Jack Leslie is the first black footballer called up to an England squad at an international level. The forward spent the majority of his career with Plymouth Argyle, making nearly 400 appearances. However, his more famous moment in his career was earning a call up as a reserve for the England squad in 1925. That invitation was later rescinded due to Leslie being black after the staff learned of his ethnicity.
Although Leslie passed away in 1988 at the age of 87, England is honoring his legacy. Prior to England’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine, Leslie’s family earned a posthumous cap from the national team. The honorary cap commemorates how Leslie impacted the progression of the sport in England.
Celebrating Leslie’s achievements and accepting the cap were Leslie’s grandchildren and representatives from both Plymouth and West Ham United. After retiring, Leslie spent years working in the boot room at West Ham United, where he cleaned the boots of many future World Cup winners.
Debbie Hewitt, the chairwoman of the FA, clarified in October 2022 that Leslie would earn a posthumous cap.
“The FA is awarding Jack a posthumous honorary cap, to recognize his unique contribution and set of circumstances – and to right the historical wrong,” Hewitt said. The program honoring Leslie even stated that “this should never have happened,” in regards to his call up being revoked.
Leslie a trailblazer as first black footballer to earn England call up
Jack Leslie was not the first black footballer in England. Other trailblazers include Walter Tull, who played for Spurs as early as 1909. However, it took until 1978 for Viv Anderson to be the first black person to represent England at senior level.
Regardless, Leslie remains integral to the development of black footballers in England. Hewitt said Leslie started the shift that is still happening today.
“We have made progress in recent years to ensure that English football is more diverse and inclusive, and a game for all. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jack and to his family for comprehensively and consistently driving positive change through football. We are pleased to support this campaign and to recognise Jack’s career.”
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pro Sports Images
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