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Campaign launched to recognise pioneering black footballer

By Rod Minchin, PA

A fundraising campaign has been launched to build a statue of a footballer dropped by England when selectors found out he was black.

The aim is to raise at least £100,000 for a bronze statue to Plymouth Argyle legend Jack Leslie outside the Home Park stadium.

Leslie would have been the first black player to play for England when he was initially selected in 1925 to play against Ireland.

His selection was the talk of the club and the town – but some days later, when the newspapers published the team, Billy Walker, of Aston Villa, was in the starting line-up and Leslie was named as a travelling reserve.

Had the prolific goalscorer played he would have achieved the distinction of being the first black player to represent his country 53 years before Nottingham Forest’s Viv Anderson made his debut.

Organisers of the campaign hope to raise even more than the £100,000 to maintain the monument long term and to continue the work of raising awareness of Leslie’s story.

He was born in London in 1900 to an English mother and Jamaican father and played for Plymouth Argyle from 1921 to 1934, scoring 137 goals in 401 appearances.

Leslie was the only professional black footballer playing in England for much of his career and was a popular figure in Devon where he helped Plymouth Argyle win a championship and promotion, toured South America and became club captain.

After retiring from playing, Leslie returned to London and resumed his trade as a boilermaker.

He later worked in the boot room at West Ham United, under future England manager Ron Greenwood.

Leslie’s grand-daughter Lyn Davies said: “My sisters, Lesley and Jill, and I remember Jack as a wonderful grandad who looked after us and told us funny stories.

“We and the wider family are absolutely delighted that he is now being recognised for the sporting achievements he was so modest about.”

Last year Plymouth Argyle owner Simon Hallett named the boardroom in the new Mayflower Grandstand at Home Park after Leslie.

The Football Association have also supported the Jack Leslie Campaign by becoming an official sponsor.

FA chairman Greg Clarke said: “Stories like this are incredibly sad. Discrimination in the game, in any form or from any time period, is unacceptable.

“We must always remember pioneers like Jack Leslie and be thankful that football is in a very different place today.

“We are very pleased to support this campaign which will hopefully ensure that Jack’s career is appropriately recognised.”

Plymouth-born lawyer Greg Foxsmith, who is the co-founder of the Jack Leslie Campaign, said: “At a time when people are recognising that black lives matter and statues of slave traders are coming down, we believe that putting up a statue is a more positive way to celebrate black achievement and challenge racial stereotypes.

“Let’s build a statue we can be proud of.”

Co-founder Matt Tiller added: “We are reaching out and calling on people to support this campaign. We want football fans, politicians, organisations and companies, but most importantly individuals, to show their support and donate towards the statue fund.”

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