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Campaign launched to build statue of former Barking FC footballer and West Ham boot boy

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:49 01 July 2020

Jack Leslie made his name playing for Plymouth Argyle and should have been the first black player to earn an England cap. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA

Jack Leslie made his name playing for Plymouth Argyle and should have been the first black player to earn an England cap. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA

PA Archive/PA Images

A fundraising campaign has launched to build a statue in memory of a former West Ham boot boy and Barking FC footballer who should have been England’s first black player.

There are plans to put a statue of Jack Leslie outside Plymouth Argyle's Home Park stadium. Picture: Ben Birchall/PAThere are plans to put a statue of Jack Leslie outside Plymouth Argyle's Home Park stadium. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA

Jack Leslie, who was born in Canning Town, was a prolific enough goalscorer to receive a call-up to the national side in 1925 - but later denied the chance to represent his country.

And now, as statues across the country are being removed for their links to slavery. there are calls to recognise the pioneering sportsman and celebrate his achievements by erecting one in his memory.

Leslie, who was the only black professional footballer in England for much of his career, spent his teenage years playing for Barking Town - as the club was known then - before signing for Plymouth Argyle.

He scored 137 goals in 401 appearances for the south coast side, helping them to promotion and becoming the club’s captain, before an eye injury ended his career in 1934.

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In the 1960s, he joined West Ham as a boot boy where he shined the shoes of World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. He remained at the club until his retirement in 1982, at the age of 80.

The Jack Leslie Campaign has been set up to raise awareness of his story, as well as raise funds to build a statue outside the ground where he plied his trade for many years - Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park.

The campaign’s co-founder Greg Foxsmith said: “At a time when people are recognising that black lives matter and statues of slave traders are coming down, we believe that putting up a statue is a more positive way to celebrate black achievement and challenge racial stereotypes.

“Let’s build a statue we can be proud of.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association equalities officer, Iffy Onuora, backed the campaign and added: “Jack Leslie deserves a statue for the career that is marked in the record books.

“But the injustice he suffered almost one hundred years ago is sadly still reflected in other aspects within the game and beyond today. Acknowledging that and celebrating this pioneering black player is a positive message we need right now.”

To donate towards the statue fund, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/jack-leslie-campaign


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