Jack’s early years
The dockland area of Canning Town in East London was an area where many immigrant sailors from Jamaica like John Francis Leslie made their home. John married a white woman from Islington, Anne Regler, and they had a son on August 17th, 1901. He was named John Francis Leslie after his father, but became better known as Jack Leslie.
Jack signs for Barking Town and helps the club bag silverware
18-year-old Jack Leslie joined the club which is now Barking FC and helped the team win the Essex Senior Cup in 1920 and the Premier Division of the London League in 1921. Jack even played in France with the Essex County side just a couple of years after soldiers had crossed the English Channel to fight in the First World War.
It is said he scored 250 goals in two years with Barking Town. That is not verified and does sound a little exaggerated, but the legend indicates how good he was and what brought him to the attention of professional clubs.
Bob Jack persuades a young Jack Leslie to sign for Plymouth Argyle
Argyle manager Bob Jack was canny. Despite the big London clubs like Chelsea, Spurs and nearby West Ham wanting Jack’s signature, the gaffer got his man. ‘Plymouth was crafty…I got home from work one day and this man was in the front parlour. He’d got postcards spread all over the table and mantelpiece… Plymouth Hoe, the sea, the hills.’ According to Jack, Plymouth also offered ten shillings a week more than any other club. This had quite an impact on his decision!
19 November 1921
Jack Leslie makes his home debut for Plymouth in a goalless draw against Merthyr Town
Jack was the only Black professional until Welshman Eddie Parris signed for Bradford Park Avenue in 1928.
Plymouth Argyle travel to South America for a series of exhibition matches
Jack Leslie and the team played nine games against Argentina, Uruguay and famous clubs like Boca Juniors. The Pilgrims even beat those national sides and Jack finally became a regular in the starting line-up, scoring twice against Uruguay in a 4-0 victory and a 1-1 draw.
Jack becomes a regular playing 40 League games, scoring 14 goals
As an inside left, Leslie was a playmaker and goal scorer. When Scottish left-winger Sammy Black joined Argyle in 1924, a touchpaper was lit. Sammy scored 13 that season and would go on to become Plymouth’s all-time top scorer with 182 goals. The Daily Mirror later described their partnership as ‘one of the most famous of post-war football.’
27 June 1925
Jack marries Lavinia Garland in London, and they settle in Glendower Road, Plymouth
Plymouth Argyle’s season gets off to a flyer
The Pilgrims won ten of their first twelve Third Division South games, scoring 44 goals. Jack netted eight and gained national press attention for his efforts with The Daily Mirror picturing him scoring against Southend in a 6-2 win.
5 October 1925
Jack Leslie is selected for England
Jack was picked as one of two reserves to travel to Belfast for the game against Ireland on October 24th. Bob Jack gave him the news the next morning, which was reported in papers across the country. This brought huge excitement in Plymouth, but within days the cheers fell silent as Jack was quietly dropped.
24 October 1925
England draw 0-0 in Belfast. Plymouth Argyle win 7-2 at Home Park with two goals from Jack
1 May 1926
Plymouth lose to Gillingham, missing out on promotion…again.
At the time, only one club won promotion and, not for the first time, Argyle missed out on the last day of the season. They would finish runners-up six times in the 1920s.
Plymouth finish second to Bristol City, runners-up again. Jack scored 14 goals in 34 games
Plymouth draw Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup. The game is trailed in the press as the ‘Coloured Cup Tie’
With Eddie Parris now on the scene, the League had two Black professionals. In the end, Eddie didn’t start the match but, ironically, he did win one cap for Wales against Ireland.
Champions at last
A decade of hurt for the Pilgrims ended, and a new one began with joy. Plymouth won the Third Division South with a record tally of 68 points. Jack was part of a team of Argyle legends, including Sammy Black, Moses Russell, Jack Vidler, Fred Craig, and Cornishman Ray Bowden, who would go on to win six England caps.
Jack captains Plymouth to its best season so far
It is almost certain that Jack Leslie was the first Black skipper of a professional side and a crowning achievement in his glittering career for the club. This was not only Argyle’s finest season, but Jack’s too as he scored 21 times in 43 appearances.
9 January 1932
Argyle beat Manchester United 4-1!
Jack and his team claimed a famous scalp in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Let’s not dwell on the fact that the famous Manchester club languished below Plymouth in the Second Division at the time. Plymouth drew Arsenal away in the next round, and the game attracted a record crowd of 65,000. Argyle put on a great display, but the game ended 4-2, although Jack scored, and his team were denied a couple of penalty shouts by a referee from Exeter!
Argyle take to the skies, only to be brought down by the FA!
With the long treks to away games, the Plymouth directors experimented with flying for a game against Stoke. The two hours by plane compared to ten hours on a train, but this luxury was reserved for club officials and friends. As captain, Jack was the only player allowed on board for the return flight. The FA, however, banned air travel to games soon after.
Injury puts an early end to Jack Leslie’s career and hampers Plymouth’s season
A loose lace from the heavy leather footballs used in the 1930s caught Jack’s eye, scratching his cornea. The damage was so bad that it was feared he would never play again. Reports said the loss of Leslie had a major impact on Argyle’s chances that season and they finished a disappointing tenth. The club was all set to let him go, but a specialist gave Jack an optimistic report, and he was retained for another year.
29 December 1934
Jack scores but this is his final game for Plymouth Argyle
He did hit the net in a 3-1 home victory against Fulham, but this was the only time Jack played for the first team that season and it would be the last time he would pull on a green shirt. His incredible career was brought to a sad and premature end by a freak injury, which nearly cost him his eyesight. But by then Jack Leslie had made 400 appearances and scored 137 goals. A legend.