Best scores with Uncle Jack’ statue
A drive for a memorial to a pioneer black footballer whose career was stonewalled by racism has surpassed its goal this week with the help of Bermudian player Clyde Best.
Jack Leslie, a friend of Mr Best’s, would have been the first black footballer to represent England when he was selected in 1925 when he played for Plymouth Argyle.
But the invitation to play for his country’s national team was withdrawn when the football authorities realised he was black.
Mr Leslie went on to clean football boots in the dressing room at London’s West Ham United and met Mr Best, who blazed his own trail as a black man in the top flight of the game from 1968.
Organisers of the Plymouth campaign for a statue to Mr Leslie learnt of Mr Best’s fond links to “Uncle Jack” through a story last month in The Royal Gazette.
They arranged a remote video link with Mr Best with three granddaughters of Mr Leslie’s — Lyn Davies, Lesley Hiscott and Gillian Leslie — in Britain.
Mr Best, a star striker at West Ham until 1976 and who faced racist barrages from the terraces on a regular basis, told the group that Mr Leslie, who regularly cleaned his football boots, never told him that he had once been a top Plymouth player.
He said Mr Leslie “really looked after me — I will never forget him”.
He added the older man, who died in 1988, aged 88, seemed to be “more interested in helping people”.
Mr Best added: “Being a player at the time I played, it was tough.
“But after finding out what Jack had to go through, I am sure it was a lot harder.
“He would have been by himself, just like I was by myself. It makes you a different individual when you have to face up to stuff like that.”
Mr Best told campaign organiser Greg Foxsmith, who was with the trailblazer’s three granddaughters: “For Jack, I would do anything. Let’s not let this be the end.”
Plymouth fans, backed by the club, set out to raise £100,000 for a statue to honour Mr Leslie outside their Home Park stadium.
Almost 2,000 people have donated to the cause since last month and yesterday the fundraising drive hit £135,752.
Mr Foxsmith, a cofounder of the campaign, told Mr Best: “I can tell you, sir, that once we put on our campaign that we have the support of Clyde Best, we have been overwhelmed by the positive messages of West Ham fans and others who have all come forward to say ‘that’s amazing — Clyde; what a great player he was’.”
He added: “It sits against some of the terrible racist abuse you suffered. You are clearly a very revered and loved player from your West Ham era.
“I hope that you know that.”
The 20-minute video includes poignant recollections and moments of laughter.
Mr Foxsmith asked the Bermuda footballer how he had coped with racism.
Mr Best told them he was “pretty fortunate” to have a father from Barbados who served in the British Navy and worked for the prison service in Bermuda.
He added: “He taught me at a very early age to respect, treat them decent, just like you want to be treated and remember when you have obtained certain things, you’re not doing it for yourself — it’s for the people that come after you.”
Mr Best said: “It’s just like what Jack has done. You look at it, it’s 2020, and we are talking about it now ... these are the good things you remember.
“Don’t worry about the stuff you couldn’t really have control over. If you done what you really had to do, at the end of the day, that’s what satisfies you.
“When I look at myself and I see all the kids that are playing now ... I know Jack and myself had something to do with that. That’s what makes me happy.”
Mr Best said the statue was something Mr Leslie “richly deserved”.
He told the group in England: “I am sure he is up there right now looking down on us and saying, hey, we have done a fantastic job.”
Ms Hiscott said her grandfather “wasn’t one to brag about what he had done — it was quite a few years before I realised who he was”.
She added: “To me, he was just grandad.”
But Mr Best said: “He wasn’t going to talk about what he’d done. He would leave it alone and just go about his business. I never knew he was a footballer.”
Mr Best drew laughter after Ms Davies asked him how much the game had changed.
He said: “The first thing I want to tell you, they make a lot more money than we made, than Uncle Jack made.”
He added he called modern football boots “slippers” because players would have been injured in the rougher tackles of the past.
He also talked about players he had admired.
Mr Best said: “The most important thing about all these people, they are good human beings.
“That’s what life is all about. You can be a footballer today and earn all the money you want.
“But if you’re not willing to share it with people in your neighbourhood and your community, it does not make any difference.”
He said when he was a player “we never really had much and we all got along”.
Mr Best added: “What I really like about football is that it gives you the opportunity to meet so many different types of people and nationalities.
“You can go practically around the whole world calling on old friends.”
The organisers of the fundraiser said the goal of the Jack Leslie campaign was “to promote and share Jack’s story”, celebrate diversity and combat racism, as well as erect a statue in his honour.
• To learn more, visit www.jackleslie.co.uk
Tobacco Bay happy hour selling out
Election 2020: FDM candidate resigns
Hayward vows to help laid-off hotel workers
Jacqueline Lightbourne (1935-2020)
Liquidation sale at ASC Women store
Premier approved $800,000 loan to Blakey
Police release description of sex attacker
Helping children having problems
Disqualified drink-driver banned until 2024
Take Our Poll