History Girls

Recent evidence has come to light that reveals a man by the name of Andrew Watson was the world’s first black football player. Starting his career in 1874, he was successful at all levels of the game and set the path for those that would follow him.

Until recently, it was believed that the world’s first black football player was Arthur Wharton, who played for Preston North End in the late nineteenth century. However evidence has recently come to light showing that a man by the name of Andrew Watson was playing in Scotland around ten years earlier than Wharton.

Watson was born in British Guiana in 1857 and later came to Britain, attending public school in Halifax. In 1875 he enrolled in Glasgow University, were he studied Maths, Natural Philosophy, Civil Engineering and Mechanics.

Wharton, who played on either side of defence or in midfield, began his playing career with Maxwell in Glasgow, followed by a stint at Parkgrove in 1874. Later, he played for Queens Park, the top team in Scotland at the time, spending seven years there from 1880-1887. According to the ‘Scottish Football Association Annual’ of 1880-81, he was;

One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen’s Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; a powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.

He is also known to have represented the London Swifts in the English Cup Championships (FA cup) in 1882, becoming the first player of African descent to play in an English cup competition. Watson won four Charity Cup medals and two Scottish Cup medals, the earliest of which was another milestone in football as he became the first non-white player to be in the winning side of any major football competition.

Watson also holds the distinction of being the first black international player. Acknowledged in the ‘Who’s Who’ for his international performances, he represented Scotland three times from 1881 – 1882, in the International Challenge Match.

In his first international on the 12 march 1881, Watson was captain and led Scotland to a 6-1 mauling of England at Kennington Oval in London, with a crowd of 8,500. In his second, two days later, 1,500 people saw his side beat Wales 5-1 at Acton Park, Wrexham. His team again hammered England a year later on 11 March 1882 in the same competition, beating them 5-1 at First Hampden Park in Glasgow, in front of 10,000 fans.

Watson was not only a pioneer on the field; as club secretary at Queens Park, he was probably the first black member of a football club’s boardroom. Watson spent most of his career as an amateur and was a seasoned and valued player at Queens Park when football officially went professional in 1885, although it is unclear whether he himself turned pro. When his playing days were over, he and his family emigrated to Australia, where he remained the rest of his life.

After his death, Andrew Watson fell into obscurity but has now reemerged to claim his place in both football and black history. As a successful black sportsman living at the end of the nineteenth century, it is easy to speculate on the difficulties and prejudices he would have undoubtedly faced. However despite the obstacles put before him, he had a successful career in a previously all white sport, and deserves to be remembered as one of histories true trail-blazers.

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In the late nineteenth century, Arthur Wharton (1865-1930) was an athlete of legendary proportions, competing at the top level in many sports including cycling, rugby, cricket athletics and football.

It was previously believed that Wharton was the first ever black football player; however new evidence has recently come to light that shows this distinction goes to Andrew Watson, who played in Scotland in the 1870s. Despite this, Wharton was a pioneer in the sporting world, competing in arenas almost universally occupied by white people. He was a well liked, well respected competitor but unfortunately, his life story did not have a happy ending.

In 1886, at the age of 20 Wharton entered the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) Championships at Stamford Bridge. As well as becoming the first black athlete to win an AAA championship, he also set a new world record at the event becoming the first man ever to run 100 yards in 10 seconds flat. Later that year, Wharton signed a professional contract with Preston North End football club, one the top teams in the world at that time. Ironically, despite being the fastest man on earth, he was to become a highly respected goalkeeper.

Wharton had a reputation as a hard man on the field and when he unleashed his trademark ‘prodigious punch’, it was said that he always connected with ether the ball, or an opponents head! In those days a goalie could handle the ball anywhere in his own half and players could barge him whether he was on or off the ball, which explains the logic of having a fast, powerful goalkeeper. Wharton seems to have relished the more physical side of the game and like many goalkeepers, he seems to have had an eccentric streak. In a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent (12th January, 1942) T. H. Smith wrote;

“In a match between Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday at Olive Grove I saw Wharton jump, take hold of the cross bar, catch the ball between his legs, and cause three onrushing forwards – Billy Ingham, Clinks Mumford and Mickey Bennett – to fall into the net. I have never seen a similar save since and I have been watching football for over fifty years”.

