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The multi-cultural roots of THFC: Walter Tull

Tottenham Hotspur is a multi-cultural football club mostly associated with the North London Jewish community. This can be seen in a lot of ways: Israeli flags, various Yids-chants and an association with the nickname “yid”, which for many Tottenham fans does not mean jew, instead it’s often seen as slang for Tottenham fan. But our roots aren’t only Jewish. As a matter of fact, Walter Tull was the first black outfield player in England’s top division (the first ever black player was Darlington goalkeeper Arthur Wharton) and the first player of mixed race to ever play in South America. As we shall later on see, Tull was not only the first ever black outfield player, he was also to become the first ever black officer in the British army.

Tull was born in Folkstone in 1888 to Alice Elizabeth Palmer, a local Kent woman, and Barbadian carpenter Daniel Tull. Tull’s parents died when he was just a child and he was sent to a National Children’s Home orphanage in Bethnal Green, together with his brother Edward (who probably was the first black dentist in the UK). Walter Tull’s footballing career began in Clapton FC, where he played the 1908-09 season, winning the amateur FA Cup with the team. Tull also saw his side win both the London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup.

In 1909, Tull joined Tottenham and Everton on their joint tour of Argentina and Uruguay and was subsequently signed by the North London outfit, and in the process becoming the first ever player of mixed race to play in South America. In March 1909, the Football Star named him “catch of the season”. He played his first game on September 1st away to Sunderland as an inside forward. Tottenham lost 3-1.

[authquote text=”Tull was not only the first ever black outfield player, he was also to become the first ever black officer in the British army.”]

Tull was only to make 10 first team appearances for Spurs, scoring twice in the process, before being dropped to the reserves, probably due to racial abuse from opposing fans, most noticeably from Bristol City fans. Tull spent three years at Tottenham, playing 18 games and scoring 7 goals. Tull was later on signed by Herbert Champan’s Northampton Town, for a ‘substantial fee’ and defender Charlie Brittain, where he made 110 appearances between 1911 and 1914.

When the first World War broke out in 1914, Tull enlisted and served with the Footballers’ Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment. Tull rose to the rank of sergeant in the Battle of Somme in 1916 and was later on, on May 30th 1917, commissioned as Second Lieutenant, thus becoming the first black/mixed race officer in the British Army, this despite the Manual of Military Law from 1914 excluding blacks from being commanders. Tull fought in Italy in 1917/1918 and was complimented for his gallantry and coolness by Major General Sydney Lawford. He was also recommended for a Military Cross after leading 26 men unharmed back home from a nightly raid.

Walter Tull

In 1918, papers reported that Tull had signed for Glasgow Rangers, but he never got the chance to play for the Scottish team, for he was tragically killed in action in Northern France in 1918 during the Spring Offensive and his body was never retrieved. While Tull fought in six major battles during the first World War, his battle on the pitch for racial equality is something even more heroic. When players such as Luis Suarez and John Terry racially abuse other players, when fans are making gas noises to mock the Holocaust or make monkey chants and gestures, they spit on the memory of Walter Tull – a man who fought and died for his country, a man who played 120 senior games despite racial abuse, a man whose memory should be cherished, not spat upon.

[authquote text=”While Tull fought in six major battles during the first World War, his battle on the pitch for racial equality is something even more heroic.”]

In this day and age, racism should long since have been kicked out of football, but as we witness almost every week both in England and abroad, racism is still a part of the game – both from players and from fans. Racism has no place in football or society and we must all work together to rid this beautiful game of the horrible stain that is racism and one way of doing this is by honoring the memory of Walter Tull, a hero both on the pitch and on the battle field. Therefore I implore you all to sign this petition to award Walter Tull his posthumous Military Cross: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41209

In 1999, Walter Tull’s memory was honored when Northampton Town F.C unveiled a memorial to Walter in a Garden of Remembrance at Sixfields Stadium.
For those interested in minority players in the premiership, I recommend you Phil Vasili’s Colouring Over the White Line: History Of Black Footballers in Britain.

Sources: myfootballfacts.com, wikipedia.org

[author name=”Daniel Pahkamaa” avatar=”http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Lars-Gunnar_Bj%C3%B6rklund_p%C3%A5_White_Hart_Lane.jpg” twitter=”SweYid” tag=”DanielPahkamaa”]


All views and opinions expressed in this article are the views and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of The Fighting Cock. We offer a platform for fans to commit their views to text and voice their thoughts. Football is a passionate game and as long as the views stay within the parameters of what is acceptable, we encourage people to write, get involved and share their thoughts on the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.

