Funds raised for statue of English football’s black trailblazer

London (AFP)

Jack Leslie, who was chosen to play for England in 1925 but dropped when selectors discovered he was black, will have a statue erected in his honour outside Plymouth Argyle’s stadium after an appeal raised the £100,000 ($131,000) required.

The Plymouth player, who had an English mother and a Jamaican father, was called up to the national side in the 1920s but the invitation was subsequently withdrawn.

Plymouth Argyle striker Jordan Slew is tackled by Trent Alexander-Arnold in an FA cup match in 2017 - Plymouth have raised the money to commemorate Jack Leslie, a black player from the 1920s
Plymouth Argyle striker Jordan Slew is tackled by Trent Alexander-Arnold in an FA cup match in 2017 – Plymouth have raised the money to commemorate Jack Leslie, a black player from the 1920s Ben STANSALL AFP

It would be another 53 years until Viv Anderson became England’s first black player.

Former Nottingham Forest and Arsenal defender Anderson admitted he had never heard of Leslie’s story until it was brought to his attention in June.

“That’s a crying shame because what he achieved and what he did should be paramount in every black person’s mind,” Anderson told the BBC in July.

There is already a mural to Leslie at Plymouth’s Home Park ground and the club named their boardroom after him, but fans wanted to go further.

Having met their original target they want to keep the appeal going.

“Having reached our initial target with such positivity, we are encouraged to go further,” said Greg Foxsmith, who is the co-founder of the Jack Leslie Campaign.

“More money enables us to have a bigger, better statue.

“It also allows us to begin work on our aspirations to tell the Jack Leslie story, and use his story to challenge prejudice and discrimination.

“We will continue, at least in the short term, to raise money with our stretch target in place to ensure the best possible memorial to Jack.”

Leslie played for Plymouth Argyle from 1921 to 1934, scoring 137 goals in 401 appearances.

He was the only black professional footballer playing in England for much of his career and helped Argyle win a championship and promotion, toured South America and became club captain.

After retiring from playing, Leslie returned to London and resumed his trade as a boilermaker.

He later worked in the bootroom at West Ham United, under future England manager Ron Greenwood.

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