Jury: Murder Trial- what verdict on our jury system?

The programme “The Jury: Murder Trial” (https://www.screendog.co.uk/retrial) being broadcast on Channel 4 this week should be fascinating viewing. In the words of the programme makers this drama “will examine the jury system for the first time on British television by recreating an entire, real murder trial from the original transcripts in front of two randomly selected juries, neither of whom are aware of the other” Filmed over ten days, in a former courthouse in Essex, the series claims that it will take a forensic look at the inner workings of justice.

I hope the programme makers show enough for us- the TV jury if you like – to glean a glimmer of insight as to how juries deliberate and reach their verdicts. Currently, research into juries or at least how they reach their verdicts remains generally taboo (see eg s8 Contempt of Court Act, whereby it is an offence for a person to ask for or make public any opinions or arguments put forward by a jury member in the course of making a decision)

Channel 4 have tried a similar programme before-  in 2007 I was one of the legal advisers (and with a cameo role as the solicitor advising at the police station) to “Consent” (Century Films) which filmed a randomly selected jury deliberating on a rape trial, using real lawyers (although victim and accused were both actors)  The Guardian review of the programme concluded “all credit to Channel 4 for airing the issue, which needs a lot more informed public debate, in such a perceptive way”. (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2007/jan/23/didheordidnthe

Regrettably that was followed soon after by a heavily criticised and lamentable BBC attempt to do the same exercise  with a “celebrity jury”. The less said about that, the better.

The new programme by ScreenDog productions to air on Channel 4 promises an improvement on both in two significant ways. Firstly it uses actual transcripts from a real case, and secondly has the idea of filming two juries both watching the same trial, each jury unaware of the presence of the other. We the viewer can watch the two juries deliberate-will they be persuaded by the same points of evidence, and, of course, will they reach the same verdict? 

This, if the programme is done sensibly and without sensationalism, should genuinely better inform us as to how juries work, but in all likelihood, the programme maker’s claims are unlikely to stand up to scrutiny.

Potential problems?

Firstly, it seems likely that those on the juries have “applied” to participate, rather than picked by random selection, and in any event the programme makers would be likely to favour “characters” to add some spice to the deliberations. 

Furthermore ,the presence of TV cameras means people are more likely to “perform”, or at least be mindful not to display their prejudices which might otherwise come out in the confines of the jury room. 

Finally, the juries will be aware that the person in the dock is an actor- and not in real jeopardy of conviction and an actual sentence.

Even allowing for the obvious flaws, and even if they abandon reality for contrived drama (Love Island in a jury room) it my not be wholly without merit.

Every criminal lawyer has wanted to be a fly on a wall in a jury room, and unless called for jury service, this, sadly, is as good as it gets.

So whilst it is unlikely we will gain real insight into the workings of our jury system, if nothing else it should start a debate, and hopefully lead to some proper meticulous research into jury trial, to see whether still fit for purpose or in need of improvement.

Jury Service

Some citizens of course already have the benefit of first hand experience (I have yet to be selected) and although years ago we lost the right to “jury challenge”, there is still an element of self-selection as some will try to get out of their civic duty citing any number of reasons, but principally employment, as satirised in this apocryphal anecdote:

Judge: “Is there any reason you could not serve as a juror in this case?”

Juror: “I don’t want to be away from my job that long.”

Judge: “Can’t they do without you at work?”

Juror: “Yes, but I don’t want them to know it.”

Jury stories

A citizen without experience in the justice system and yet to be called up as a juror may rely on published literature (I strongly recommend “the Juryman’s tale” by magistrate, journalist and former editor of the Sunday Telegraph Trevor Grove), reading occasional commentary pieces.  or perhaps by having watched a hazy mix of film dramatisations such as “12 Angry Men”.

Here is Lord Devlin’s famous and often cited robust defence of jury trial: 

The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make parliament utterly subservient to his will; and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant could afford to leave a subject’s freedom in the hands of 12 of his countrymen. So that trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives … 

Of course that is true only if we have confidence that the 12 of of our Countrymen selected are suitably well equipped to make an informed assessment of the evidence and reach the right verdict in accordance with the law. Maybe we should shine a light onto Lord Devlin’s lamp.

Sometimes we are shaken:

In a late 18th-century case in York, about two hours into the trial, Mr Justice Gould suddenly interrupted counsel and declared: “Here are only eleven jurymen in the box. Where is the twelfth?”

“Please you, my lord,” replied one of the eleven, “he has gone away about some business but he has left his verdict with me.”

Sometimes we are stirred:

A man is on trial for murdering his wife, although a body has not been found. 

His lawyer says there is not enough evidence. “The ex-wife is not even dead, I am going to prove it to you, she is going to walk through the door in about one minute.”

Almost all eyes are focused on the door. A minute passes. Another minute passes. And another.The prosecution says: “she didn’t walk in.”

Defence say “But the fact that you were all staring at the door expectantly proves that there is reasonable doubt.”The jury deliberates. The defendant is found guilty.

