17 August 1901 – 25 November 1988
Jack Leslie selected for the England team and his name was printed in several papers on Tuesday 6th October 1925 and the following days after the FA’s International Selection Committee met on Monday 5th October to discuss the forthcoming England v Ireland game, which was to be played on Saturday 24th October.
But this was not to be. Fifty years later, Viv Anderson finally made that breakthrough as the first black player to win a full England cap in 1978.
At the time The Daily Mail interviewed Jack Leslie who was then working in the West Ham boot room. He told how his manager, Bob Jack, called him into his office to tell him that he’d been picked for England, in Jack Leslie’s own words:
‘Everybody in the club knew about it. The town was full of it. All them days ago it was quite a thing for a little club like Plymouth to have a man called up for England. I was proud — but then I was proud just to be a paid footballer.’
Jack clearly had no one he could discuss this with. Who could he talk to and how could he possibly raise an objection as the only black professional in England at the time?
‘Then all of a sudden everyone stopped talking about it. Sort of went dead quiet. Didn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t ask outright. I could see by their faces it was awkward. But I did hear, roundabout like, that the FA had come to have another look at me. Not at me football but at me face. They asked, and found they’d made a ricket. Found out about me Daddy, and that was it. There was a bit of an uproar in the papers. Folks in the town were very upset. No one ever told me official-like, but that had to be the reason, me Mum was English but me Daddy was black as the Ace of Spades. There wasn’t any other reason for taking my cap away.’
When we talk of modern racism, we often talk about equality of opportunity and levelling the playing field. The chance to be a part of the England set-up, once denied, spelt the end of opportunity and at that moment in October 1925, the gates to an international career effectively slammed shut on Jack Leslie. A consistent player for more than a decade, he would have been in the running for selection in many more games, but Jack was never spoken of in connection to the national team again. Later reports prove this. According to The Football Herald in 1930 Jack was:
“known throughout England for his skill and complexion,”while The Daily Mail called him a “coloured genius” in 1932 and the following year wrote, “Had he been white he would have been a certain English international.”
The Jack Leslie Campaign has now more than reached it’s target of £100,000 for a statue of Jack Leslie on the 100th anniversary of Leslie joing Plymoth Argyle in 1921.
Extracts for this post is from The Jack Leslie Campaign website.