Jack Leslie’s name rang bells recently when the George Floyd demonstrations reverberated all over the world. The English national, born in Canning to a Jamaican’s father, got rejected from representing the Three Lions because of his colour. He was born John Francis Leslie, the same name as his father, on 17th, August 1901.
During Leslie’s time, Racism is still prominent in Europe and America.
Leslie was the only black professional footballer in his time playing in England. He represented Plymouth Ayrgle for fourteen seasons scoring 137 goals. The Plymouth herald at that time described him as a player known throughout England for his skills and complexion.
Leslie got a call up to the national team in 1925. He got the information from his manager, that he is in the list of players to represent England against Ireland. Unfortunately, that invitation was withdrawn at the last minute. Speculations had it that members of the FA were unaware of his ethnicity when they invited him. Later in life, Leslie told the journalist Brian Woolnough, “They must have forgotten I was a coloured boy.”
Henceforth, Leslie did not get invitations to the national team all through his playing days. Additionally, no black player represented the Three Lions until 1978 when Viv Anderson became the first black player to wear the England jersey.
Leslie retired in 1935 and worked for some time as a member of the backroom staff at his local club West Ham. He later died in 1988.
On 18 June 2020, following George Floyd protests around the world, 500 people signed a petition to have the Sir John Hawkins Square in the city centre renamed Jack Leslie square.
The campaign has so far raised more than the 100 thousand pounds target from nearly 2000 people. Plymouth Argyle supporter and comedian ,Josh Widdicombe, said the campaign had “shined a light” on racism in football.
Commenting on the donations, Jack Leslie’s granddaughter Lyn Davies had this to say; “I nearly fell over when I realized we had gone over the £100,000. It’s just amazing, I’m stunned.”