Mackay hails city's unsung football hero

JIMMY LEADBETTER, the Edinburgh footballing maestro whose funeral took place on Wednesday, was today hailed by Hearts and Spurs legend Dave Mackay.

Leadbetter, who was 78 when he passed away, was the one who got away so far as Scotland caps were concerned, according to Mackay.

Mackay, a fellow ex-Balgreen Primary School pupil, said Scotland recognition would have provided the missing link in one of the most illustrious careers in the British game.

Despite racking up league championship medals in England and playing a key role in the formation of the tactics his Ipswich Town manager Alf Ramsay used to lift the World Cup for England - he was a winger moved infield to release front runners with accurate passing in a role compared to that of Martin Peters in 1966 - Leadbetter never plied his trade at senior level in his homeland.

But those inside the game knew of Leadbetter's skills and none more so than Mackay, who remembers their paths crossing at an early age.

He said: "I was seven years younger than Jimmy and his abilities made a huge impression during summer kick-abouts in Saughton Park.

"We'd arm ourselves with a bottle of water each and off we'd go to have matches against the youngsters from the various districts surrounding the park.

"Jimmy was from down the road so we weren't on the same side but he stood out because he was different class. Later on he should have played for Scotland."

Such endorsement would have found massive favour with Jimmy who in 2004 was included in the book McFootball, which listed the most influential Scots to have played in England.

"I'm honoured to be named among the calibre of player listed in the book," he said at the time. "But it is an honour, too, for Balgreen Primary because Dave Mackay also attended."

When Mackay's Tottenham were winning their famous double in 1961, Leadbetter was playing a key role helping Ipswich to the Division Two title. Twelve months later, it was Leadbetter's turn to step forward for a championship medal as Ipswich achieved the rare feat of titles in three successive years. This put the man nicknamed "Sticks" - on account of his spindly legs - among a handful of players who had achieved similar honours with the same club.

In total, Jimmy played 373 games for Ipswich (scoring 49 goals) having initially moved south to join Chelsea, for whom he made three first team appearances.

In 1952, he signed for Brighton and Hove Albion for 12,000 as part of a swap deal with Jimmy McNicol.

After more than 100 games, Ramsay took Leadbetter to Suffolk in 1955.

Many will wonder, though, just how renowned Leadbetter might have become had he been more exposed to the (then) Scottish FA selection committee.

On leaving school, Leadbetter played for Murrayfield Athletic before joining the Royal Artillery for two years of National Service.

His tour of duty took him first to Dover and then Gibraltar where he played for a Combined Services side. Back in civvies, he won a Scottish Juvenile Cup medal with Hibs nursery side Edinburgh Thistle before turning professional with Armadale.

But from there onwards his career was conducted south of the Border, where he appeared on some of the biggest stages.

He played against Manchester United the last time the Busby Babes graced Old Trafford before the Munich air disaster.

After leaving Ipswich Town, Leadbetter remained in East Anglia before eventually returning home where he finished his working life as a van driver with the Evening News.

As well as being one of sport's true unsung and genial heroes, Leadbetter was a formidable opponent on the golf course - as this one-time rival from the office tournament knows to his cost.

He is survived by his wife and daughter.