An “inspirational” young footballer has been crowned Wrexham’s Young Legend after winning his long battle with leukaemia.
Leighton Jones, from Rhos, was congratulated by his Wrexham AFC idol Joey Jones at the town's Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre.
The shopping centre ran a competition in conjunction with the Leader to find Wrexham’s very own young unsung hero under 18 who had shown great courage in overcoming illness or adversity.
The judges were unanimous in deciding 11-year-old Leighton, a big Manchester United fan, was a worthy winner.
Leighton, a pupil at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, won £200 worth of vouchers along with family tickets for the Odeon cinema and Tenpin bowling at Eagles Meadow.
His proud mum Jenene, his dad Richard, sister Tia-Lily, eight, and grandparents Frank and Barbara Bithell were on hand to see Leighton collect his prize from Joey and Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley.
Jenene, a senior personal banker with a major high street bank who put her son’s name forward for the competition without telling him, says Leighton had a really tough start to life having been diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of three.
She said: “Leighton was a happy very energetic little boy. But he became lethargic and, as a mum, you know when something isn’t right.
“I took him to the doctor’s and was advised to give him Calpol as it was most likely an infection.
“But he didn’t get better – and eventually I took him to Wrexham Maelor Hospital and we sat on the children’s ward all day.
“I wasn’t going to leave until I knew what it was. I had my dad with me.
“At about midday they told me his liver was enlarged. I got Leighton’s dad Richard from work and they eventually confirmed it was leukaemia and he had to be rushed in an ambulance to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
“It took more than three-and-a-half years to complete the treatment. Leighton went into remission in the first three months of treatment and now we go back to Alter Hey every six months for
“Leighton had to undergo lots of chemotherapy and was chosen to receive a trial drug treatment to see if it could treat leukaemia in a better way.
“Throughout his treatment, Leighton always remained really positive and always had a smile on his face.”
Dad Richard says Leighton had to miss out on a great deal as he grew up due to the risk of infection – but it never stopped him smilimg.
He said: “It was hard for him as all he ever wanted to do was join a football team. For some reason, he always wanted to be a goalkeeper and he joined Johnstown Under 8s in 2013.
“They said they couldn’t guarantee he’d play every week but once he started he did.
“He played for Johnstown for two seasons but was unfortunately he was just too young to move up to the Under 12s with the rest of the team. He was the youngest player by some distance – so he’s joined Llay United.
“We were all really proud when he played for Wrexham Schoolboys in games against Manchester City Academy, Flintshire Schoolboys and Cefn Druids.
“Leighton has worked hard to catch up all the school he missed due to the leukaemia and he has a really positive attitude. We keep going for his six monthly check-up and hope and pray he’s beaten what is a terrible disease.
“His nain and taid, Frank and Barbara Bithell and his nana, who has sadly passed away, have always been a real tower of strength to us as a family throughout the ordeal of Leighton’s illness.
“We were so thrilled to hear Leighton had won after Jenene nominated him and meeting Joey Jones has been a wonderful experience. He’s a fantastic man and a real ambassador for football.”
A thrilled Leighton said: “Meeting Joey Jones was amazing and he encouraged me to keep playing and enjoying football. I love playing and it made me so frustrated that I couldn’t join a team while I was being treated for leukaemia.
“I was very young when I was first diagnosed and don’t remember too much about it. But having chemotherapy wasn’t much fun and I just wanted to get it over with so I could play football.”
He added: “I had no idea mum had put my name forward after seeing the competition in the Leader. I was a bit embarrassed but I’m really pleased with the prize. I might use the vouchers to buy a new pair of football boots or a track suit, I’m not sure yet.
Joey Jones, the first Welshman to win a European Cup winner’s medal.
He played left back in 1977 Liverpool side which beat German champions Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 in Rome.
Describing Leighton as “inspirational”, Joey said: “He’s a lovely lad and I told him to keep playing but, most of all, keep on enjoying football.
“Young people today get such a bad press and very often they don’t deserve it. But there are lots of well-mannered and pleasant young people like Leighton about and they should be celebrated.”
Joey added: “Leighton has had to overcome serious illness but hasn’t let that stop him from realising his ambition of joining a football team and enjoying the game.
“Maybe he’ll play for Wrexham one day.
I hope so!”