“How can you send a man to prison on such flimsy evidence?” The lawyer asks?

One juror says: “In the three minutes that passed, I looked through the courtroom, and I saw that the defendant was the only person who didn’t look at the door even once.”

There is a treasure trove of great jury stories and anecdotes that supporters (and detractors) of the system can deploy – but sometimes, like the statue of justice, we are blindfolded to it’s faults

Juries are nor perfect

The obvious reality is that the jury system is (as with any system of justice) it is imperfect. If the jury system were perfect, we would not have miscarriages of justice.

Of course many miscarriages are not the fault of the jury- they can arise from perjury, police bias, inadequate disclosure, and many more of the failings in our Justice system (increasingly arising from whole scale underfunding by consecutive governments), but as mark Twain once observed there is “probably no remedy for a jury that lacks common sense”

A good system of Justice is one that recognises juries do not always get it right, and looks how best to correct errors with a robust and fair appeal system, whilst also maintaining confidence by allowing an examination of the issues. Because a jury does not give reasons for their verdicts, it affects the way in which an accused person can appeal against their conviction, typically focussing on the adequacy and fairness of the judge’s directions to the jury if challenged, rather than whether the jury understood or followed them.

Limited Jury Research

In 2010 the Ministry of Justice published a report by Professor Cheryl Thomas of University College, London, after 18 months of research in which more than 1000 jurors in England were interviewed anonymously. 

The results of the research were generally positive for the jury system but also confirmed areas where our practice could be improved. 

The report also concluded that juries were efficient, but there were three areas in which the report identified scope for improved performance. They were:

 (i) making sure that the jury fully understood the judge’s legal directions, 

(ii) providing the jury with clear guidance of what to do if a member of the jury appeared to be guilty of misconduct and

(iii) preventing jurors from researching for facts relating to their case on the internet.

While there is always room for improvement, public attitude surveys have shown continuing strong support for the jury system, trust that a jury would come to the right decision, and a belief that a criminal trial by jury is fairer than such a trial by a judge. Whether or not that belief is correct, the jury system involves citizens in the process of criminal justice. The facts of the case are decided upon not by the administration or professional judges but by a group of randomly selected citizens.

I generally share the public’s confidence that juries usually reach the correct decision on the evidence which they have heard in criminal trials.

But I don’t think we should be complacent.

I hope this programme doesn’t prove me wrong. 


I look forward to giving my own verdict after the programme has finished- and hearing other views too. Majority support (10/12) following the programme would be great- but if the jurors filmed show bias, ignorance or naivety leaving the viewer with negative views (or even mixed opinions – a “hung jury”) it could be increasingly awkward for defenders of the flame.

Sylvia Foxsmith (nee Cook) Obituary

Sylvia was born in Plymouth on 22 February 1939, the only child of William “Clifford” Cook and Phyllis (nee Pawlby) (1)

Sylvia with parents

As an only child, Sylvia was very bonded to her cousins on the Pawlby side who lived in Cornwall (Wendy, Penny, and Ian)

The Cook family left  Plymouth sometime after the onset of WW2, but not to escape the blitz- as they moved to Coventry which was equally hard hit by the Luftwaffe. Rather, the move was to facilitate the electronics work that Clifford was engaged in, as a consequence whilst doing important work for the war effort, he avoided armed conflict but did volunteer as an air-raid warden.

SCHOOL: The family stayed on in Coventry, with Sylvia attending St Joseph’s primary and later Barrs Hill girls school, until “O” levels. (2)

Her best friend at school was Sylvia Baker (3)-two Sylvias in the same class, one a Baker, the other a Cook!  In 1948 Sylvia had rheumatic fever.

One of Sylvia’s favourite memories was a 1951 trip to london for the festival of Britain. 

After Sylvia finished secondary school the Cook family returned to Plymouth. It appears Sylvia left at least one broken hearted suitor behind- subsequently making his way to Devon in a desperate but unsuccessful bid to win her back

In 1955 they were living at 5 Duke St, Plymouth, then by 1959 before eventually settling in a bungalow at 26 Gower Ridge Rd,  Plymstock.  The family ran a shop on Saltash street, near Plymouth’s dockyard, then Clifford opened an electronics shop “RadioParts”-  from where the first television set in Plymouth was sold (4)

Sylvia worked at RadioParts  and enjoyed a lively social life, in the good company of friends (5)

Sylvia passed her driving test (June 1960) 20, Saltash St, and this gave her freedom to roam.

There was also lots of dancing, a string of suitors, and after an earlier engagement that was “broken off”,  it was at the Prince Regent club, Union St in July 1964 that she first met William (Bill) Foxsmith who was in the Merchant Navy.  The initial romance lasted only weeks before Bill was back at sea heading to New York -Sylvia drove to Falmouth to wave him off, and they corresponded during his absence- the letters show that both were very much smitten with each other.

The relationship developed on Bill’s return, despite opposition from Sylvia’s parents, and Sylvia and Bill were married at St Werburgh’s church, Wembury, on 05 October 1966. 

