James Leighton MBE (born 24 July 1958) is a Scottish former football goalkeeper. He played for Aberdeen (two spells), Manchester United and Hibernian, among others. Leighton was part of the highly successful Aberdeen team of the 1980s, which won numerous domestic honours and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1983. Alex Ferguson, who had managed Leighton at Aberdeen, signed him for Manchester United in 1988. After he conceded three goals in the 1990 FA Cup Final, Leighton was dropped from the United team for the replay. After short stints with Arsenal, Reading, Dundee and Sheffield United, Leighton rebuilt his international career after he moved to Hibernian in 1993. He returned to Aberdeen in 1997 and retired from playing professional football in 2000, later working as a goalkeeping coach with the club.
|Full name||James Leighton|
|Date of birth||24 July 1958|
|Place of birth||Johnstone, Scotland|
|Height||6 ft 1.5 in (1.87 m)|
|Eastercraigs Boys Club|
|1977–1978||→ Deveronvale (loan)|
|1991||→ Arsenal (loan)||0||(0)|
|1991–1992||→ Reading (loan)||8||(0)|
|1993||→ Sheffield United (loan)||0||(0)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Leighton joined Aberdeen from Scottish Junior club Dalry Thistle in 1977, after working in the civil service on leaving school. Before breaking into the Aberdeen first team he was loaned out for one season to Highland League club Deveronvale. Leighton achieved his greatest success under the management of Alex Ferguson in the early to mid-1980s. Ferguson's Aberdeen side, with Leighton between the posts, won Premier Division titles in 1984 and 1985, the Scottish Cup four times, the Scottish League Cup once, and the European Cup Winners' Cup and Super Cup in 1983.
Leighton's reliability and terrific will to win gained respect from players and pundits everywhere. English keeper Peter Shilton said of him: "Scotland have solved their goalkeeper problem." Even the outspoken Brian Clough said: "Jim Leighton is a rare bird – a Scottish goalkeeper that can be relied on."
Ferguson had departed to Manchester United in 1986, and two years later he brought Leighton to England for £500,000. The first season at Old Trafford was successful, even though United finished 11th in the league, as he conceded just 35 league goals and kept 14 clean sheets, only conceding more than two goals on one occasion in all competitions. However, 1989–90 was a difficult season for player and club, as United finished 13th in the league, although they did reach the FA Cup final – their first major final in five years.
Leighton's erratic form in the league was particularly evident when United were defeated 5–1 by newly promoted neighbours Manchester City, as well as a number of errors in other games as the season went on, although he remained as United's regular goalkeeper. This culminated in him being dropped in favour of Les Sealey for the 1990 FA Cup Final replay against Crystal Palace. Leighton had conceded three goals in the first match as United drew 3–3, and Sealey made a series of saves as United won the replay 1–0. His disappointment was such that when handed the winner's medal by Sealey, he later returned it to his replacement's pocket, and when a medal specifically for Leighton was received by the club due to his appearance in the first match, he declined that too. The two players remained close friends, although Leighton's relationship with manager Ferguson deteriorated to the point where the two were no longer on speaking terms.
Sealey retained the position of first-choice goalkeeper for the 1990–91 season after signing a permanent contract, and although Leighton remained contracted to United for nearly two more years he played only one more game for the club (against Halifax Town in the Football League Cup on 26 September 1990). He was fourth choice keeper in 1990–91 behind Sealey, Gary Walsh and youngster Mark Bosnich, and was loaned to Arsenal between March and May 1991, a period in which they won the league title, although he did not play.
Although Sealey left Manchester United in June 1991, Leighton's chances of a first-team comeback were left looking unlikely that summer when the club signed Peter Schmeichel. He remained fourth choice keeper in the 1991–92 season, behind Schmeichel, Walsh and youngster Ian Wilkinson. He spent a portion of the season on loan with third-tier Reading, before returning to Scotland with Dundee in March 1992 for a £200,000 fee. After also falling out of a favour at Dens Park, he had another non-playing loan spell at Sheffield United.
