THE tragic story of a highly talented Rhyl footballer, once likened to Liverpool’s Mark Lawrenson, is recalled in a new book about 50 legends of Brighton & Hove Albion.

Barrie Rees only played 12 first team games for the south coast club and never lived to see his 22nd birthday but is still remembered as an Albion great.

Born and raised in Rhyl, Barrie was originally a centre forward, played for Rhyl in the Cheshire League and represented Wales as a schoolboy before joining the Everton ground staff, where he signed professional forms in September 1961, aged 17.

Barrie represented the Everton A & B teams before progressing through the reserves into the first team.

After just three appearances leading the Everton attack and one at right back, he was then picked as a reserve for the Wales U23 team, before he came to the attention of Brighton & Hove Albion for whom he signed full professional terms in January 1965.

Making his debut at right half in a 3-1 home defeat of Crewe Alexandria, Barrie quickly impressed, and in less than three months, he made 12 first team appearances. He gained instant acclaim from Albion supporters and, most importantly, won the wholesale admiration of his new colleagues.

A tall, stylish player and blessed with two good feet, height, balance and a natural instinct to go forward, he was the complete half back.

The young Welshman settled well and was becoming a crowd favourite for his attacking style of play. Quiet off the pitch, Barrie loved ten-pin bowling; and to get him back to his parents in Rhyl, he bought a Mini off his colleague Bobby Baxter.

Chief Sports writer at the Brighton Evening Argus, John Vinicombe, later said Barrie was the only player to equal Mark Lawrenson in an Albion shirt during the 50 years he had watched the club.

Barrie shirked nothing and was put to the test in the fiery furnace of a game at Rochdale which resulted in a sending off, criminal charges against one Brighton player for punching an elderly spectator and a hail of missiles from the terraces, including coins, washers and darts.

He ducked to avoid a china tea cup. But it was noted by all watching that amid all the mayhem, the new boy maintained a cool and dignified presence.

Albion’s next game, at home to Southport on 26th March, was played on a Friday to avoid clashing with the Grand National and there were close on 20,000 at the Goldstone to see them win 3-1 and take second spot in the table.

With no further game for five days there was time to relax and Barrie took himself off to his lodgings after the Southport game and set his alarm for an early start next morning.

Before first light he was in his Mini and en-route on a 300-mile journey to Rhyl and a reunion with his parents. It was to be no ordinary visit as, earlier in the week, Barrie’s uncle had won £28,000 (worth £468,000 today) on the football pools.

Nobody knows what happened on the journey. But it was confirmed that at 8.45am Barrie, who was travelling alone, was in collision with a lorry at the junction of the A5 and the Ashby-Nuneaton road in Warwickshire. He died at the local Manor Hospital shortly afterwards.

When told the news Brighton manager Archie Macaulay cried openly. Only a few hours earlier he had congratulated Barrie on yet another superb performance. When word quickly spread all supporters went into mourning. Team-mates could not believe the news at first.

Only a couple of weeks earlier and returning from Torquay after a hard-fought single goal win, they had seen the generous side of Barrie’s nature.

A coming-of-age present, a box of cigars, went to his team who all lit up on the coach ride back home cracking jokes and larking about the way teams and well-wishers do when there is good cause for celebration.

Former Brighton & Hove Albion chairman Dick Knight remembers Barrie with great fondness.

“Barrie Rees, is in my opinion one of Brighton’s classiest ever players,” he said. “An attacking midfield player and a wonderful passer of the ball, you immediately sensed he was something special. At 21, he had a big future ahead of him. When he was tragically killed it took a long time for the club, the players and the fans to get over it.”

Author Nic Outterside, life-long Brighton supporter and former editor of the Denbighshire Free Press, has published Wet Socks and Dry Bones which unwraps the lives of 50 former Albion players.

The 300 page paperback was inspired by WP Kinsella’s baseball classic Shoeless Joe, which in turn inspired the Hollywood movie Field of Dreams.

Mr Outterside's new book chronologically recounts the biographies of players from full back Arthur Hulme, who played for the Albion from 1902 to 1909, right up to Paul McCarthy who played in the blue and white stripes between 1988 and 1996 – just a year before the Goldstone Ground was demolished.

Nic, who now lives in Wolverhampton, attended his first Brighton & Hove Albion game in September 1967 and for 54 years has followed his beloved club the length and breadth of the UK.

His last football book Death In Grimsby, published in 2019, became an Amazon best seller.

“It was while finishing that book that the blinding flash of light took place, which led me here,” explains Nic.

“The moment was Monday, 1st April 2019… the day I heard the news that my boyhood Brighton & Hove Albion hero Kit Napier had died just 12 hours earlier at his home in Durban, South Africa, aged 75.

“I was an impressionable 11-year-old kid in 1967 when I first saw Kit play, and for me, he was everything you wanted from a football hero… and like all childhood heroes, I thought he would live forever.

“Then slowly, I came to realise that several of the stars from my first few seasons at the Goldstone Ground had also passed on – some well before their time.

“They were now all ghosts of the Goldstone’s Field of Dreams and in something akin to Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, I believed this was our moment in time to bring our ghosts home.

“So, with my own personal memories running around my brain, I began the task of researching the lives and deaths of those players before our collective memories were lost forever.

“While researching the book, I was gob-smacked to begin unravelling the tragic story of Barrie Rees and the poignancy that he came from a town and area where I lived and worked for almost eight years.”

Nic was a successful newspaper and magazine journalist for 28 years, winning a raft of awards for his work. He took early retirement in 2013 and three years later formed Time is an Ocean Publications, an independent UK publishing house. Wet Socks and Dry Bones is his 27th paperback book.

Wet Socks and Dry Bones is available via Amazon and priced at £11.99 including free delivery.