Happy 60th birthday to Denbigh Town’s greatest ever – Mike James

Mike James (left) lifts the 1995-96 Welsh Alliance League trophy with friend Dave Jones, then chief reporter on the Vale Advertiser newspaper

Legends are not just people who achieve earth-shattering feats mere mortals could never dream of doing.

They can also be people known in just a locality or a region, who ensure they will be talked about for decades upon decades because of what they have accomplished for their community.

Footballer Mike James falls into the second category.

Today, the man many would regard as Denbigh Town’s greatest-ever player reaches his 60th birthday.

Born on March 20, 1961, Mike spent his entire career at Denbigh apart from a brief spell with Llandyrnog United at the start of the 1988-89 season.

While Town’s fortunes fluctuated throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, Mike was always a cut above the rest, his pace, fast feet, ability to score long-range goals and an adaptability to play in any position so often making him the star man.

Many have said that with the right dedication, Mike could have played professionally at a very high level, but the man himself was always content to play local football.

I joined the Denbigh-based Vale Advertiser newspaper in 1988 and worked there until 1998.

So I watched him play from his late 20’s through to his upper 30’s when he retired.

He is certainly the finest player I have ever seen pull on a Denbigh Town shirt and the joint-best in the Vale of Clwyd alongside Glyn Williams, Ruthin Town and Llandyrnog United’s version of Mike.

I recall in the early 1990’s asking Mike if I could interview him about his career.

Never one to court publicity, he very politely declined, but promised he would accommodate me “once I’ve won something big with Denbigh”.

Mike James (back row, fourth from right) was in the Denbigh Town team which famously knocked semi-professionals Caernarfon Town out of the NWCFA Challenge Cup in 1991-92. Pictured (back row – from left): Tim Cronin, Alan Anderson, Craig Kelly, Garry Wayne Jones, Mike James, Mark Lewis, Mark Pierce Jones, Peter O’Brien. Front (l-r): Roy Cook-Hannah, Ceri Lloyd, Andy Jones, David Calvert, Allan Jones, Paul Jones (physio).

That moment came in 1995-96, when a 35-year-old Mike was part of the Town side which won the Welsh Alliance League in just their second season at the third-tier level.

Until Denbigh were promoted to the WAL in 1994-95 under manager Bill Dawson, they had spent many years languishing in the Clwyd League, a far cry from the all-conquering Town which dominated the Welsh National (Wrexham Area) League in the 1970’s.

Mike James (front row, furthest right) and manager Bill Dawson (back row, blue top) celebrate Denbigh Town’s 1995-96 Welsh Alliance title success

That was just before Mike’s time, but when the next big success came Denbigh’s way he was a central figure.

The 1995-96 campaign saw Mike employed in a defensive role – a contrast to his past as a mainly attacking threat.

Because he was such a magnificent footballer, Mike adapted to playing at the back perfectly. It was not only his sweeping skills that stood out, but also his motivational qualities and organising of the defenders around him.

He still managed to score six goals from his 31 league appearances, but his chief function was in defence and he excelled.

I got my interview and Mike got his big trophy – added to by Denbigh lifting the Cookson Cup to make it a double.

Mike carried on representing the Town in the Cymru Alliance League, where the club performed very respectably, before calling it a day.

His name is still very much celebrated to this day, even though Denbigh have won the Welsh Alliance twice since he retired and earned a highest-ever runners-up spot in the Cymru Alliance in 2017-18, as well as reaching the Nathaniel MG Cup final, eliminating three Welsh Premier teams along the way.

It is in some ways hard to believe the man is 60 today, but one thing is for sure, in another 60 years the town of Denbigh will still hail the name Mike James.

Tribute from former manager of Denbigh Town, Bill Dawson

Bill Dawson in action for Denbigh Town in a charity game in the 1990’s

Mike was a truly magnificent player, captain and leader.

He led the team by inspiring all around him, including myself, and without doubt is the finest football talent I ever saw in amateur football, here in North Wales and also in Liverpool, where I was lucky to be involved with a vast amount of quality players over a very successful number of years.

Mike simply shone brightly above all – a special talent with an incredible appetite to succeed that motivated everyone around him.

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