Wharton stayed at Preston North End for three years before signing for Rotherham United in 1889. Five years later he moved to Sheffield United were he spent a miserable year, finding it difficult to hold a regular first team place. In 1895 he went back to Rotherham United, were he played in only fifteen league games in six years.

During his time at Rotherham, Wharton was also a pub landlord, running the Albert Tavern and later the Plough Inn in Rotherham then the Sportsman Cottage pub in Sheffield. During this period, he developed a drinking problem, causing his career to nose dive and eventually forcing him to retire from football in 1902. He spent the rest of his life as a colliery haulage worker and by the time he died, on the 12 December 1930, of epithelioma and syphilis, he had fallen into obscurity and was a penniless alcoholic.

Source: socyberty.com

Walter Tull was one of the first professional black footballers and the first black officer in the British army. One of Britain’s forgotten heroes, his life story is now coming out of obscurity and he is beginning to gain the recognition he deserves for his contributions to black, football and military history.

From an early age, Walter Tull had a flair for playing football and as he grew up, his single-minded determination helped him excel at his chosen sport. Despite the obstacles put before him, he made a successful career out of football as one of the first ever black professional football players, until it was cut short, when he decided to join the army to fight in World War One. He lost his life defending his country and soon after fell into obscurity but in recent years his life story has been rediscovered.

Born in Folkestone on April 28, 1888, Walter Tull was the grandson of a slave and the son of a Barbadian carpenter who married a white British woman. His mother died when he was seven years old and he lost his father when he was nine, so he and his brother were raised in a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

Tull loved playing football from a young age and played for his orphanage side. According to an orphanage log-book, Walter was “a stoic, laid-back character, but single-minded.” After completing school, he started an apprenticeship as a printer and in 1908, was signed by a local side called Clapton FC, where he played inside-forward.

Over the next year, Tull’s career took off as he won the FA Amateur Cup, the London Amateur Cup and the London Senior Cup. Soon after, he was signed by Tottenham Hotspur, becoming only the third known black footballer at the top level.

Despite his talent, Tull, was subject to racial abuse from the terraces. After a match between Bristol City and Spurs in 1909, a journalist for the Football Star Newspaper reported;

“A section of the spectators made a cowardly attack on him in language lower than Billingsgate [London’s fish market]”….Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football… In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field.”

It is difficult to tell how much racism he had to put up with from rival fans but considering he was routinely called “darkie” by the press and the times he lived in, it can be speculated that he would have suffered a considerable amount of abuse.

In 1911, Tull signed for Northampton Town, scoring nine goals in one-hundred and ten appearances from the half back position. However Tull’s career came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of World War One when he joined the Seventeenth (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. In 1915, he arrived in France with his battalion and fought a number of battles and was involved in The Battle of the Somme from the first day.

Although army regulations of the time forbade non-whites becoming officers, Tull’s leadership qualities were utilised by the army and by 1917, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant after attending the officer’s training school at Gailes in Scotland.

On March 25, 1918, when he was 29 years old, Tull was leading his men in an attack on a German trench on the Somme in France. While in ‘no man’s land’, he was hit by a machine gun bullet that pierced his neck and exited just under his right eye. His men were unable to recover his body and today he has no marked grave. After his death, he was recommended for a Military Cross but never received it, one obituary said of him, “An officer and a gentleman, every inch of him”.

Tull’s story was forgotten for nearly eighty years until brought to light by football historian Phil Vasili. More recently, he has had a BBC play made about him, two biographies written about him, had various Northampton buildings named after him, a memorial garden has been built outside Northampton Town FC’s ground and his career is now being taught in schools.

Although Tull showed the skills he needed to become first a successful footballer, then an officer in the British army from a young age, his future was by no means certain. The fact that a working class boy raised in an orphanage managed to achieve so much, shows the level of character he had. The fact that he did it as a black man, in arenas usually exclusively for white men shows that he is a forgotten hero of black, football and military history and deserves the attention he is now receiving.

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