New trophy will honour Lancaster's rugby great

A rugby legend from the turn of last century is being remembered in his home city.

James Leytham was born in Lancaster in 1880 and grew up in the industrial communities along the quayside – less than a quarter of a mile from Giant Axe, then, as now, home of Lancaster RFC.

In 1897, he started playing for his home club, who had recently joined the Northern Union, before signing for Wigan 100 years ago this week or a sum of 10.

He went on to play in 280 games for Wigan, scored 258 tries and kicking 267 goals to amass a staggering 1308 points.

With caps for Lancashire, England and Great Britain, Leytham took part in the first rugby league international in 1905, playing for England in a game against 'other nationalities'.

He still holds the record for the most tries in an Ashes series game, when he scored four tries for Great Britain against Australia in Brisbane in 1910.

He was known to his fans as 'Gentleman Jim of the Football Field', renowned for his fair play.

He tragically died in a fishing accident in Morecambe Bay in 1916 which also killed several members of his family.

But now, his name is being remembered by recently-formed Lancaster RLFC which played its debut season in the North West Division of the Conference during the summer.

The club will be presenting a trophy in his honour at its players' award evening in the new year.

Ironically, while at Wigan, he played in the threequarters alongside another true rugby league great Lance Todd, whose name of course lives on in the form of the player of the match award in the Challenge Cup Final.

Current Lancaster chairman John Thomason said: "As a club we felt it was important to honour the greatest player to ever wear a Lancaster jersey, and perhaps the greatest rugby player this city has ever produced.

"The idea for the trophy came about after James Leytham's great-nephews, Brian and Steve Leytham. approached us during the summer.

"The club was so taken with the story, that they felt he should be remembered by his home town."

Steve Leytham said: "It's great that the club are proud of his achievements and want to recognise them with the trophy."

The Leytham family has been invited to present the award at the club's presentation night early in the New Year.

The original Lancaster RFC was formed in 1870 and played at Giant Axe.

The club, along with Morecambe Bay neighbours Barrow, Ulverston and Millom joined the Northern Union in 1897 forming a 'North West Rugby League'.

The club moved to Quay Meadow around the turn of the century, by which time there were seven NU clubs in and around the city. The club was dissolved in the early 1900s.

The new club was formed in 2002 and apart from competing in the Rugby League Conference, also took part in the International York 9s tournament.

With an emphasis on acknowledging the city's rich rugby league heritage in order to look to the future, the club is confident of a successful 2004, not just on the pitch, but as a catalyst for re-establishing the game in the Morecambe Bay area.