Leslie campaign reaches its target

A campaign to raise £100,000 to erect a statue of a footballer who was dropped from the England team when selectors discovered he was black, has hit its target.

Plymouth Argyle’s Jack Leslie would have been the first black person to play for England, having initially been selected to play against Ireland in 1925.

His selection was the talk of the club and the town, but some days later, when the newspapers published the team, Billy Walker of Aston Villa was in the starting line-up and Leslie was named as a travelling reserve.

Had the prolific goal-scorer played, he would have achieved
the distinction of being the first black player to represent his country, 53 years before Nottingham Forest’s Viv Anderson made his debut.

A crowdfunding campaign for a bronze statue outside Argyle’s Home Park stadium reached its initial target, having only been launched last month, with nearly 2,000 people contributing.

Leslie was born in London in 1900 to an English mother and Jamaican father and 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 was a popular figure in Devon, where he helped Plymouth 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 boot room at West Ham United, under future England manager Ron Greenwood.

Last year Plymouth Argyle owner Simon Hallett named the boardroom in the new Mayflower Grandstand at Home Park after Leslie.

The Football Association has also supported the Jack Leslie Campaign by becoming an official sponsor.

Plymouth-born lawyer Greg Foxsmith, the co-founder of the Jack Leslie Campaign, said: “We are grateful for all who have contributed their money, their gifts and prizes, their artworks and their ideas. Having reached our initial target with such positivity, we are encouraged to go further. 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.”

Fundraising for the statue will continue, with proposals for its design considered by Leslie’s family and fans. Donations to the campaign can be made at: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/jack-leslie-campaign

Ben Fox

Author: Ben Fox

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