They bought and lived in a bungalow at 77 Staddiscombe Rd (6), where in due course the first two children arrived- Greg (1967) and M. (1971)

Sylvia with two boys, Staddiscombe

In 1977 they moved to Alfred St in Plymouth, and soon after came the arrival of her third and final child, Naomi.

Sylvia Bill and the 3 children

In later years Sylvia was to become a grandmother too (from 2003)

Children and grand-children would often visit Plymouth, especially at Christmas

Health: Sylvia had a terrible bout of Scarlet Fever as a child, missing 3 weeks from school (may 1947) In adult life Sylvia had twice successfully battled cancer- in 1981, and then again in 2016.

Family business: William established himself as a leading antiquarian map and print-dealer at Foxsmith Galleries, Southside St. where Sylvia was a supportive helper.

The shop “Foxsmith Galleries” was open for 20 years, and eventually closed in 2006.


Shortly after William’s retirement, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers, and Sylvia cared for him until his needs were such that he required nursing care. Sylvia visited until William passed away, living independently and maintaining a busy social life. 

Sylvia had many interests, including theatre and literature, being a keen member of a reading club which often convened at her address as well as residential trips, often contributing poetry of her own.

The Government lock-down and restrictions during the pandemic took a big toll, as it did for so many elderly people living alone who were deprived of the social interactions necessary for a meaningful quality of life. 

Sylvia moved to supported accommodation in Yelverton, but after a fall was hospitalised in Derriford during the later stages of Covid. She was there for months, with no visitors allowed. After an attempted return to the supported accommodation, Devon Social Services intervened and moved her for a “temporary assessment” to an abysmal “care” home called Hart Care. There after a period of neglect, her physical and mental health rapidly deteriorated, family were unable to visit, but after an SOS call she was taken by ambulance to hospital, severely dehydrated. 

Thankfully after months of being nursed back to health at the wonderful Tavistock Community hospital, Sylvia with the support of family moved to a decent care home, where she saw out her final days before passing away peacefully in her sleep in February 2023. 

Her funeral was well attended and a celebration of her early life. Appropriately, the service was beautifully conducted by John Sims, a family friend (son of Ann) acting as celebrant.

There were drinks after the service at Ford Park Cemetery visitor centre, where Sylvia had previously volunteered.

Sylvia is greatly missed by friends and family alike. In addition to the three children, she is missed by her grandchildren. 

Sylvia Foxsmith, RIP, 1939-2023

1 William Clifford Cook 20/11/1911-29/12/1987,  Phyliss Joan Pawlby 26/10/1913-29/02/2001

2 St Joseph’s now known as Crackley Hall https://www.crackleyhall.co.uk/history-crackley. Barrs Hill pictured below:

3 Sylvia B. married Alan to become Sylvia Sakne, stayed in Coventry, had two children Russell and Sita, who the Foxsmith children knew through childhood. I would love to hear from there but cannot trace- any ideas? GF 

Sylvia F with Greg and Sylvia S with Russell

4. RadioParts- Originally at 63 Old Town St, later Market Way. 

5. These lifelong friends included Frances, whose daughter Tracey was Sylvias god-daughter, Gerry and Malcolm (also godparents), Vanessa, and Ann (both godmothers to Naomi). Also, through William, friends such as John Pickles (god-father to M.)

6. When they first bought, the address was still “Staddon Close”, later renamed to Staddiscombe Rd. The phone number was Plymouth 43563!

7. M. not named in this obituary and no photos, at their request.

In Memoriam: Sylvia is remembered at St Werburghs, and also at Mount Edgecumbe Park (her mother Phyllis Cook is also remembered at Mount Edgecumbe, where her ashes were scattered in 2004) 

Eulogy: Sylvia’s funeral service was held in Plymouth, and well attended by friends and family. The eulogy was written and read by her son M. , an edited version of which appears here:-

My grandparents had a big influence on my mother, their only child,  even for the time.

After ‘O’ levels my mother wanted to carry on studying. But at the same time my grandfather unfortunately injured himself falling off a ladder when setting up a new business. They needed her in Plymouth so she moved to down to help them.

I can still remember her in the shop with shelfs of doorbells and light bulbs batteries, different ‘Radio Parts’.  

It seems that she had a good times in her teens and twenties going out to dances and still retained the friendship of many of those lovely friends until the end.

My mum met my dad at a dance at the ‘Prince Regent’.  My mums friend thought he was a good prospect because he had a Jaguar car, this didn’t impress mum, but he did.

At first there was some resistance to them dating and poor dad wasn’t allowed in the house, but my mum had decided that he was “the one” and he was going to stay, so they got engaged.  My mum told me that when she went to tell my grandparents the good news, her knees were shaking with fear.  At this point my grandfather stood up and said ‘that this silliness has to stop’ my dad was let into the house and their strong influence over her was changed.  Mum and Dad wed at a small but lovely, sweet wedding in Wembury, in 1966.

