London (AFP) – Football fans are raising money to erect a statue of Jack Leslie, who was chosen to play for England but dropped when selectors discovered he was black.
The Plymouth player, who had an English mother and a Jamaican father, was called up to the national side in 1925 but the invitation was subsequently withdrawn.
It would be another 53 years until Viv Anderson became England’s first black player.
The Jack Leslie Campaign website said: “We not only want to build a statue as a memorial to Jack Leslie, but also use his story to celebrate diversity and combat racism.”
It comes at a time of heightened awareness of racial injustice, with Premier League players wearing “Black Lives Matter” logos following the death of George Floyd in the United States.
Leslie’s granddaughter, Lesley Hiscott, told the BBC: “I believe that the manager sent in his request, saying ‘I’ve got a brilliant player here, he should play for England’.
“So then someone came down to watch him. They weren’t watching his football. They were looking at the colour of his skin.
“And because of that, he was denied the chance of playing for his country.”
Anderson said Leslie’s achievements in such a hostile atmosphere should be a badge of pride for black people.
The Nottingham Forest star, who also played for Arsenal and Manchester United, eventually became the first black player to represent England against Czechoslovakia in 1978.
“I’d never heard of Jack Leslie until up to two weeks ago,” he told the BBC.
“And that’s a crying shame because what he achieved and what he did should be paramount in every black person’s mind.”
There is already a mural to Leslie at Plymouth’s Home Park ground and the club named their boardroom after him, but fans want to go further.
Campaign co-founder Greg Foxsmith, who hopes to raise £100,000 ($124,000), told the BBC: “At a time when some statues are being pulled down, we want to put one of Jack Leslie up to commemorate his amazing achievements and to remember the injustice that he suffered.”
Plymouth chairman Simon Hallett said: “Having a statue promoted by our fans and funded by fans is a statement by them that they are joining the fight against racism in football,”
“History has been written by the winners and I think we are now trying to pay more attention to some of the victims of those victories.”