A campaign has been launched to erect a statue of Jack Leslie – the man who should have been England’s first black player but was dropped because of the colour of his skin.
Born in Canning Town in 1900 to a Jamaican father and an English mother, Leslie joined third-division club Plymouth Argyle in the 1921/22 season where he played for 14 years, making 401 appearances and scoring 137 goals. He also received racial abuse from fans of Plymouth as well as opponent crowds too.
Leslie’s talents gained attention from England and he was selected to play for England against Ireland in 1925.
However, days after he was called up to play for England, his name suspiciously disappeared from the team sheet which many – including his family – put down to racism.
In the 1920s, the England scouts would have had access to Jack Leslie’s stats but due to lack of footage and photographs, they would have seen him for the first time when they saw him in person. It’s believed that after a selector discovered he was black when seeing him play, he was taken off the team.
“I believe that the manager sent in his request, saying: ‘I’ve got a brilliant player here, he should play for England,'” his granddaughter, Lesley Hiscott, said.
“So then someone came down to watch him.
“They weren’t watching his football […] they were looking at the colour of his skin […] and because of that, he was denied the chance of playing for his country.”
Despite this, Leslie went on to score 137 in his football career before retiring in 1934 and later dying in 1988.
It wasn’t until 1978 when Viv Anderson made his debut for England when the team accepted its first black player.
Jack Leslie’s family are campaigning for a statue to be built outside Plymouth Argyle’s stadium, Home Park.
The Jack Leslie Campaign team’s website said: “We not only want to build a statue as a memorial to Jack Leslie, but also use his story to celebrate diversity and combat racism.”
Click here for more information on the campaign.