Obituary: Graham Leggat, footballer, coach and broadcaster

Graham Leggat: Scottish footballer who had great success with the national squad, Aberdeen and Fulham
Graham Leggat: Scottish footballer who had great success with the national squad, Aberdeen and Fulham
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Born: 20 June, 1934, in Aberdeen. Died: 29 August, 2015, in Canada, aged 81

Graham Leggat, who has died in Canada, aged 81, was one third of arguably the most media-savvy right-wing combinations in football history.

During his eight years with Fulham, the Scottish internationalist right-winger formed what would become a formidable triangle of football “talking heads”. His inside partner was Jimmy Hill, the man who single-handedly invented football punditry as we now know it, while behind them was Bobby Robson, who, as well as being a brilliant manager, was an entertaining and engaging football talking head.

Leggat meanwhile, was for many years the voice of Canadian soccer, with CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and then host of the long-running Saturday Night Soccer Show.

Hill, of course, was very much a journeyman player. Robson is remembered as a very good England midfielder and a great manager, but Leggat’s star has waned somewhat in his native land. This is unfortunate because his record is exceptional.

He scored more than 200 goals in 400 senior games in British football – better than a goal every two games – the benchmark for an international class striker; he scored 13 hat-tricks in his career. But, Leggat was never an out-and-out striker, he was a winger.

Prior to his arrival on the scene in the mid-1950s, Scotland’s two outstanding outside rights were Rangers’ Willie Waddell and Hibs’ Gordon Smith. Waddell won 17 caps and scored six goals; Smith got 18 caps, scoring four goals.

Both are rightly lauded for these feats in dark blue, but Leggat outscored both with eight goals. He was Scotland’s best right-winger between the Smith and Waddell years and the later rivalry between Willie Henderson and Jimmy Johnstone, but he is not as celebrated as these other wingers. Perhaps a reappraisal is called for.

As a ten-year-old with Woodside Primary School, he was being touted as something special. He later represented Aberdeen Schools, moved on to Torry FP in the youth ranks, then signed, as a 17-year-old, for Banks o’ Dee juniors, before being snapped up by Aberdeen in 1953.

He had one game in the reserves before being blooded against Stirling Albion in September 1953. From then on, he was a first pick.

He scored in the Dons’ 6-0 Scottish Cup semi-final demolition of Rangers at the end of that season, then played in the cup final, when Aberdeen “froze” and lost to Celtic.

The following season he played a big part in Aberdeen’s first Scottish League Championship win, although, as a student at Jordanhill College in Glasgow, studying PE, he only saw his team mates on a Saturday.

He was “capped” by the Scottish League, for whom he scored six goals in five Inter-League “internationals”, before being a member of the inaugural Scotland under-23 team in 1955.

Later that year he would score a spectacular winner as Aberdeen beat St Mirren to win the League Cup for the first time, before, in April 1956, he won his first Scotland cap, putting the Scots ahead in the annual game with England at Hampden when, in something of a reprise of his goal against St Mirren, he lobbed England keeper Reg Matthews to put Scotland ahead.

Sadly for the Scots, Johnny Haynes, later to be his captain at Fulham, equalised late on.

Injury denied Leggat some caps, but he was named in the 22-strong party for the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, playing in the first two group games, against Yugoslavia and Paraguay.

In the close-season after his return from Sweden, Leggat joined Fulham, who paid Aberdeen a paltry £16,000 for his services. He had scored 92 goals in just over 150 games for the Dons and the disappointed Aberdeen fans felt Fulham had “stolen” their star. The Fulham team he joined was a mixture of genuine stars – Haynes, Robson and Leggat, other internationalists such as full-back Jim Langley and centre forward Bedford Jezzard, and some real Cockney characters such as outside-left “Tosh” Chamberlain. They had an international-class goalkeeper in Tony Macedo, but, fatally, a porous defence.

Leggat spent eight seasons at Craven Cottage, but by 1960 his Scotland career was over. His eighth and final Scotland goal, like his first, was a lob over an England goalkeeper, Ron Springettat, at Hampden. The Cottage fans loved him, and, with 134 goals in 277 appearances, with good reason.

He scored eight hat-tricks for the Thames-side club, his three goals inside three minutes against Ipswich Town in 1963 remaining the fastest scored in the English top-flight until beaten at the end of last season.

He was then sold to Birmingham City, but his injury-plagued spell at St Andrew’s lasted just over a year before he was freed. He then joined Rotherham United, before winding down his English career with a spell at non-league Bromsgrove Rovers. This was a part-time, with Leggat working for office equipment company Rank Xerox from Monday to Friday.

A short spell as a coach at Aston Villa preceded his move to Canada, to become player coach with Toronto Metros of the North American Soccer League (NASL).

This post lasted just over a year, to be followed by a move to the PR department of the giant Carling O’Keefe Breweries. Around this time Leggat began his long Canadian career as a football commentator and journalist, doing colour commentary for CBC, covering the NASL, the Olympic Games, World Cup qualifying and the World Cup Finals.

In 1986, after brief stints as vice president and general manager of the NASL’s Edmonton Drillers and as executive director of Ontario Special Olympics, he was hired by the Sports Network (TSN) as a host and commentator.

For the next 15 years Leggat was the voice of soccer in Canada, analysing the CSL, Canadian Soccer League, Pan-American Games, Canada Games, Euro Championships and the World Cup Finals. However, it was as host of Soccer Saturday and World of Soccer that Leggat became a household name.

Leggat was inducted into Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame on 5 May, 2001. In retirement, he continued to live in his adopted homeland.

He is survived by his wife Marilyn and daughter Karen. His son, Graham Leggat Junior, who was director of the San Francisco Film Society, died of cancer in 2011.