One year ago, Jack Leslie’s bronze statue was unveiled at Home Park, and this incredible occasion was marked by a historic pledge. Debbie Hewitt, FA chair, announced that Jack was to be awarded a posthumous honorary cap in recognition of the adversity he faced due to the colour of his skin. Jack was the first black footballer to be selected for England back in 1925, but due to prejudice he then never got the chance to represent his country (read “Jack’s story” here) The honorary cap was presented as promised to Jack’s family in March this year ahead of England’s 2-0 victory over Ukraine (see here)
On the morning of the Swansea City match on 7th October, the anniversary of the unveiling, Jack’s family, the campaign team and Argyle legend, Ronnie Mauge, met at the statue to show off the cap and talk to fans. Appropriately, the game was Argyle’s designated Kick it Out fixture and the charity’s CEO Sanjay Bhandari joined us and the club for the day. The cap was also shown to fans in a packed Green Taverners, before finally being presented to Ronnie (in his role as club ambassador) by Jack’s granddaughters on the pitch at half-time.
The cap means a huge amount to Jack’s family, and they have loved having it. But they too had made a pledge. To bring the cap home… to Home Park. It was here that Jack made his name, was told he’d been picked for England and bounced back after his cruel deselection. He went on to score 137 goals in 400 appearances for Plymouth Argyle between 1921 and 1934 and captained the club to its highest league position, something that has only been equalled once in the decades that followed.
Jack’s granddaughters, Lesley, Lyn and Gill feel this the right place for the cap, ‘The campaign to recognise our grandad has meant so much to the whole family and to have the support of so many people after so long is mind-blowing. When granddad returned to Plymouth Argyle as a guest of honour in 1965, he got a standing ovation from the thousands of fans who remembered and loved him. He welled-up when he shared those special memories. So, the three of us knew that the cap had to come here. Jack Leslie embraced Plymouth just as it embraced him. We are proud to present his cap to be displayed at Home Park where our grandad became a hero.‘
When Jack’s name was in the papers 98 years ago as part of the England team to travel to Ireland there was a huge buzz in Plymouth. ‘Everyone in the town was full of it,’ said Jack. Then everything went quiet, and this young talent was cruelly dropped before the game due to the colour of his skin. He was frequently tipped as an England player in the years that followed but the FA had already made its decision.
Jack Leslie Campaign co-founders Greg Foxsmith and Matt Tiller said, ‘For the FA to accept that Jack was the first black player to be selected for England and to recognise that it was the colour of his skin that put an end to his chances was a massive step. And for Jack’s family who have carried that injustice with them all these years to now bring the cap here to Plymouth is a wonderful gesture. We are proud of them, the club, the Green Army and Jack.‘
The cap is now displayed in the Jack Leslie Boardroom alongside a unique maquette. It can be seen by fans doing one of Argyle’s stadium tours. It has been donated on permanent loan to the club with a view to making it available to fans as much as possible through events and exhibitions.
The Jack Leslie Campaign co-founders Matt Tiller and Greg Foxsmith continue to tell the story in schools and organisations including football clubs. Read more about the campaign at jackleslie.co.uk, and the other presentations and events for October (Black History Month) here.
Matt’s biography of Jack Leslie, The Lion Who Never Roared: The Star Robbed of England Glory is out on 23 October and will be available in the Argyle Store (or pre-order here)
For more information: Email the Campaign!
Individual contributions are welcome via the Crowdfunder site: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/jack-leslie-campaign