AN ENGLAND DREAM
|Jack Leslie's England dreams were
When Jack Leslie signed for Plymouth
Argyle FC, the number of black players could be counted on the fingers
of one hand. Now Inside Out profiles the man whose England dream was
ruined - not because of his ability, but because of the colour of
Picture the scene. It's
the 1920s and there are next to no black players anywhere in the British
Jack Leslie, Pilgrims' goal-scoring prodigy, sits down
with manager Bob Jack, who delivers the heart-stopping news - he's been
picked to play for England.
Being called up to join the national side is a dream
come true for any player, but more so for one whose career peaked during
a time when black footballers received little recognition for their efforts,
let alone the chance to play for their country.
A national dream
In a Daily Mail interview in 1978, Leslie recalls the
day he received the news.
"One day, a Tuesday, as I remember it, the manager
calls me in.
"'Johnnie' he says, 'I've got great news for you.
You've been picked for England.'
"It was quite a thing for a little club like Plymouth
to have a man called up. Then the papers came out a day or so later and
Billy Walker of Aston Villa was in the team, not me."
Evelyn recalls his disappointment|
It later emerged that the real reason behind the decision
was down to FA officials, who stated that they hadn't known that he was,
as they called him, "a man of colour."
Jack's daughter Evelyn recalls her father's England disappointment.
"It would have been the icing on the cake, but it
was taken away from him.
"He had a lot of disappointments because of his
Despite an impressive 15-year run which saw him playing
to crowds of over 40,000 people and notching up an impressive 400 match
appearances with over 130 goals, Leslie had to put up with catcalls from
the crowd, who discriminated against him because he was black.
"I used to get a lot of abuse in matches. 'Here
darkie, I'm gonna break your leg,' they'd shout.
"There was nothing wicked about it - they were just
trying to get under my skin."
and the 1930s Plymouth team. Jack is on the front row, fourth from
Image courtesy of the Plymouth Argyle Media
But whatever the crowd's reaction, Leslie's ability always
made its mark. Argyle co-ordinator Peter Hall reminisces about the times
he saw Leslie play.
"On August 26, 1933 - I was six years old - we played
Manchester Utd and won 4-1.
"I always remember that Jack Leslie played a huge
part in that win - it was a real treat to watch him play.
"He was everywhere, his passing was first class,
and his shooting power was enormous. If there ever was an Argyle legend,
it was Jack Leslie."
Leslie had more than proved himself as a top goal-scorer,
holding the record for the most league goals scored (35) between 1927
and 1929, but this still wasn't enough for officials who believed he wasn't
fit to join the esteemed national side.
|"I heard that the FA had come to
have another look at me - not my football but my face."|
"They found out I was a darkie and I suppose that
was like finding out I was foreign."
It was a shocking realisation, and one which shattered
Leslie's dreams of an international career.
He famously commented to Pilgrims teammate and later
journalist Brian Woolnough, "They must have forgotten I was a coloured
But, it seems, times have changed.
Fast forward to 2002: it's the World Cup, and for the
first time there are more black English players on the pitch than white.
Among the squad for England's clash against Brazil are
Darius Vassell, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Kieron Dyer
and Emile Heskey - a line-up that would have made the late Jack Leslie
It's a more positive picture, but the reality is that
while there are more black players in the British leagues than ever, behind
the scenes things are not so good.
coach Leroy Rosenior remembers Leslie's prolific career |
There are very few black coaches, managers and board
members, and racist attacks are still not unheard of in the national game.
Torquay United coach and former West Ham striker Leroy
Rosenior is one of the few. He recalls the influence Leslie's career had
He said, "We're talking 80 years ago, who can imagine
what it was like for Jack - and I thought it was hard when I was playing!
"It says to you 'no matter what you come up against,
you've got to go through it.' That's the sort of thing that people like
Jack Leslie have done for me."
We may have come a long way since Jack's career, but
racism has yet to be eradicated entirely from sport.
Let's hope Leslie's legacy can serve as a reminder -
to put talent before race.