After the honeymoon their first home was a bungalow in Staddiscombe, they had curtains and carpets but no furniture.  Together they built up a home, and eventually the family moved to the heart of Plymouth.

Alfred St was massive in comparison and a lot or work needed doing to get it fixed up.  It was a busy time with her balancing working in th shop with bringing us up and doing up the house.  For months the hall and front rooms had scaffolding inside so she could reach the cornicing and with painstaking effort scrape years of excess paint off to restore the patterns around the edges of the ceiling.  We didn’t have any hot water for months and my mum managed with a kettle that went up and down 3 flights of the stairs.  It took years to get the house finished but during that busy time she didn’t take her eyes off being a mum, home cooked meals were on the table and although the house wasn’t finished it was clean.  

She was always doing stuff for us.  Greg and I got much better “action man” accessories than most , albeit it home-made – action man clothing and even sleeping bags and pillows! Naomi’s room was equally well set up and mum sorted out ballet and piano lessons for her.As my own friends have confirmed, Alfred St was a “fun” place to be.

One by one we three children left the family home I remember when I left for Canada her falling to her knees holding onto the kitchen bin for support.

I’m proud of my mums forward thinking – she was years ahead of the curve with issues such as the dangers of excess additives in food, re-use and recycling.

Mum ventured into all sorts of hobbies, and enjoyed an active social life, with games evenings and dinner parties, albeit she lacked the ruthless competitive edge required in monopoly, preferring to set everyone up with a Monopoly set than win herself. By contrast, she showed no mercy in scrabble! She read widely, and wrote poems. She tried to help people when she could.  She was very much into family and loved a family reunion.

When her own mother got ill with age, my mum spent a huge effort caring for her.  After her mum died, she only had a short break before my father started to decline and we watched her rearrange life trying to do her best in an impossible situation that became increasingly difficult through alzheimers.

When her husband died, so did a part of her.  An old cancer returned that she dealt with very stoicly, but this with lockdown and other health issues meant she started to decline, until she couldn’t look after herself and moved into residential care. At the last home she was always still pleased to see people and her face would light up when they visited. She passed away peacefully, and is now at peace, re-united with my dad, and looking down with love on her three children, and grand-children -Adam, Nina, Daniel, Darcey and Juno.  

She was very much loved, and is greatly missed.

In memory of Lorraine Constantinou

I am sorry to hear the sad news of the passing of my good friend and former Islington Councillor Lorraine Constantinou. 

Lorraine Constantinou

It was a pleasure to stand for election to Islington Council with Lorraine Constantinou in 2010, and a privilege to serve with her in elected office for the next four years, representing the people of Hillrise ward.

Although I was standing for re-election and Lorraine was a “new” candidate, it was no surprise to me that she secured more votes- an astonishing  2073 votes!

Lorraine was already a popular and respected figure in Hillrise, where she worked for a Tenants Management Organisation (TMO) on the Elthorne estate where she lived and raised her family for 40 years- from it’s inception in fact. 

Born in Dublin, a proud Irish-woman married to her beloved husband from Cyprus , and already a grandmother by the time of her election, it was no surprise that Lorraine was a no-nonsense figure, a community champion who was not afraid to speak her mind, and who got things done. 


I first met Lorraine in 2009 when she fought for residents who had been left without heating on the estate. 

She organised a petition, and joined me in taking the fight directly to the contractors (EPS Energy) who felt the full heat from Lorraine that their incompetence was denying residents.

Needless to say the matter was quickly resolved. 


Lorraine stepped up to fight for Islington Boxing club, securing funding to help them install showers and changing rooms for females- the launch-pad for what grew into the impressive and successful facilities for women and girls at the club. http://www.thecnj.com/camden_review/news/2010/feb/red-corner-–-women-step-ring-islington-boxing-club

IBC Club CEO Lennie Hagland said “the club send our condolences to Lorraine’s family. As local councillor, she helped support this club when we were on the ropes financially. Everyone knew Lorraine as a fighter, but always punching up, and never below the belt. May she rest in peace


Lorraine always spoke her mind, and as Peter Gruner (Islington Tribune) reported after he interviewed Lorraine after her election, she was willing to publicly criticise her “own side” (Liberal democrats) as well as opposing Labour.

