The Lion Who Never Roared by Matt Tiller – Book Review
Footballer Jack Leslie should be in the football history books – the fact he isn’t, yet, means The Lion Who Never Roared carries a tinge of sadness, but for the most part, it places him firmly on the pedestal that he has deserved to be on since his playing days.
From smashing the goals in from inside-left for Barking, to his 14-year-long career with Plymouth Argyle, where he made his mark, the book reveals who Jack Leslie was, and just what a phenomenal striker England had at their disposal.
But, despite his ability, Leslie never played for his country – and this book uncovers and explains the engrained racism that caused it.
Born in London, The Lion Who Never Roared, delves into the details of how Leslie progressed in the game to became a gem of a player. His stats were so impressive that when he got his England call-up in 1925, supporters were in no doubt that he deserved it. But almost as quickly as the FA’s selectors named him in their squad, they sent him packing. Leslie was black, and for some in the England set-up this was reason enough to exclude him.
As a fan of football history, this is a fascinating and eye-opening read. There are family photos, bits taken from newspaper archives, and interviews with people who remember him. Or, indeed knew, Jack Leslie.
It’s also evocative. The story of Jack’s life is one thing, but when I read the pages telling me that a journalist was banned from telling the truth about Leslie’s England selection, it feels like a punch in the stomach. Things are far from perfect in today’s footballing world, but this blatant racism and injustice shows just how difficult and distressing in recent history it must have been for minority groups to get ahead in English football.
The book is nicely written by Matt Tiller and it flows at a nice pace. His exclusion from England isn’t the sole focus – indeed, you feel the pride in him becoming the first black captain of a football league club, and learn how he enjoyed the company of lords, ladies and Jules Rimet thanks to his footballing talent. In fact, Tiller paints the picture of Jack Leslie not so much as a victim – as someone who was cruelly and unjustifiably denied recognition because of his race – but as someone who succeeded despite this, in a calm and focused way.
Indeed, upon finishing the book you feel in awe of everything Jack Leslie did manage to achieve. For sure, The Lion Who Never Roared, and the recent campaign to highlight his achievements, have finally given the man the overdue recognition he deserves.
‘The Lion Who Never Roared’ by Matt Tiller is available to buy from Pitch Publishing for £19.99. pitchpublishing.co.uk