Jack Leslie: The footballer who should have been England's first black player

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson

Jack Leslie should have been England’s first-ever black player, 53 years before Viv Anderson made his debut.

Instead, Plymouth striker Leslie was dropped after receiving his first callup, something his family put down to the colour of his skin, when a scout came to watch him play.

Now his family are calling for a statue to be built of Leslie outside Home Park, the home of Plymouth Argyle.

The Jack Leslie Campaign team’s website said: “We not only want to build a statue as a memorial to Jack Leslie, but also use his story to celebrate diversity and combat racism.”

The hope is to build at statue at Home Park Credit: PA

Leslie was born in 1900 in Canning Town, London to an English mother and Jamaican father. 

He started out playing for Barking, before moving to Plymouth Argyle where he earned his national selection, an incredible feat for a Third Division player.

In 1925, Leslie was named in the squad travelling to play Ireland but his named mysteriously disappeared from the team sheet. 

At the time, his stats would have been available to selectors but due to lack of footage and photographer, the first time a member of England's staff found out he was black was when they saw him play in the flesh.

Leslie got over the disappointment, going on to score an impressive 137 goals in a career which came to an end in 1934.

It was not until Anderson was called up, 53 years later, by Ron Greenwood in 1978 that a black player would represent England in an international.

After his retirement for the game, Leslie returned to east London and ended up securing at job at West Ham United after he met the manager Greenwood, who recognised the former player.

For years, he continued working in the Hammers’ boot room, cleaning and polishing the boots of players such as World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, in addition to Clyde Best, one of the most high-profile black pioneers of the English game.

Kelly Greenaway, Leslie's great-great niece, says the family welcomes the campaign.

"We would be so proud," Ms Greenaway said.

"It's what he deserves, and I just hope that a lot more stories about black people also come out.

"When you read about what he went through and how he was treated you get that lump in your throat."

Leslie died in 1988 but has since been honoured at Plymouth, where the boardroom is named after him.

Plymouth City Council recently agreed to rename Sir John Hawkins Square after the footballer, rather than the slave trader.

Now his family and a campaign group are hoping for a more visual commemoration of the Pilgrims hero at the ground.