 “She is currently battling with her own party at Coalition government level over increased tuition fees and the lack of security of tenure which new council tenants will have. But she is also fighting Labour-controlled Islington Council over the lack of improvements on the Elthorne estate, in Archway, where she lives and works” 

Full interview here: http://www.thecnj.com/camden_review/comment/reply/7704


Lorraine was fiercely proud of the tight-knit  community on the estate where she both lived and worked. She was outraged when the Labour Islington council dismissed the estate by running it down in 2012. Lorraine  said: “I have lived and worked on the Elthorne over 33 years and cannot believe that we have been described effectively as a ‘sink estate’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s offensive. The council press release is misleading and unfortunate considering the already outstanding resident participation on the Elthornehttps://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/crime/21243130.tenants-archway-furious-sink-estate-slur-council/


Lorraine was a supporter of Elthorne Park, funded a project on the New Orleans Estate, and backed a campaign  to save a popular children’s slide on the Miranda estate that Islington Labour wanted to rip out. ( http://gregfoxsmith.co.uk/guest-blog-by-adam-foxsmith/ ) She said “It has got so much character, and it’s the thing that I see kids using and enjoying most when they come to the park. If it goes, the park will lose some of that character” https://islingtonnow.co.uk/save-the-archway-slide-campaign/ 


Lorraine was a supporter of Sunnyside Community Gardens, and assisted the trustees

Sunnyside Gardens trustees and volunteers, Lorraine centre with red scarf

 She helped secure them a grant of £1500, and after their original building was destroyed in a fire, and was supportive in fundraising for a replacement.


Lorraine passed away peacefully in the Whittington hospital, surrounded by her loving family.

That venue seems appropriate as I remember Lorraine campaigning to save the hospital back in 2013, when it was under threat of closure.

I was fortunate to be able to visit Lorraine at the hospital, where she still had a twinkle in her eye.

A fighter to the very end, Lorraine will be greatly missed. 

My condolences to her family.

Lorraine will not be forgotten.

Lorraine Constantinou, 1945-2023.



In 2019 when Matt Tiller and I started the Jack Leslie Campaign, neither of us realised what a journey we were embarking on, or where it would end, and neither of us thought at that point of writing the book that Matt has recently completed, and published this week (available here)

It was in 2019 that we both first heard a sketchy outline of Jack’s story- a Plymouth Argyle legend (ok that bit we did know, the stats were easy to find- 137 goals in 400 games) but who also had been the first black footballer selected to play for England, but then denied his opportunity because he was black. 

We were outraged- both at the injustice, but also that the story had been forgotten about.

Our original aim was a simple one: to raise enough money to build a statue of Jack Leslie at Plymouth Argyle’s football stadium, Home Park.

To do that, we had to start telling Jack’s story, to generate interest and support.

We started with a website https://jackleslie.co.uk, and some social media

We wrote about Jack, and we talked about him a lot, including in schools where we realised that we could use jack’s story in a positive way, to challenge discrimination and prejudice. 

Eventually telling Jack’s story became as important a goal as the statue.

After we launched the Crowdfunder publicly in 2020, we soon learned to tell the story to media outlets -newspapers, radio interviews, TV. 

In each case, in order to tell Jack’s story effectively, we had to be confident in it’s accuracy. We had to research it, learn it, challenge it. But information was scant, and fragmented. A bit on PASOTI here, a hint on Wikipedia there.

Emy Onuora’s otherwise excellent book on black footballers (“Pitch Black, 2015) had no mention of Jack. 

2020’s publication of the excellent  “football’s black pioneers” by David Gleave and Bill Hern, had a chapter on the first black footballer to play at each league club, so Jack (Argyle 1921-1934) featured in the “Plymouth chapter”. 

But researching chapter AND verse on the detail of Jack’s story wasn’t easy- it wasn’t as if there was a book.

if only there was a definitive biography, setting out his incredible story with supporting evidence, verifiable quotes, a clear narrative and a comprehensive index.

There is now!

Matt and I worked hand-in-hand on the Campaign. Together we raised the money, together (with the help of an amazing campaign team) we commissioned a statue, together we persuaded the FA to award Jack’s family an honorary, posthumous England cap.

Neither of us could have done any of that alone. Matt is kind enough to acknowledge the same in his introduction and credits.

But I can take no credit for the creation of the beautifully written Masterpiece that is ‘THE LION WHO NEVER ROARED-JACK LESLIE, THE STAR ROBBED OF ENGLAND GLORY” for that labour of love is entirely the result of Matt’s industry. 

Matt’s degree was in history, he works in journalism and creative arts, he writes and performs with consummate ease, but whilst those talents may make the writing of a book easier for him than for us lesser mortals, those skills alone would not suffice. What was needed -and what Matt undertook as I witnessed from a comfortably safe distance – was graft-the hard slog of research.

Days spent in the British library, poring over microfiche, perusing newspaper archives, tracking down and interviewing people, examining the family photographs and memorabilia, and then writing, re-writing, editing and perfecting. 

The result is a masterpiece.

It may be thought that as his friend and campaign co-founder, I am biased in Matt’s favour to write a positive review. In truth, I was as likely to be his harshest critic, knowing the story so well, wanting it to be given justice. I cannot find fault with this book, I read the first draft in a single sitting, and have re-read the final version with equal admiration and enjoyment. 

Matt has delivered the facts, but more importantly he has written it as a page-turner. This is a living, breathing biography, brilliantly told so that the reader can follow the narrative, understand the issues, the contemporary context, identify with Jack, and I believe inevitably come to like him.

Football biographies are often dull, but not this one, and importantly there is no need to be a football fan or have any interest or knowledge in soccer to find this a cracking read.

