Jack Leslie

Football's Pioneers: Jack Leslie

In the latest part of LCFC.com's Football's Pioneers feature, in partnership with De Montfort University, Professor Matt Taylor recalls the story of Jack Leslie, who very nearly became the first black player to represent England.
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Born in 1901 to a Jamaican father in Canning Town, Jack Leslie had played for local club Barking Town before joining Plymouth Argyle in 1921.

He played 14 seasons at Home Park, making 401 appearances. He was a prolific goalscorer, notching up 137 goals, including 22 during the 1928/29 campaign.

In 1931/32, the club narrowly missed out on promotion to the First Division. A creator as well as a scorer of goals, he developed a celebrated partnership with Scottish outside-left Sammy Black.

Leslie was a key figure in the Plymouth team for well over a decade. As team captain in the early 1930s, he acted as spokesman and representative for the players at club events and in negotiations with the directors. When the club experimented with air travel for long away journeys, it was Leslie as captain who was first invited to fly. 

He was described as ‘an inspiring captain’. A local newspaper recalled him as ‘a tactician of outstanding quality’ and ‘one of the finest players ever to wear an Argyle jersey’.

For the football correspondent of The People, he was ‘one of the greatest schemers in English football’.

In 1931, the manager of a rival Second Division club wondered why the England selectors had not ‘run the rule over Leslie’.

In fact they already had. Although the precise year remains unclear, Leslie later recalled being called into the Plymouth manager’s office to be told he’d been selected for England.

But the decision was never made public and he was replaced by Aston Villa’s Billy Walker. Plagued by a series of injuries, Leslie retired in 1935.

After a few years in Truro running a pub, he was back in football as trainer of his old club Barking Town by 1938.

When journalist Brian Woolnough caught up with him during the 1982/83 season, Leslie was working in the boot room at West Ham.

He died in 1988 and tends to be remembered now as the man who very nearly became the first black player to appear in an England shirt.

For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture on various heritage projects. This season, staff and students at the Centre will feature those players who were pioneers that contributed to the growth and development of the game. 

For more information about sports history at DMU please click HERE.

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