Friday, 19 May 2017

Black Victorians - Walter Tull, footballer and First World War officer

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but grew up in a Methodist Children's Home in Bethnal Green, along with his brother Edward, as his parents died when he was nine. His father Daniel Tull was a carpenter from Barbados, and his mother was Alice Elizabeth Palmer, from Kent. Edward went on to be adopted by the Warnock family in Glasgow, and became the first mixed race dentist in Britain.
In 1909, he joined Tottenham Hotspurs, playing inside forward. He was the third black player in the football league, the first being Arthur Wharton, who I wrote about a couple of years ago, and the second being Billy Clarke of Aston Villa.
He went on tour with the team to Argentina and Uruguay, becoming the first mixed race professional footballer from the UK to play in Latin America. However, in October 1909, while playing at Bristol City, he was subjected to serious racial abuse. The Football Star reporter at the match was so angered by this that his report on the match was entitled "Football and the Colour Prejudice", in which he praised Walter for his professional approach, and said that he had been the best forward in the game. This was probably the first time racial prejudice had been highlighted in the newspapers in British football. However, he was dropped from the A team, and in 1911 he transferred to Northampton Town.
During the First World War, Walter served with the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was recommended for promotion despite a rule against non-European soldiers becoming officers. He also fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a sergeant. In 1917, he was sent to Italy, where he was praised for his coolness under fire. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed during the Spring Offensive. His body was never found.
A memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Town FC in 1999, and there is a Walter Tull Memorial Cup, which was won by Rangers in 2004, when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2- 0.

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