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Jack Leslie statue to be unveiled at Plymouth Argyle

A photo of Jack LeslieLeslie family

A statue of a pioneering black footballer is being unveiled on Friday.

The 12ft (3.7m) statue of Jack Leslie is being placed outside the ground of Plymouth Argyle, the club he scored 137 times for in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1925 he was selected for the England squad, and his family said he was later denied his place due to the colour of his skin.

Matt Tiller, who campaigned for the statue, said “to see Jack come home to Plymouth Argyle is just incredible”.

When Leslie moved to Plymouth from east London in 1921, he was the only black professional footballer in the country.

He went on to play 400 times for the team and became club captain.

Granddaughter's of Jack Leslie

Granddaughter Lesley Hiscott said: “The whole situation to us is like a dream, we have to keep pinching ourselves to make sure it really is happening and to actually see the statue there… at long last grandad’s getting the recognition he deserved.”

Granddaughter Lyn Davies said her grandad’s story was not well known to the public.

She said: “It was just a confined few that knew the story… but now, everyone’s going to know. Football was his passion, to be paid for doing what you love, he was happy to do that.”

Ms Hiscott added that the statue would symbolise the “wider issue” of racism in the industry.

“He was never given any reason as to why he had been dropped and the only presumption is because he was playing such brilliant football, he wasn’t injured, he had not been suspended, the only issue was the colour of his skin.

“We’re hoping that as the story goes out, it will help in the fight against injustice caused by prejudice to try and sort that, promote diversity and equality.”

She said those facing similar discrimination should “go out there and fight for your dream, don’t ever give up, always go out there and fight”.

A photo of Andy Edwards

Jack Leslie Campaign

Mr Tiller said: “It’s a great thing as an Argyle fan to have a statue of a legend outside the club, but this statue is more than that.

“Jack Leslie was a true Argyle legend but the story of what happened to him with the England call up and that being denied because of the colour of his skin, is an important story to be told.”

He added: “It is not just a lump of bronze. It is not just a representation of a footballer. It is there to tell the story of his career, and what he had to deal with.”

Ronnie Mauge

Former Plymouth Argyle football player and ambassador for the club Ronnie Mauge said Leslie’s story was a “testimony to how good a player he was”, and hoped his story would now become a recognised part of history.

He said: “For a young black man to be denied playing for his country just because of the colour of his skin… in a time when Jack played in the 1920s, he was the only black professional footballer playing at the time so you can imagine the abuse that he would have received up and down the country, so he would have had thick skin.

“He was the first black player to be selected for England and that wasn’t taught in schools, that wasn’t taught by anyone, that was like forgotten history… he was a proper trailblazer.”

Mr Mauge said there was “still a long way to go” to tackle racism in and outside of the game.

“We have to get this right, racism isn’t a football problem, it’s a social problem, and until we start looking at the social aspects of racism and coming together and talking about racism, you know we’ve still got a lot of work to be done,” he said.

The unveiling is being attended by Leslie’s family members, senior club representatives and those behind the campaign.

Ahead of Plymouth Argyle’s match against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, there will be there will be a celebration of Leslie’s legacy.

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