Alex James - The Legend

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Top billing in the 2013 Hall of Fame show went to Alex James - the original Wembley Wizard.

The man who became a legend with Arsenal began his professional career with Raith Rovers in 1922, and he never forgot his sporting roots in Kirkcaldy.

Alex James

Alex James

His story makes for remarkable reading, and his induction was preceded by a special video tribute recorded by Bob Wilson, the Gunners’ legendary Scottish international goalkeeper now a club ambassador - and his induction also saw Liam Brady come north to pay his own respects on stage.

It’s a measure of the regard in which James is held that two Arsenal greats happily committed the time to support our live show in Kirkcaldy.

You can see Bob’s video tribute here - and our sincere thanks to all at Arsenal for recording it.

And as for Mr James, this is his story ...

>> To Dennis Compton, he was ‘‘the greatest ball player’’ he’d ever seen, while Matt Busby hailed him as one of the all-time greats.

To Tom Finney he was simply ‘‘an inspiration... he was pure magic.’’

To Arsenal, James was the Dennis Bergkamp of his day - a name revered to this day and celebrated on one of the giant murals which wrap around the stunning Emirates Stadium.

To Scottish football fans he was one of the original Wembley Wizards who thrashed England 5-1 in 1928.

The man in the baggy shorts who hailed from Mossend, Lanarkhire, owes much of that astonishing legacy to Raith Rovers, his first senior team, and, in particular, to one director, Bob ‘R.J.’ Morrison.

He had been looking for a stand-out player and it was by pure accident he stumbled across James.

Watching a Glasgow Junior League XI take on Rutherglen Glencairn his target was one Johnny Borland but ‘‘the little inside right’’ kept commanding his attention.

A deal was done, and a trial against Rangers Reserves arranged.

It was only years later it emerged that Morrison paid part of James’ wages himself as the Raith board was unconvinced of his abilities or his physical strength. His lack of stamina even saw the crowd refer to him as ‘‘the wean.’’

It was a wise investment and the start of a lifelong friendship.

James signed in 1922 and spent three seasons at Stark’s Park effectively learning his trade.

At first James struggled and was dropped from the team - Morrison paid him the £1 a week he would have got - and he had disagreements with manager Jimmy Logan who wanted him to run after the man in possession; a row so bad he went back to his digs and prepared to pack his bags.

Once again Morrison intervened, and a long chat while sitting in the main stand gave the player ‘‘fresh heart.’

His chance came several weeks later he grabbed it with both hands. The team won. He was never dropped again - and neither did he change his style to suit the gaffer.

That approach was to be repeated throughout a career just as his mercurial talent - at times cheeky, often beguiling, even mesmerising - enthralled crowds across the UK.

After surviving the famous Rovers’ shipwreck on a trip to the Canary Isles in 1923 - he was having a bath at the time the boat ran aground! - James joined Preston North End for £3000 in 1925.

He scored 55 goals in 157 appearances in between several disputes with the managemement, partly over wages.

James continued to return north, with R.J. Morrison offering him hospitality, but his career was to take him further south in 1929 when he joined Herbert Chapman’s legendary Arsenal for £9000.

What followed was footballing history.

Four league titles followed a maiden one in ‘31, a league record 118 goals in ‘33 - and James also opened the scoring in the 1930 FA Cup final to set Arsenal on their way to a first major trophy, and a second in ‘36 when he was captain.

Within 12 months he’d called time on his career as injuries took their toll. By then his place in Arsenal’s history was assured - a true superstar with quick wit, a willingness to speak his mind - he went on strike more than once and sued for libel! - and a player who could bring stadiums alive with noise.

A mercurial talent, James was inducted into Arsenal’s Hall of Fame in 2005. His image stands alongside those of Jennings, Bergkamp, Henry, McLintock and many more round the perimeter of Emirates Stadium - a place reserved for the greatest.

His induction into the Raith Rovers Hall of Fame brings his story full circle.

The player R.J. Morrison believed in repaid that faith by scaling the heights for club and country - and he did it his way.

The bond between the two men remained lifelong. Morrison always kept an eye on his progress.

According to James’ biography, 50 years after he lifted the FA Cup for the first time an old scrapbook was found at the bottom of a cupboard of Stark’s Park chronicling that amazing day. It was packed with cuttings from newspapers and magazines. It had been compiled by R.J. Morrison. He would surely approve of his induction.