Jack Leslie Biography

Essex Senior Cup History: The Lion Who Never Roared

Jack Leslie Campaign’s Matt Tiller Attends 2024 Final

Matt Tiller, author of a new ‘The Lion Who Never Roared’ book, attended the BBC Essex Senior Cup Final at Dagenham & Redbridge FC on Tuesday 19th March to discuss the significance of player Jack Leslie’s achievements within the competition in 1920.

Jack Leslie was the first black footballer to be selected for England in 1925 but then, cruelly, was denied his chance due to the colour of his skin. We invited Matt, author of Jack's biography alongside Greg Foxsmith, to be a special guest at the Chigwell Construction Stadium to explain Jack’s impact within Essex.

It was a huge moment when Jack's granddaughters were presented with a posthumous honorary cap by The FA at Wembley Stadium in March 2023, after almost a century of denial. But this remarkable player's journey began in competitions like the Essex Senior Cup. And his county did something that his country would not... awarded him with a cap.

Jack was born in 1901 in Canning Town - then a part of Essex - to a white, English mother and a black, Jamaican father. Times were bleak throughout the First World War, as German bombs fell across the docklands, but Jack shone through as a sportsman. He won the Gold Cup for swimming at the London Schools Championship and played football for top youth club, Fairbairn House.

Alongside mates, he entered a team in the West Ham & District League. In a showcase fixture at Upton Park, Jack was named as player of the match. Barking Town FC (now Barking FC) snapped him up in 1919 when league football returned after the war. The club competed in the South Essex and London Leagues and in several knockout tournaments, including the Essex Senior Cup.

Jack had an immediate impact as a skilful, outside left and, on Easter Monday 1920, in front of a record crowd of 10,000, Jack opened the scoring in the final of this prestigious competition. Barking Town beat Grays Athletic, 2-1, and Jack lifted his first piece of senior silverware at the age of just 18. During this time, he was working as an apprentice boilermaker at Beckton Gas Works, a trade he would return to after a cruel eye injury ended his professional career.

He spent two years at Barking before attracting the attention of an array of professional clubs. It was Plymouth Argyle who won his signature with, incredibly, ten shillings a week more than other clubs, plus the promise of paradise. Manager Bob Jack produced postcards of a sunny seafront. Luckily for Argyle, Jack and his parents had no weather app to check the rainfall stats!

His success at Plymouth - he netted 137 goals in 400 appearances - included becoming the first black captain of a Football League side. Though his international potential was forged in Essex. This was clear in his consistent selection by the County FA. The crowning glory came with a tour of Normandy in 1921. Essex came out on top against North Normandy, 2-0, and then a full Normandy side, 4-2. It was a memorable experience for a black teenager from Canning Town.

A 'Banquet of Honour' followed and, for three men who had played six or more county games, there was a special presentation. Alf Rowe, who also joined Plymouth, Baden Herod and the 19-year-old star in the making, Jack, were awarded a senior cap. It may not have been the three lions of England, but Jack was proud of the three seaxes of Essex on his chest, and his head.

Further details on the Jack Leslie Campaign can be found by following this link. You can also find out more about grassroots Essex football at in the menus above, by following @EssexCountyFA on Twitter/X and by searching for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.

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