Tributes paid to ‘extraordinarily versatile’ FA Cup winner Leroy Burns
Bermuda football has lost one of its most versatile and charismatic players who made a significant impact at both ends of the pitch.
Leroy “Lofty” Burns, who played for Key West Rangers and Pembroke Hamilton Club in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away at the weekend just weeks shy of his 88th birthday.
His extraordinary ability to play both as a goalkeeper and striker — often during the same match — set him apart from the rest and perhaps gave him a tactical advantage over his opponents.
Burns played most of his career at Key West Rangers where he groomed his skills as a youngster in the late 1940s before progressing to play for the club’s senior teams in the former Bermuda Football League “A” and “B” divisions, comprised entirely of black players during the era of segregation on the island.
“Lofty was the star centre forward and also goalkeeper,” Rudolph “Mutt” Lawrence, the former Flatts Tigers and Devonshire Lions central defender, said.
“He used to play goalkeeper in the ‘B’ team and if you scored one or two goals up on Key West he would come out of goal, play centre forward, score two or three goals and go back playing goalkeeper.
“That’s the type of footballer he was, an all-rounder. He was really something and then he would play in the ‘A’ team. Lofty was an excellent all-round footballer. He was something to watch.”
Lawrence added: “I remember playing for Flatts Tigers. We came up to Sports Arena playing Key West Rangers, got one or two goals and thought we were doing pretty good.
“Lofty came out of goal and got a goal and went back in and stopped us from scoring. We couldn’t score no more and he used to have a lot of fun about the things that he could do. He was a good footballer.”
Burns’s extraordinary skills earned the respect of rivals such as fellow goalkeeper Dennis Wainwright, who also played for Flatts Tigers along with Wellington Rovers and Young Men’s Social Club.
“Lofty was an exceptionally good goalkeeper and he would come and play centre forward and you wouldn’t know that he was a goalkeeper,” Wainwright said. “He was a utility player in every sense of the word.
“Lofty always found himself in good positions as a centre forward.
“He wasn’t the fastest player, but he could read a play. If you’re looking for Lofty he was out there by himself passing the ball and getting a shot off.
“I had a lot of run ins with him playing for Flatts Tigers and you take an interest in a person that plays in your same position but also capable of playing another position just as good.”
Burns, the brother-in-law of legendary Cup Match siblings Lloyd James (St George’s) and Elvin James (Somerset), was one of two players during his era who played in goal and outfield along with late Pembroke Juniors player Austin “Cheesey” Hughes.
He eventually ended up playing for PHC along with several of his Key West Rangers team-mates such Calvin “Bummy” Symonds and late cousin Earl “Townsey” Russell after the two clubs merged.
It was at PHC where Burns enjoyed considerable success during an era which saw the club lift the prestigious FA Cup for three consecutive seasons between 1960 and 1962.
“He was really a striker but when the goalkeeper got hurt he used to fill in for the goalkeeper,” Symonds, the former PHC captain, said. “He filled in when he had to and he done his job very well.
“He was a good player and a staunch Key West and PHC boy.
“He is a big miss for Bermuda football and anybody that participated in the early years with the colour barrier [segregation] is a good player because we had a lot of good players those days.”