John Francis “Jack” Leslie was born in 1901. His mother was English, his father was from Jamaica. Jack Leslie was brought up in Canning Town, in London’s East End. He started in football with a local side, Barking Town. His play as a goal scoring left-winger was soon noticed by bigger clubs. In 1921, aged 20, he was signed by Plymouth Argyle. He was to stay with Plymouth for 14 years.
The international who never was
Jack Leslie was not just a loyal “one-club man”. He was a gifted player who formed a legendary partnership with Sammy Black. Between them, Leslie and Black scored and created hundreds of goals for Plymouth. In 1925, the Football Association (FA) selectors decided Leslie was ready for international football. They picked him for England against Northern Ireland in Belfast. But Jack never put on his England shirt. He was replaced by Billy Walker of Aston Villa. There was no explanation from the FA, but everyone knew it was because they had belatedly realised that Jack Leslie was Black.
Jack Leslie never got another chance to play for England. The first Black player to actually get on the field in an England shirt was Viv Anderson of Nottingham Forest, in 1978. Even then, Anderson was harassed and racially abused. Jack kept on playing for Plymouth until he was 35. Only in later life did he talk publicly about his shameful treatment by the FA in 1925. Jack Leslie died in 1988, aged 87.
Jack Leslie was a fine footballer, a “one-club man” who played 384 games for Plymouth Argyle in his 14 years in Devon. He was widely popular and admired by supporters, journalists, and opposing teams. But he was also a person of color. In the social climate of his time, this meant he did not have equal opportunity and was discriminated against. In 1925, he was selected for England. Most observers agreed he fully deserved international recognition. But, at the last moment, his place in the team was given to another player. He did not become the first Black player for England; that was to be Viv Anderson 53 years later.
Educators could look at the life story of Jack Leslie and work with young people to consider these questions:
- In recent years campaigners have demanded a statue to Jack Leslie in Plymouth. What does this say about history in the present?
- What could be said on the inscription of such a statue?
Find out more
Find out more about Jack Leslie by checking out the website of The Jack Leslie Campaign.
Jack Leslie in 1921, Plymouth Argyle (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
LIFE STORIES To discover now
Do you wanna know more?
HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS
Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.
Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.
Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.
BBC Sport’s Football Focus visits Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin, a “rebellious” football club from East Berlin with a special set of fans, playing their first season in Germany’s top flight 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the wake of the 2015 migration peak, activists and volunteers across Europe have been involved in supporting refugees, sometimes with the simple act of offering space and friendship to participate in football through grassroots clubs to help newcomers integrate.
LATEST POST You may also be interested in
From the example of Goalball, we look at some broader issues with inclusion and equality in sport.
Review of a drama show to help students discuss societal issues.
The German Football Club 1. FC Köln has a goat as a mascot. Here is a short story on why that is.
A review of a recent novel which may open a window on the early days of women’s football in Italy.
Today in 1964, a football match was organised between Yugoslavia and a UEFA team “Rest of Europe”.