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Jack Leslie Campaign to unveil statue

October is Black History Month and we always like to promote such events with related campaign work carried out by supporters. The Jack Leslie Campaign leapt out as a great example of just that and we’ve spoken to Plymouth Argyle fan and campaign co-founder Matt Tiller to find out more.

For those who don’t know Jack Leslie was a prolific goalscorer for Argyle in the 1920s – scoring 137 goals for the club – but a somewhat forgotten figure until a group of supporters got together and raised more than £100,000 to pay for a statue which will be unveiled tomorrow (Friday 7th October 2022).

Jack died in 1988 but his legacy is growing by the day and it was all started by a chance conversion Matt had at a party with fellow Pilgrims fan, Tony Fitz-Gerald. 

“He told me about the story and I was blown away,” says Matt. “Why had I not heard this before? The older generation knew about it but it hadn’t really been celebrated. It was then that myself and co-founder Greg Foxsmith set up the campaign. The more I found out about Jack’s story, the more I felt it was true and deserved recognition.

“From everything on record Jack was a great player. He was a decent sized guy for that period and the pictures give a sense of power and courage. Press reports describe him as an intelligent player too, not just a goalscorer, a tactician on the pitch. He had a great partnership with Sammy Black, who is the club’s all-time top scorer with Jack fourth on the list.”

With his reputation as a player growing in 1925 an England call-up was on-the-cards which would have made him the first black player to represent the Three Lions. It would have been an amazing achievement and it would take another 53 years for a black player to be called up – that player being Viv Anderson.

Racism

However, the invitation was withdrawn and the lingering cloud of racism hovered with reports at the time hinting that FA selectors had changed their minds because of his skin colour. Jack was in little doubt as he told Brian Woolnough in 1982: “They must have forgotten I was a coloured boy.” He was never picked for England again.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Jack Leslie Campaign was revving up and aiming, in its own way, to right past wrongs by giving Jack the recognition he deserved. Matt and Greg had taken the concept of a statue to club owner Simon Hallett who loved it and they were all set to start rattling tins outside Home Park. However, as they were set to launch, Covid hit, although it actually led to other funding streams.

“We thought it would take years of matchday fundraising to get to the target but as soon as the story was live on the BBC News online donations flooded in,” says Matt. “Supporters were incredibly generous.”

It wasn’t just Argyle fans chipping in with a few quid either, as more than 2,000 people from across the football world donated to the crowdfunder while the campaign also received support from the FSA, FA, PFA and other organisations. As ever, timing was key.

Matt explains: “The horrific murder of George Floyd led to protests around the world and a focus on statues in the UK. The monument to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and here was our campaign to erect a statue of someone who deserved recognition. The odd negative comment proves why the message behind the campaign is still important. We’re celebrating Jack Leslie the player but also showing there’s no place for racism in society.”

The campaign commissioned sculptor Andy Edwards following a thorough tender process involving Jack Leslie’s family. Edwards has a fine track record of commemorating famous football managers with past works including Brian Clough and Peter Taylor at Pride Park, and Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie.

“It’s a dynamic representation of the player that was Jack Leslie. Without being obvious it’s a powerful statement. He’s done an incredible job,” says Matt.

  • Find out for yourself when the statue is unveiled tomorrow (Friday 7th October 2022) – there’s more information on live streaming and the event here.

The FSA’s Fans for Diversity campaign, which is run in partnership with Kick It Out, has provided a grant to the Jack Leslie campaign to develop education resources and sessions. To find out more about Fans for Diversity and possible project funding email Anwar Uddin.

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Funding partners

  • The Football Association
  • Premier Leage Fans Fund

Partners

  • Gamble Aware
  • Co-operatives UK
  • FSE
  • Kick It Out
  • Level Playing Field
  • Living Wage Foundation
  • Pledgeball