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Football: Mystery as Leighton retires from Scotland

JIM LEIGHTON yesterday turned his back on international football, despite pleas from the Scotland camp for the 40-year-old Aberdeen goalkeeper to reconsider his decision.

The manager Craig Brown, his No 2 Alex Miller, who is also Leighton's manager at Pittodrie, and the players all hoped they could get the veteran keeper to change his mind.

However, Leighton insisted that he was retiring just 48 hours before Scotland's European Championship qualifier against the Faroe Islands. Now the goalkeeping role will be handed to either Jonathan Gould, or Neil Sullivan. Leighton intends to continue playing for Aberdeen and is due to appear against Dundee in the Premier League on Saturday.

The timing of his decision was extraordinary as the Faroes match is scheduled for his home ground and is Scotland's last competitive game for five months.

Leighton brought to an end a glittering international career spanning 16 years, in which he made 91 international appearances - the most caps won by a Scottish keeper. He became the first Scot to appear in four World Cup finals in the summer but the side's interest in the competition ended at the first round stage following a 3-0 defeat by Morocco.

The surprise announcement came in the wake of the 3-2 victory against Estonia on Saturday. He gave given no reason for his decision, but he was widely criticised for his part in that scrambled win.

Leighton confirmed he was quitting at a meeting with Brown at the squad's Aberdeen hotel. "I got a call from Jim at the back of nine last night, telling me what he intended to do," he said. "I tried to dissuade him but he wasn't prepared to discuss it and said he just wanted to bow out quietly. He said he had slept on it and of course I have to respect his decision. Jim said he would come to the game on Wednesday and he will be welcome in the dressing-room."

Miller said: "Jim has not given any reason why he has taken this course, but knowing the type of person he is I can't see him changing his mind. I have come to the conclusion that he just feels the time is right to retire."

Leighton's club captain at Pittodrie, Derek Whyte, who is also in the Scotland squad, tried to talk him out of quitting. "I told him I thought he should play against the Faroes as there wasn't another match for five months. That might have been the time to think about it but he just said 'no'."