Born in 1901 in Canning Town, East London, of mixed race and with the shadow and trauma  of WW1 over-shadowing his teenage years, Jack excelled at all sports.

Playing football for non-league Barking Town, Jack played in Paris before moving  to Plymouth where he lived for 14 years carving out a professional career.

Whilst at Argyle he played against (and beat) Argentina and Uruguay during a historic tour of South America.

He was selected to play for England on merit despite playing for a team in the third division, and  then denied his England cap.

Years later he ended up in the West Ham boot room with England World Cup winners.

This book answers all those stories and many more in a way that is moving (some readers have been moved to tears), but also thanks to the light-touch prose style and humour that is Matt’s trademark, it has just as many laugh-out-loud moments.

It is a serious book, but without ever taking itself too seriously. 

Like Jack’s football, the book zips along, is forceful, effective and ultimately delivers firmly into the back of the net. 

I don’t know what the literary equivalent of a footballer’s cap is, but whatever that may be, Matt deserves one. The Jack Leslie story was a life well-lived, it deserved to be well told. Now, thanks to Matt, it finally has been.


Dear England -theatre review

DEAR ENGLAND- a review (guest blog by Adam Smith)

Gareth Southgate’s turbulent timeline as England manager is dramatically chronicled in ‘Dear England’, the new play which premiered in the National Theatre this summer, and shortly to transfer to the West End. Reaching a semi-final and final in his first two competitive tournaments as manager, Southgate’s England team give the country something it had seemingly lost when it came to international football- belief. His journey through football is recounted beginning with the agony of his playing days, to England manager, to a respected and revered waistcoat-wearing role model. Still suffering from the heartbreak of Euro 96’ where he played and lost against West Germany, Gareth Southgate is determined to galvanise a despondent England side and transform them in every sense of the word, both on and off the pitch. While the old guard amongst the England camp squabble over tactics and personnel, the play covers Southgate’s forward thinking initiatives which focus on the mental side of the game, notably addressing England’s dire penalty shootout record. This represented a challenge not just for England but a personal issue for Southgate, who openly admits that he had never forgiven himself for missing his fateful spot kick almost 30 years ago. 

There is a distinct emphasis on the significance of mental health in the men’s game, which is related to the audience through common experiences and feelings, including fear of failure, self-acceptance and mental resilience. The sports psychologist featured in the play offers ideas on how to combat these issues, an approach which was entirely new to the players although largely de-stigmatised in conversations taking place today; the England team had clearly lacked this type of support prior to Southgate’s arrival. 

The mental struggles of the players are depicted as heightened by the rise of social media, despite Southgate’s best efforts to shield them from criticism and instead promote ideas of togetherness. Again, this is linked to the personal scars he bears from his penalty miss where he suffered from feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation. The play shows the brutal side of the game, the ruthless agenda-setting role of tabloid media, and the taboo nature of many big issues in football, which persist in the modern day yet are still not talked about often enough. These ongoing struggles make for some very sorrowful moments in a play which is also punctuated with light humour to keep audience members from bursting into tears or perhaps losing interest. Ironically, humour is likely one of the few coping mechanisms which some footballers are armed with to deal with the more mentally taxing parts of the professional game, and the adversity and pressure which comes with it.

The play paralleled with the most prominent political stories which have taken place thus far during Southgate’s tenure as manager, in particular the Black Lives Matter movement was a focus. Given the inextricable link between England’s battle against racism and the fallout following England’s Euro 2021 heartache, it was fitting that the play give insight into how Southgate and the squad attempted to deal with online hate, abuse with little support from the establishment. Southgate in the real world is an outspoken individual with a strong moral compass, which the actor and script captured well in ‘Dear England’. 

Overall, I was impressed with the accuracy of the performance. The play is advertised as having included a great deal of data and research, and I am inclined to agree. The core message of the performance is simple but irrefutable- to be kinder, and beyond that the story is still well layered with underlying themes of what it means to compete, what it means to win, and most importantly of all, what it means to be English.

Adam Smith, July 2023

The innovative set design, captured just prior to commencement of play

Fulham U21 extend Arsenal U21 misery with 2-1 victory at Motspur Park

Guest blog by Adam Smith

The Fulham U21s are back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over London rivals Arsenal, showing a confident performance rounded off by goals from Oliver Sanderson and Luke Harris. 

Arsenal are now winless in 9 in PL2 Division One following defeat at Motspur Park on April 7th, where yet again they struggled in front of goal- aided only by an equalising strike  Amario Cozier-Duberry early in the second half shortly after his introduction following the break. Fulham regained the lead minutes later, and were by far the better side overall, recording more shots, shots on target, corners and slightly edging ahead in possession. 

Fulham quickly set about causing problems for Arsenal’s defence and continued to test goalkeeper Hubert Graczyk in the first half, until one of his parried shots fell to the feet of Sanderson who found the back of the net with a simple finish. Fulham striker Terry Ablade was also a consistent threat to the Arsenal goal,  stinging the palms of Graczyk multiple times, but will be disappointed with some of his wayward finishes.

