29th August 1925

Plymouth Argyle and Jack Leslie are off to a flyer!

As the previous term’s top scorer, Jack began the season in confident form. With the young Scot Sammy Black, Jack forged a wonderful partnership that brought national fame, but not a single international cap. However, Jack was selected.

The Pilgrims kicked off with a 6-2 hammering of Southend United. Jack slotted home the first from the rebound after a fearsome Sammy Black strike. The goal was pictured in the Daily Mirror along with a headshot of Jack…

Daily Mirror 1925 photo of Jack scoring a goal

By early October, Argyle were topping the division, scoring 31 goals in the eight games that preceded the FA’s International Selection Committee meeting. Jack had scored six of those.

5th October 1925

Jack Leslie is selected for England

It was the day of the Charity Shield at White Hart Lane. At the time, this was a match between amateurs and professionals. The amateurs won the match 6-1, so it was no surprise that three of the winning side were then chosen to represent England in its next international match. 

The 14 FA Committee members, including its President, met after the game to choose the England players to face Ireland in Belfast later that month. Jack Leslie was selected as one of two reserves to travel. His record and the recommendation of his well-connected manager, Bob Jack, were enough to give him the nod. He was to be one of thirteen players to represent his country. A huge honour, which should also have been the beginning of an international career for a player who was consistently winning plaudits and writing headlines for his club performances.

Bob Jack

6th October 1925

Bob Jack gives Jack Leslie the good news, and he is named in the England team

Jack rarely spoke about what happened to him, but the story was known, and when Viv Anderson became the first Black player to win a full England cap, Brian James of the Daily Mail interviewed Jack: 

‘Well, one day, a Tuesday as I remember, the manager, Mr Bob Jack, calls me in. He’s looking over his glasses and smiling. He stands up and puts his arms on my shoulder. “Johnnie” – that’s what he called me – “Johnnie… I’ve got great news for you. You’ve been picked for England”.

‘This really knocked me sideways. Everybody in the club knew about it. The town was full of it. All them days ago, it was quite a thing for a little club like Plymouth to have a man called up for England. I was proud — but then I was proud just to be a paid footballer.’

That same day, the team sheet was published in the press locally and nationally from the Western Morning News to the Edinburgh Evening News. All named Leslie (Plymouth Argyle) as one of two reserves to travel.

Jack is named on the England team list in three newspapers

7th October

Further press reports comment on Jack’s selection

The Westminster Gazette remarked that Jack’s selection was ‘interesting’ and referred to him as ‘a man of colour.’ 

12th October

An injury sparks speculation that Jack Leslie will be promoted to the starting eleven

The Western Daily Press reported news of an injury to Huddersfield left-back Sam Wadsworth who would now miss the England game and said, ‘A substitute, of course, will now have to be found, and it is not unlikely that Leslie, the darkie [sic] forward of Plymouth Argyle, will fill the vacancy.’ Jack was a versatile player who was known to play in defence at times and, as such, was probably a sensible reserve to have. But an alternative was eventually drafted in. Perhaps the decision had already been made to cut Leslie out of the squad?

19th October

Jack’s name has disappeared from the team sheet

By now, it seemed an “about-face” decision had occurred. The Athletic News reported on the England squad, and Jack Leslie was no longer in it. The reserves to travel now included Nuttall and Earle, but with no mention of Jack. He was neither injured nor suspended.

24th October 1925

England draw against Ireland in Belfast while Jack shines at Home Park

While the national side failed to score in a lacklustre draw, Jack Leslie scored twice in a 7-2 victory for Plymouth at Home Park against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic. Jack began the rout by latching on to a direct ball into the area from Patsy Corcoran before scooping it past the helpless opposing keeper.

On the morning of the game, a Belfast newspaper, the Northern Whig noted, Leslie, who has scored plenty of goals for the Argyle, is an inside forward of great ability and will soon work his way into representative matches.’ Clearly, news of Jack being dropped hadn’t crossed the Irish Sea.

28th October 1925

The Daily Herald investigates the affair

While most publications seemed to avoid the controversy, one picked up on the mysterious deselection of the exciting Argyle inside left. The FA denied they’d ever picked Jack while the Press Association was adamant they had. Why else would they have released his name far and wide?

Jack said in his 1978 Daily Mail interview, ‘There was a bit of uproar in the papers. Folks in the town were very upset.’ 

31st October 1925

A local reporter gives an insight into the controversy

This quote from the Football Herald suggests the authorities wanted to brush their decision under the carpet,  ‘My readers may be expecting from me a comment upon the Argyle Club’s announcement that Jack Leslie was not chosen as reserve forward for England. Unfortunately, my pen is under a ban in this matter, but I may say that a mistake was made in London and transmitted to me. Anyway, Leslie was at that time playing quite well enough to be chosen’.


The Daily Mail highlights why Jack Leslie never won an England Cap 

The paper had already commented on Jack as a ‘coloured genius’ the previous year, but its most telling quote came towards the end of Jack’s illustrious club career. It simply stated as fact, ‘Had he been white he would have been a certain England international.’


Jack and his partner on the field, Sammy Black, were special guests at Home Park and received a standing ovation from the crowd. More mature Argyle fans then remembered their swashbuckling play and that neither won an international cap ‘still rankles with many.’

September 26th 1965

Jack Leslie receives a hero’s welcome as he returns to Home Park 

Jack and Sammy in the Argyle programme 1965

29th November 1978

Viv Anderson becomes the first Black player to win a full England cap

The Nottingham Forest right-back made history when Ron Greenwood picked him to play for his country against Czechoslovakia. It was big news at the time when racist abuse was rife on the terraces, and many of those fans guilty of those chants didn’t believe Black players should be in the England team. 

What happened to Jack Leslie in 1925 was less overt than the abuse the likes of Anderson faced, but the intention of those who denied his place was the same. Jack told the Daily Mail how he discovered his chance had been taken away…

‘Then all of a sudden everyone stopped talking about it. Sort of went dead quiet. Didn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t ask outright. I could see by their faces it was awkward. But I did hear, roundabout like, that the FA had come to have another look at me. Not at me football but at me face. They asked, and found they’d made a ricket. Found out about me Daddy, and that was it. There was a bit of an uproar in the papers. Folks in the town were very upset. No one ever told me official-like, but that had to be the reason, me Mum was English but me Daddy was black as the Ace of Spades. There wasn’t any other reason for taking my cap away.

Viv Anderson Q&A:

BBC South West report 2002:

Black and white photo of Jack in football top looking at camera, arms folded.