jack leslie plymouth argyle
Image: Plymouth Argyle

Jack Leslie was one of Plymouth Argyle’s most talented forwards, and was the first ever Black player to be called up for England – only to have said call-up rescinded.

Jack was born in Canning Town to a Jamaican father and English mother started his footballing career playing for Barking Town, garnering an early reputation as a prolific goalscorer. Predominantly a left-sided forward, he is reputed to have scored over 250 goals for Barking, playing a significant role in their Senior Essex Cup glory in 1920, winning the London League Premier Division title the following year.

In 1921, Jack was snapped up by Plymouth Argyle, one of the founding members of Division Three South. Once again, he shone at inside-left,  scoring 137 league goals in 400 games: an impressive goal return that makes him Argyle’s fourth-highest goalscorer of all time. His partnership with the all-time top scorer, Sammy Black, yielded well over 300 goals.

In 1925, Leslie was performing well for the free-scoring Pilgrims. In October that year, he earned a call-up to England side as a travelling reserve for their upcoming game against Ireland. This was reported by a number of newspapers, from the Birmingham Gazette to the Liverpool Echo: the player was told by Argyle manager Bob Jack himself.

However, this call-up was soon withdrawn, without any reason being offered by the FA. Speculation persisted that he was removed from the national setup on account of his race, with selectors belatedly protesting at his inclusion on account of his heritage. England would play out and uninspiring 0-0 draw across the Irish Sea, while on the South Coast, Leslie scored twice in a 7-2 win over Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic.

In the years that followed, the FA insisted that Leslie had never been called up to the national side: the Press Association, whose publications had printed the squads, begged to differ. It would be another 53 years until Viv Anderson became the first Black player to represent England at full international level.

Leslie continued to play for Argyle, helping the Pilgrims achieve promotion to Division Two at the seventh time of asking, having despairingly finished as runners-up in the previous six seasons. Having sustained a serious eye injury, Jack was forced to retire as a professional at the age of 34.

He returned to his East London roots and original trade as a boilermaker in the East India Docks, before going on to work in the boot room at West Ham United in the 1960s and 1970s. He was offered the job by West Ham’s manager at the time, Rob Greenwood, who recognised Jack as a brilliant player. During his time at the Hammers, he looked after the boots of England World Cup winners Sir Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters.

Throughout 2022, Jack’s remarkable legacy was honoured in a number of ways: first in the renaming of a street by Home Park, then with a magnificent 12ft bronze statue outside of the ground. On that same day, the FA belatedly awarded Leslie a posthumous cap in recognition of his “unique contribution…and to right the historical wrong”.

jack leslie maquette

A maquette of the Jack Leslie statue can now be seen on the Match Gallery.

Principal club: Plymouth Argyle

Caps: 1 (posthumous)

Major Honours: 1 Division Three South title

Inducted: 2022

Jill Scott

Lionesses centurion, Manchester City midfielder and national icon.

Vincent Kompany

Manchester City skipper and an all-time Premier League great.

Jack Leslie

Plymouth Argyle sensation and the first Black player to receive an England call-up.

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