Later years in ScotlandEdit
A move to Hibernian in summer 1993 led to a spell where he played over 150 games, missing only one league match in four seasons, and appeared in another League Cup Final (a loss to Rangers in 1993). The revival in his fortunes included a return to the Scottish national team; during his time with Hibs he collected 23 of his 91 Scotland caps. He credited much of this upturn in form to the management of Alex Miller.
Finally Leighton returned to Aberdeen where he featured regularly for another three seasons and reached the milestone of 500 appearances for the club in 1998, retiring after the 2000 Scottish Cup Final defeat against Rangers. This match marked a sad end to a distinguished career, as he was substituted due to serious injury (a broken jaw requiring the insertion of metal plates into his face) after just three minutes. With no substitute goalkeeper available, forward Robbie Winters took over in goal and Aberdeen lost 4–0. Leighton's final league appearance that season meant that he set the record for the oldest player in the Scottish Premier League at 41 years and 302 days, a record which was broken by Andy Millen in 2007. He had also captained the team in the 2000 Scottish League Cup Final defeat to Celtic.
In July 2000 he was given a testimonial against Middlesbrough, the same opponent as in his first appearance for Aberdeen in a 1978 friendly; however he could not actually play in the match due to recovering from his cup final injury. He released his autobiography the same year. In 2004 he was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame.
Leighton's international career lasted for 16 years, from 1982 to 1998. He was an uncapped squad member for the 1982 World Cup, before making his debut against East Germany on 13 October 1982. Within two years he was his country's No. 1, and he played in all of his country's matches at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. He had stiff competition for the keeper's jersey during the 1990s from Andy Goram (who was granted the starting place at Euro 96). Leighton regained the position after an outstanding performance against Sweden during qualification for the 1998 World Cup, and played all the matches at the finals tournament. He retired from international football on 10 October 1998, his last match being a European Championship qualifier against Estonia at the age of 40 years and 78 days. This set a new record as the oldest player to play for Scotland, which was broken by David Weir in September 2010.
Leighton is a member of the Scotland Football Hall of Fame, having won his 50th caps in 1989. Leighton won 91 international caps for Scotland and is second only to Kenny Dalglish in the all-time appearances.
Leighton became Aberdeen's goalkeeping coach after retiring as a player. He parted company with the club in August 2009 when manager Mark McGhee (his former teammate, who had also brought him to Reading years earlier) chose to replace him with Colin Meldrum. In February 2010 he was appointed as goalkeeping coach for Huntly in the Highland League. Leighton was reappointed as the goalkeeping coach at Aberdeen on 13 December 2010, the first act of the new management team of Craig Brown and Archie Knox; he left the club again at the request of manager Derek McInnes, at the end of the 2014–15 season. He commented soon afterwards that he would look for work outside football, as he was unwilling to relocate from Aberdeen due to other work and family commitments, and subsequently became a sales manager for companies providing services to the city's offshore industry.
|Scotland national team|
- Scottish Premier League (2): 1983–84, 1984–85
- Scottish Cup (4): 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86
- Scottish League Cup: 1985–86
- European Cup Winners' Cup: 1982–83
- European Super Cup: 1983
- Manchester United
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- Millen confirmed as SPL's oldest, BBC Sport, 14 May 2007
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- "Match Report: Aberdeen 0 Middlesbrough 0 (7–6 pens)". AFC Heritage Trust. 25 July 2000. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "Match Report: Aberdeen 3 Middlesbrough 2". AFC Heritage Trust. 7 August 1978. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "Football: Leighton saves the day". The Independent. 11 November 1996. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- Wright, Angus (25 August 2010). "David Weir in line for milestone after recall to Scotland fold". The Scotsman. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
- Dons Goalkeeping Coach Moves On Archived 26 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine, AFC.co.uk, 23 August 2009
- Huntly snap up Dons Legend Leighton as goalkeeper coach Press and Journal, 16 February 2010
- New Management team Archived 24 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine RedWeb, 13 December 2010
- Gilfeather, Frank (21 May 2015). "Leighton departs Aberdeen with no fanfare, 38 years on". The Herald. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- "Aberdeen: Jim Leighton fears end of coaching career". BBC Sport. BBC. 21 June 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
- "Norsafe Appoints Ex-Scottish International Goalkeeper Jim Leighton MBE". Norsafe. 5 June 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
- National Football Teams profile