of witnessing an Irish victory. Instead Wales won the game 3–2 with Leigh Roose playing superbly. Leigh Roose’s injury had been a ruse, his broken fingers a practical joke.

Injury, in the form of two broken wrists, did curtail Leigh Roose’s career. Nevertheless, he remained a celebrity, the ‘David Beckham of his day’. When a newspaper invited its readers to select a World XI to face another planet, they chose Leigh Roose as the World XI’s goalkeeper by a large margin.

Leigh Roose led a glamorous life. He wore Saville Row suits and owned an apartment in central London. He was popular with the ladies including, it is said, with musical hall star Marie Lloyd.

Although well above the age of recruitment, Leigh Roose joined the British Army at the outbreak of the First World War. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and Gallipoli. Later he returned to London and enlisted as a private in the Royal Fusiliers. He served on the Western Front and transferred his fearless attitude on the football field to the battlefield winning the Military Medal for bravery. 

His citation read: “Private Leigh Roose, who had never visited the trenches before, was in the sap when the flamethrower attack began. He managed to get back along the trench and, though nearly choked with fumes with his clothes burnt, refused to go to the dressing station. He continued to throw bombs until his arm gave out, and then, joining the covering party, used his rifle with great effect.”

Promoted to the rank of lance corporal, Leigh Roose fought in the Battle of the Somme. Tragically, he was killed towards the end of the battle, on 7 October 1916, aged 38. His body was not recovered, so his name appears on the war memorial to missing soldiers at Thiepval.