If Arsenal U21 manager Mehmet Ali would like to take consolation from any individual performances, he should look to his midfield and give praise to team captain Matt Smith, who seems to always be at the heart of their build up play and leads by example with his performances every week, or perhaps Mauro Bandeira who showed flashes of his quality over the course of the game, notably the big chance he created for winger Sagoe Jr early on in the first half. Manager Mehmet Ali has come under fire from some fans who are unhappy with his team’s continued poor run of form. They were outperformed in most departments by a seemingly more united Fulham team, and nothing should take away from the Cottager’s collective performance. It was Fulham’s team cohesion that made them the better side, although midfielder Oliver Sanderson was perhaps the standout performer. Aside from opening the scoring with his close range finish, Sanderson was an orchestrator in the middle of the park and played with a composed temperament; always the sign of a player with with maturity beyond his years.

Arsenal would have overtaken Fulham with a win, but instead now sit in 7th place, behind Brighton on goal difference, who they will play at home in their next outing. Meanwhile, Fulham will be delighted with the 3 points, now 5 ahead of Arsenal and only 2 points behind Liverpool in 4th spot. Similarly to Fulham’s senior team, their U21 players are showing that they can challenge and compete with with some of the biggest clubs in England, as both squads look to continue their impressive league campaigns this season.

Football Legends support Jack Leslie’s England cap (guest blog by student journalist Adam Smith)

The Football Association has awarded Jack Leslie a posthumous honorary England cap in recognition of the call up he received in 1925, only for his name to be removed from the team sheet due to the colour of his skin shortly after. The FA offered no explanation at the time for why the trailblazing forward was taken out of the team, instead Jack was wrongly deprived of the opportunity to play for his country at the highest level.

The awarding of the cap (by current FA chair Debbie Hewitt) was overdue but nonetheless very welcome, and was applauded by a sold out Wembley stadium (prior to the European qualifying game against Ukraine on 26th March)

Many important football figures were present to show their support, and I set out to ask them what was the significance of this symbolic gesture by the FA.

The family display the England cap with Carlton Cole, Ronnie Mauge, and Sir Trevor Brooking

Viv Anderson, accompanied by members of Jack’s family, was on the pitch prior to England’s 2-0 victory over Ukraine. Having learned of Jack’s story, Viv Anderson MBE described himself as ‘honoured and privileged’ to present the cap to Jack’s granddaughters Lyn and Gill. ‘I didn’t know about Jack Leslie prior to lockdown, and it’s important that people know about the history of Jack Leslie and others, like Arthur Wharton’. As a footballing pioneer himself, Viv appreciated the significance of Jack’s story, emphasising the importance of ‘making his history known’. Viv represented England himself, making his debut in 1978- he was the first black footballer to win a full England cap.

Interviewing Viv Anderson

Former West Ham and Chelsea striker, and supporter of the campaign, Carlton Cole was also in attendance. As a former England international, he touched on what it felt like to put on the shirt, stating ‘When you get called up for your country it’s an overwhelming feeling, an unbelievable feeling of completion to have made it to the top. And when you see someone like Jack Leslie told that he can’t reach that top tier, it makes you wonder what you’re in football for’. The ’unbelievable feeling of completion’ that Cole mentioned was an achievement most players dreamt of, yet Jack’s ceiling of career success was limited by discriminatory forces beyond his control.

Carlton Cole

Paul Elliott, former chair of the F.A inclusion advisory board (IAB) was also present and spoke before the game, stating ‘In the modern game, diversity, equality and inclusion must be the golden thread that connects people, and not just in football but wider society as well’. ‘In the case of Jack it’s also about long overdue recognition’ he added, and went on to say ‘as much as we must focus on the present and future, today is about celebrating the past’.

Interviewing Paul Elliott

Jack Leslie’s compelling story was forgotten, and only now is he receiving the ‘long overdue recognition’ that Paul Elliott described, thanks to the work of the Jack Leslie Campaign and Jack’s family, who will continue with legacy work following the unveiling of Jack’s statue outside Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park. The battle for equality of opportunity is still ongoing, which is why it is crucial that these stories are brought to attention and that these pieces of history are celebrated.

Adam Smith 29/03/2023

Jack Leslie Campaign- an update

Three years ago Matt Tiller and I set up the Jack Leslie Campaign, and I posted my first blog about in May 2020 (see here)

A lot has happened since then!

1 We unveiled a statue! https://jackleslie.co.uk/news/the-unveiling/

2 We have told Jack’s story in schools, to companies and at football clubs https://jackleslie.co.uk/news/jack-leslie-campaign-reaches-out-to-other-efl-league-one-clubs/

3 Jack Leslie has been inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame at a presentation at West Ham’s stadium

4 Jack Leslie has been posthumously awarded an honorary England cap (presented to his granddaughters at a full England International at Wembley) 

Future plans?

