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Unfortunately we’ve had to add an asterisk to the title, as Jack Leslie was not officially England’s first black footballer. He wasn’t allowed because of the colour of his skin.
Today we are dismayed and appalled at the treatment given to our black players by our own fans. We talk about how attitudes have changed. But how much have attitudes changed if black players are targeted with racial abuse whenever their team doesn’t do well?
As part of bringing forgotten history, we also like to celebrate trailblazers and Jack Leslie was certainly one of those. Jack Leslie played professionally for Plymouth Argyle and was at the club for 14 years, scoring over 130 goals.
His talent was instantly recognised at the club who gave him the captain’s armband, making him one of the first black footballers to captain a professional club in England.
After being made captain and his form exceeding expectations, the next milestone to hit was playing for England. He received a call up in 1925. The FA came to watch him play and after seeing the colour of his skin, Leslie’s invitation to play for England was revoked.
Reading through resources, it seems that Leslie’s invitation was revoked due to the colour of his skin. We will not be able to confirm this because there is never any evidence for institutional racism, but the resources from the @JackLeslieCampaign (and others) all suggest that this was the case. We can also take an account from the player himself:
“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.”
The story of Jack Leslie will continue to be celebrated thanks to the great work of the Jack Leslie campaign. They are going into schools telling the story of this legend.
The Jack Leslie campaign started a crowdfunding campaign to get a statue erected outside Plymouth’s stadium. If you want to read more on Jack Leslie and donate to the fund, you can visit https://jackleslie.co.uk/
Thank you Jack Leslie, you are adept.