City Council proposes naming city square after Plymouth Argyle pioneer

Plymouth City Council is proposing to commemorate the pioneering Plymouth Argyle player Jack Leslie by renaming a city square after him.

It is proposing to rename Sir John Hawkins Square after the Argyle footballer, who was the only professional black player in England when he played for the club between 1921 and 1934.

He scored more than 137 goals for Argyle in 401 appearances and remains the Pilgrims' fourth highest goal-scorer of all time.

It is believed that Leslie was set to become the first black player to represent England but was denied the opportunity when selectors were made aware that he was "a man of colour". It was therefore not until 1978 that the first black player appeared in an England shirt.

His name was put forward to the Council after the announcement that Sir John Hawkins Square in the city centre was to be renamed due to the offence caused to many by commemorating the Elizabethan seafarer who was closely associated with the slave trade.

Council leader Tudor Evans OBE said: “We listened to those who found the relatively recent naming of the square after Hawkins offensive and are changing it. We’ve had a number of potential new names put forward and feel that naming the square after Jack Leslie would be very appropriate given his pioneering role as a black player in English football.

“He deserves to be remembered and commemorated in the city that he represented for most of his professional career.”

Councillor Evans said the renaming of the square was not an attempt to rewrite history.

He said: “We are not seeking to rewrite history and we are not saying that we should forget Hawkins. He was without question an important figure in our national history. We can remember and acknowledge this in a way that tells a fuller story about his life and doesn’t commemorate him in way that gives offence. When it opens The Box will tell a much more rounded story of Hawkins and some of the city’s other famous historical figures.”

Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet member for Housing and Co-operative Development and councillor for St Peter and the Waterfront ward, said: “Naming the square after Jack Leslie would be a wonderful way of recognising the big role he has not only in Plymouth’s Argyle’s heritage, but also in national football. As the only black professional player at the time he was a pioneer. Unfortunately he also had to deal with discrimination which meant he was denied the opportunity to represent his country. As a city we want to remember him and are very pleased that his family has agreed for the square to be named Jack Leslie Square.”

The process in renaming the square has started. A Public Health Act Street Renaming Notice will be displayed for a month. This gives anyone aggrieved by the proposed Renaming Order the opportunity to lodge an appeal with the local Magistrates Court within 21 days of the posting of the notice.

If any appeals are lodged, the matter will be decided by the Magistrates. If no objections are submitted or all objections rejected, the Street Renaming Order will come into effect on the date indicated on the notice.

There are no residential properties on the square.