We will continue our outreach work, using Jack’s story to combat racism, challenge discrimination and fight prejudice. Find out more from the campaign website (and hit ”subscribe” for updates) or follow on social media (eg twitter @jacklesliecamp)

Arsenal Women 1-0 Man City Women 08/02/23 Match Report by Adam Smith

Arsenal Women have booked their ticket to the Conti Cup final courtesy of a strike from late substitute Stina Blackstenius, sealing victory for the gunners in the semi-final and sinking holders Manchester City who battled valiantly for 120 minutes as the game was forced to extra time. The goal and the win will be seen as well earned by Arsenal who had a larger share of the big chances but failed to make them count after 90 minutes, whilst City were frustrated in the attack and only managed to take control of the game after conceding.

The tie was fiercely fought, with nothing to separate the two teams after a first half of high intensity but precious few chances- star striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw failed to spring into action and on numerous occasions Arsenal looked as if they sorely missed the threat of attacking talents Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema (both currently injured).
The second half saw Arsenal begin to gain momentum, receiving constant encouragement from the buoyant North Bank at Boreham Wood. The tide of the game certainly felt as if it was turning in Arsenal’s favour, though statistically there was little to separate the elite WSL sides who shared possession equally and both registered 7 shots on target. Manchester City increasingly relied on counter attacks in their search for a goal, and at the other end Arsenal were left wondering how they had failed to break the deadlock as attacking substitutes squandered chances, in particular a header from Lina Hurtig glanced narrowly wide.
Player of the Match Katie McCabe looked like Arsenal’s best hope of finding the back of the net in normal time, creating chances with dangerous crosses from the left flank and keeping City forward Chloe Kelly quiet all night. McCabe catalysed the crowd whenever enthusiasm dwindled, encapsulating all of the determination and desire required in a cup tie of such high stakes.

McCabe in action

The deciding goal finally arrived in the 93rd minute following a ruthless Arsenal press which won them the ball high up the pitch and kick-started a sweeping move, culminating in a low cross from Hurtig and the decisive strike by Blackstenius. The finish took an obvious deflection on the way in but made no difference to the roaring home fans now certain of victory. The goal finally forced City’s hand, they chased the game for the remainder of extra-time after a fairly conservative period of play perhaps with thoughts of a penalty shootout already playing on minds.
Arsenal Captain Kim Litthe will be very happy with the result having hinted at City’s quality pre-match. She had also touched upon regrets from their most recent WSL fixture away to West Ham, a goalless draw which she felt merited more points after a dominant performance, but went on to add ‘ultimately we didn’t score, that’s what football is’. Today’s game represented a more difficult contest which arguably presented similar problems for the Gunners, except on this occasion they found an eventual solution. Arsenal will search for similar solutions on Saturday morning when the two teams face off again in the WSL, whilst hosts City no doubt have ideas of their own- both teams have ground to make on current leaders Chelsea, who are also likely to face Arsenal in the Conti Cup final assuming they can overpower underdogs West Ham in the remaining semi-final.

Match Report by Adam Smith, trainee journalist and sports writer @adamsmith29uk

Photos by @groundhopperGr1

London Lions 0-2 Watford U21s 11/01/2022 Match Report by Adam Smith

The London Lions returned to action on Wednesday night following a 7 week break, and will be disappointed to see their Hertfordshire Senior Challenge Cup run brought to an end by a talented Watford U21 side, who struck once in each half with goals from Batzelis and Balogun to secure their place in the semi-final of the competition. Lions fans will of course be unhappy with the result but more positive about the performance, which included clear cut chances, committed challenges, and encouraging spells of possession against a technically sound opposition. 
Bleak conditions and a tough physical test awaited Watford when they arrived at Rowley Lane, while the Lions hoped to make the most of an Alan Mattey stand packed with fans ready to roar on the home team.

The first 45 minutes were closely matched, and certainly a case of ‘defences on top’ as neither side seemed able to break the deadlock. This all changed on the brink of half time when Christos Batzelis broke the deadlock with a close-range effort fired low into to the bottom right corner, a massive boost for Watford morale whilst equally a heavy blow dealt to the hopes of the Lions. 

The second half saw a drop-off in energy levels from both teams, notably the Lions who were potentially suffering from a lack of match fitness. The tempo of the game began to slow down, a shift which suited the Watford U21s as they continued their composed performance. In particular the last 30 minutes saw the young Hornets demonstrate a level of maturity and game-management beyond their years as they coasted into a 2-0 lead in the 73rd minute courtesy of promising right back Hazmat Balogun.
The clear gap in quality between the two teams was the proof in the pudding for this tie- the London Lions were unable to capitalise on their advantages in height and experience, though it should be noted that they were dubiously denied a penalty late on, a decisive refereeing decision which could have shifted the balance of the tie.

This is not to undermine Watford’s tidy football which prevailed by the time the final had blown. Overall a broadly competitive battle which saw the better team progress. 

Match Report by Adam Smith, uploaded as guest blog

Photos by Groundhopper Greg (@groundhopperGr1)