Written by Argyle Twitter’s @NotATroll, Ben reveals some of his feelings and takeaways, both from the book itself and the launch at Home Park last month.
Present at Home Park on 24th October 2023, for the launch of The Lion Who Never Roared were two of Jack Leslie’s granddaughters: Lesley and Lyn. At intervals, they contributed comments, perspectives, and opinions.
Frequently, their voices quivered, as they recalled the legacy of societal abuse directed at both their grandmother and grandfather . It was clear throughout the evening that whatever joy and pride they felt at the launch of the book was accompanied by sadness. While the injustices Leslie faced – including the denial of his England cap – occurred 100 years ago, the effects are still felt by his family today.
It struck me that they did not need to be there, reopening old wounds publicly. They had consulted with Tiller extensively and allowed him access to all their memories and memorabilia.
However – as they explained to me after the event – they feel compelled to do so, by their great affection and appreciation for their grandfather. Having now read the book, I wholeheartedly understand why.
Buy on Amazon: The Lion Who Never Roared
Who was Jack Leslie?
John Francis Leslie was an incredible man who lived an incredible life.
He was twice bombed by the Luftwaffe, surviving one explosion in truly cinematic fashion. He once saved the lives of two women in a terrible boating accident.
He enjoyed life to the full. Renting charabancs (whether horse-drawn or motorised I’m unsure) with his teammates and taking them up to Dartmoor to race, a card game, a drink, a song (Leslie was a talented singer) or a dance – he excelled at them all.
In later life, he was a loving and supportive father, and grandfather, with three generations under his roof. A man who provided a home for his granddaughters not only for their childhood and youth, but whenever they were in need.
He was a mentor and a friend to many, from Argyle all-time top scorer Sammy Black in the ‘20s, to West Ham star of the ‘70s, Bermudian striker Clyde Best MBE.
More than this, he was a man of great humility and of great gratitude. A man of great generosity and fairness. A man who took immense pride in doing work well, whether it was on a football pitch, in a factory, in a boot room, or elsewhere. A man of vitality, built like the proverbial outhouse, and with a need to be busy. A man who bore a lot of pain with grace.
This is the wonderfully evocative and emotive picture Matt paints with his words. Primarily, The Lion Who Never Roared is an insightful description of a fascinating man.
Upon reaching its end, Jack Leslie is no longer an abstract figure, or historical note, he is a vivid character you can imagine talking with, laughing with and listening to. This is an achievement of great skill and much to Tiller’s credit.
In addition to his evocation of Jack Leslie, Tiller weaves many other enjoyable themes throughout the book. There are so many episodes or occurrences that fans today would recognise as “typically Argyle”.
From commemorative giant pasties to sections of over-critical fans, to season after season of inexplicable bad fortune, there is something stirringly familiar in the storylines.
Matt Tiller has a successful career in comedy writing and production, and this is evident in the lively, humorous – though never irreverent – prose. There are plenty of cultural references for those with an eye open for them to note, and even a wonderfully judged nod to Tiller’s former colleague, the late, great “Sir” Gordon Sparks.
Tiller has done a remarkable job to produce a book that will entertain a far broader audience than it will sadly likely receive. Yes, it will appeal to fans of sports, of history, and those with a passion for social issues. But it also weaves a pacy narrative that would genuinely suit a television series. Tiller puts his broadcasting experience to expert use. Although its contents are factual, it is a truly compelling story, well told.
Of course, the book addresses racial injustice, as is only fitting given the trauma it wrought on the Leslie family to this day.
Yet rather than simply chastise the social “standards” of a century ago, wring his metaphorical hands or deliver a polemic, the author skilfully focuses the reader on the issues still present in society: the expectation of victims to bear injustice with silent grace; the continuing lack of diversity in many areas of society; the internalisation of trauma.
Lesley shared that her mother – Jack’s daughter Evelyn – gave interviews about him before her death. Because of her evident resentment, many broadcasters decided they ‘didn’t have the right tone’ and used them sparingly.
Victims still being expected to accept injustice with grace. Valid indignation as unacceptable now as 100 years ago. Not only did Jack Leslie have to internalise his trauma, but his daughter and granddaughters too.
The famous poet and activist Maya Angelou once observed that ‘[a]t the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’ As testified by throughout the book, Jack Leslie uplifted, nurtured, and inspired almost everyone he encountered. It’s a shame more people Jack Leslie encountered did not reciprocate. How Jack made his granddaughters feel is evidenced in their self-sacrificing dedication to share his story.
More than a story of racial injustice
At its heart, The Lion Who Never Roared is a book that introduces you to a true great of English football – and a man you come to love and admire nearly 100 years after he plied his trade on the hallowed turf of Home Park. Through the expressions and experiences of Leslie’s family, and Matt Tiller’s skill, Jack Leslie is recalled with all the vibrancy and vitality he possessed in life.
Whether you care one bit for Plymouth Argyle – or football in general – you will find a compelling and evocative story of a man, who even after his death, will make you feel good. Quite subtly, while it does this, it is a book that moves you to ask: ‘am I doing all I can to have the same impact on others?’