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Remembering Leigh Richmond Roose

This Friday marks one hundred years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The largest battle of the First World War, one of the bloodiest in history, the Battle of the Somme raged from July to November of 1916. More than a million men were killed or wounded during that time, forced through the meat grinder of warfare on a previously unprecedented, industrial scale. One of those men, killed somewhere in the churned mud of northern France, was former Sunderland player Leigh Richmond Roose.

Leigh Richmond Roose was an established player by the time he arrived in Sunderland in 1908, a Welsh international who had played one hundred and forty seven league games for Stoke over two spells, with twenty four games for Everton sandwiched in between.

He played ninety eight times for Sunderland during three years at Roker Park, helping the team to finish second in the league twice before narrowingly avoiding relegation during his third season.

Regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the country at the time, Roose’s physical stature and fearless attitude earned him plaudits from fans. Where other goalkeepers remained largely static, Roose was known for rushing from his area to involve himself in the play, often coming up field to occupy the position vacated by his full back. This unorthodox approach was typified on his first international appearance for Wales when he shoulder charged an advancing Irish winger, knocking him unconscious in the process.

Roose also holds the honour of being directly responsible for a change in the laws of the game. So adept was he at handling and throwing the ball, and so eager to participate in attacks, that he would regularly venture as far forward as the halfway line, taking advantage of the rule which allowed goalkeepers to handle the ball anywhere in their own half. From there, Roose would launch the ball into the opposition’s penalty area with such accuracy that in 1912 the rules of the game were changed to restrict goalkeepers handling the ball to their own penalty areas.

As well as being a remarkable goalkeeper, Roose was also a maverick, the kind of eccentric fans have always adored. An amateur throughout his career, Roose lived a playboy lifestyle, regularly submitting extravagant claims for his services. Following his move to Sunderland the Football Association, suspecting that he was being paid beyond the expenses his amateur status allowed, demanded that he submit a list of his expenses for the 1907-08 season. The list, including items such as "Pistol to ward off opposition - 4d" and "Using the toilet twice - 2d", can hardly have been what they expected, but it provides a fascinating insight into a man who would spend large proportions of games performing gymnastic exhibitions on his crossbar or telling jokes to the supporters in the stand behind him.

Goalkeeper during Sunderland’s famous 9-1 away victory at St James’ Park, Roose was also a playboy, scandalising society in 1909 by taking up with music hall star Marie Lloyd, who was at the time married to singer Alec Hurley. His time at Sunderland ended by a broken wrist, Roose moved on to play for clubs including Celtic, Huddersfield, Aston Villa and Woolwich Arsenal, before retiring from football in 1912.

The outbreak of war in 1914 saw Roose join the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in France and at Gallipoli. In 1916, despite being well above the average age, he enlisted in the 9th Royal Fusiliers and was sent back to France, winning the Military Medal for bravery. The attributes which had made him such an effective footballer were also put to good use, as he developed a reputation for his ability to throw grenades incredibly accurately and over an extremely long distance. Promoted to Lance Corporal in September, he was killed on October 7, 1916 during an attack on German trenches at Gueudecourt.

The last recorded person to see Roose alive was former amateur international Gordon Hoare, who saw him running across No Man’s Land at full speed towards the enemy. Roose’s body was never recovered, and his name now resides as one of the 72,195 missing servicemen on the Thiepval Memorial.

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