Jack Leslie in action kicking a ball

Honouring a pioneer

Jack Leslie was a pioneer. For most of his career he was the only black player and was the first to be appointed captain of a Football League side. He is now well-known for the honour he should have won. 
Jack Leslie was the first black player to be selected for England in a match versus Ireland in 1925, but he was quietly dropped due to the colour of his skin and never allowed to represent his country. 
The University of Plymouth supported the Jack Leslie Campaign which in 2022 unveiled the iconic statue of this football pioneer outside Home Park in the city.
A book called The Lion Who Never Roared written by Matt Tiller tells the story of a boy born in East London to a Jamaican father and a white, English mother who was signed by Plymouth as a 19-year-old from Barking Town in 1921. Jack became an Argyle legend playing 400 times and scoring 137 league and cup goals over 13 years.  
When campaign co-founder Matt approached us about his plans to write a biography of Jack, we were keen to support the project. The University funded three interns who helped Matt with the research and editing of the book.
This new book tells Jack's story in detail and his remarkable life from childhood in East London through the Argyle years to his time at West Ham United, where he worked until he was 82 cleaning the boots of World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.
Jack Leslie's header versus Bradford.
Jack Leslie with Arsenal captain.
Jack Leslie in action on the pitch.

The Jack Leslie Campaign

The Jack Leslie Campaign was set up in in 2019 by a couple of Argyle fans (Matt Tiller and Greg Foxsmith) who had learned of the story, and they were soon joined by a diverse team of volunteers
In July 2020 the campaign launched a crowd-funded appeal, and smashed it's £100,000 target in six weeks. One year later Andy Edwards was commissioned to create the Jack Leslie statue. 
On 7 October 2022 the life and a quarter size bronze statue was unveiled outside Home Park where it stands and is admired by home and away fans alike.
Jack Leslie statue detail at Home Park.

“The more I've read about Jack, the more I admire him. When he was selected for England he was just hitting his stride and starting to write headlines, but in the years that followed many, and not just Argyle fans, considered him the best inside left in the country who should have represented it on many occasions. That must have been tough, knowing that despite his talent and his undeniable patriotism, he would never get that chance to play for England.”

Matt Tiller, author of The Lion Who Never Roared
Matt continues, “Jack's years at Argyle were some of their best and unluckiest. The club missed out on promotion by a whisker as runners up six times in the 1920s before they finally topped the Third Division South in 1930. 
Jack can be considered the most successful Plymouth captain in history and is undoubtedly one of their best ever players. 
"And in his time Argyle had one hell of a team with players like Sammy Black, of course, and Jack Hill and Ray Bowden who would become England stars. It was a fascinating, dramatic period, with plenty of funny as well as poignant incidents and I'm sure Argyle fans in particular will enjoy the book.”
A portrait of Jack Leslie
Book cover for 'The Lion Who Never Roared' by Matt Tiller.
A portrait of Jack Leslie

A labour of love

Matt says, "The support of the University was very welcome as this was a labour of love for me and I had a tight deadline. Researching Jack's life was a huge undertaking and history students Andy and Callum, who are both Argyle fans too, helped check some crucial facts and unearthed a couple of great bits of information. Cerys gave me some valuable thoughts on the first draft of the book too. It was a pleasure to involve them in the process.

“The book has been an honour and a privilege to research and write. Jack's granddaughters have given me access to their archive and to their memories and precious family stories. Their honesty and integrity with their grandfather's legacy has ensured this is an honest portrait of this remarkable footballer and man. I shared the book with them to make sure I had got all the facts straight, but I was also nervous of what they would think. When they told me they loved it I was relieved and delighted.”

Jack Leslie's England Cap.
The unveiling of the Jack Leslie statue at Home Park
Viv Anderson MBE, Jack Leslie's grandaughter's Gill, Lyn, and Debbie Hewitt, Chair of the FA
Jack Leslie’s three granddaughters, Lyn, Gill and Lesley have supported the campaign from the very start and it has been hugely positive for them.
When we finished reading the book, we were in tears.
“It was a very emotional read and I think that's a good thing because it eloquently describes Grandad’s life and the impact he had on all his family, friends and colleagues. To say nothing of the effect we believe the book will have on all who read it.”

A rewarding internship experience

For current history students Andy Swabey and Callum Forwood, knowledge of the internship opportunity to help contribute to The Lion Who Never Roared came via their lecturer Dr Simon Topping, which saw them applying to the University's Industry Liaison Officer Mr Lee Whittock for the roles.
The internship involved carrying out extensive archival research into the databases of Plymouth-based and national newspapers in search of anything related to the story of Jack Leslie, in order to aid Matt’s authorship of the biography.

“It feels slightly surreal to have played a part in a project which will find its significance in the modern historical reflections of Argyle and the city itself. Researching Jack’s life was a roller coaster. I found myself rooting for him each time I opened an article, hoping to read reports of a top performance – which was most often the case as his playing years progressed. It was a privilege to work with Matt on his book. To get to know him and to work with him in a professional capacity was a great experience, which I’m sure will prove invaluable to the progression of my own career.”

Callum Forwood, 3rd year BA (Hons) History student

Praise for The Lion Who Never Roared

The Lion Who Never Roared has already received praise from those who have been given a preview, including Viv Anderson MBE. Viv was the first black player to win a full England cap in 1978, 53 years after Jack's selection. He has contributed a foreword and says the book is, “Inspiring and important. An extraordinary life story.”
The comedian Josh Widdicombe who is an ardent Argyle fan says it is, “A beautifully written and fitting tribute for an unfairly overlooked legend.”
And Debbie Hewitt, Chair of the FA, who presented Jack's granddaughters with a posthumous honorary cap in March this year believes it is, “An evocative and gripping portrait of a remarkable football pioneer.”
The Lion Who Never Roared will be released in hardback and includes a fantastic section of photographs, many from the Leslie family archive, by Pitch Publishing on 23 October and is available to pre-order from all good bookstores. 

The Jack Leslie Campaign

The Jack Leslie Campaign aims to celebrate Jack's legacy not only with the dedicated statue at Plymouth Argyle but with continued education through projects across the city addressing continued racism in football today.

Discover more about the campaign

You can also visit www.jackleslie.co.uk for the latest campaign updates, learning resources and more information about Jack's incredible life. 
Jack Leslie