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The Fighting Cock

Published on 17th December 2012

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8 Responses to The multi-cultural roots of THFC: Walter Tull

  1. devsinghyid 17/12/2012 at 1:56 pm #

    And who’s this aimed at the society of racist lawyers?! That desperate to prove spurs ain’t racist its pathetic! I warned all u twats bout bringing your politics into football when u was all jumping on the john terry bandwagon and no one listened then wow what a coincidence a few months later they come for spurs with the whole yid thing. The fact you’ve highlighted this black player over any other player means your racist son because your singling him out over any other player like he’s different! It’s dickheads like u that are fueling this race crusade

    • Myhartlane 17/12/2012 at 2:43 pm #

      Mate, I can’t see how you can accuse the poster of the article as racist and I’m struggling to understand the logic of your whole argument.
      The Walter Tull story is a heart warming story of a footballing pioneer, and the fact that he was also the first black officer in the British armed services makes him even more remarkable. This in no way diminishes the achievements of any other Spurs players as you seem to be suggesting. And what on earth does this have to do with John Terry?

  2. Daniel 17/12/2012 at 2:09 pm #

    This has nothing to do with the Society of Black Lawyers and their reaction to the use of the word yid, nor any other claims of racism at Spurs. This is a piece of football and THFC history – nothing more, nothing less.

  3. John White 17/12/2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Walter Tull was a mediocre footballer who made 11 first team appearances for Tottenham as Centre Forward or Inside forward scoring two goals. These figures are verifiable in Tottenham Hotspur’s official records. His short unsuccessful career at Tottenham ended with a transfer to a non League team, Northampton Town, where he spent the remainder of his career. It ended at Tottenham because he was not good enough, not because of one isolated incident of abuse from a few Bristolians.
    His brother may well have become a dentist, and well done to him if he achieved that with a start in life as an orphan, but to state that he was “probably the first black dentist in the UK” is hyperbole, which no one has any way of checking, because dentists are not classified by the colour of their skin.
    The article states that Walter Tull became “the first ever player of mixed race to play in South America”. What utter nonsense. Football has always had a multi-ethnic flavour since its inception in South America.
    Tull was clearly a brave man, and gained a battlefield commission, which argues against racism in the Army, but to state that he was the “First Black/Mixed Race Officer” is again hyperbole based on no verifiable evidence.
    For a footballer to sign for a football club four hundred miles from his home in London, while he is on active army service in France, is remarkable indeed. In any event, you may find that he was due in 1914 to sign for Rangers, and his enlisting in the Army put paid to it.
    The reason he did not qualify for the Military Cross was because his father was not from the UK. This applied to many serving officers in the First World War. I presume that the writer of this article will be promoting petitions on their behalf too, or is he interested in just those with a certain skin colour?
    As far as football is concerned, Walter Tull was a minor footnote in its history until someone looked at an old team photograph and saw a black face. Thus the whole racist hyperbole started. To try to make a legend out of a nonentity purely because of the colour of his skin is the epitome of racism. Furthermore, the story of Walter Tull has nothing to do with multiculturalism; he was a Londoner, born and bred in England with an English upbringing. Multi-ethnicity: Certainly.; Multiculturalism: Definitely and unequivocally not.
    Efforts to get him posthumously awarded with a medal 94 years after he died are preposterous and have nothing to do with Walter Tull as a man, and everything to do with the colour of his skin.
    I can understand why Arthur Wharton hasn’t been selected for this sort of hyperbole, since he turned out to be an alcoholic wife-beater, but Walter Tull would surely be spinning in his grave if he knew he had been used in such an appalling manner for such a travesty of the truth.

    • Daniel 17/12/2012 at 6:12 pm #


      if you’ve got more reliable and correct sources feel free to point me to them so I can rewrite some of the questionable/uncertifiable aspects of the article. I don’t make any clames to be a historian (or indeed have any pretentions of calling myself that) but felt the need to highlight this particular aspect of Spurs and football history.

      My intention when writing this article wasn’t to try and promote my own petition (in fact it’s not mine at all, as you can see) and not to make a hero out of a, in your words, ‘footnote’ in football but rather to show a piece of football and Spurs history. As to the multicultural/multiracial/multi-ethnical aspect of it all I guess it’s all down to semantics. I’m Swedish and we don’t usually talk about race, we use culture/ethnicity instead, and yes, I guess you are right: multi-ethnical would probably have been a better word.

      “I presume that the writer of this article will be promoting petitions on their behalf too, or is he interested in just those with a certain skin colour?”

      As I said; not my petition. I have plans on writing other pieces on Spurs history, and I felt that Tull was an important part of history what with the recent racist tendencies in football.

    • Cheshuntboy 17/12/2012 at 10:17 pm #

      Thank you for taking a probably unpopular stand in the name of accuracy and honesty, because a false ‘multi-cultural/multi-ethnic’ history is being constructed for this country, which must be rebutted if truth is to count for anything anymore. There’s currently a caption on display in the British Museum (in Case 24 of the ‘Enlightenment’ exhibition, if you’re interested) which tells the reader that people with African blood were found at all levels of British society in the 18th century, but there weren’t; there were no black lords or ladies, let alone dukes and duchesses, and the Museum has agreed that the statement is incorrect, but doesn’t intend to remedy the ‘error’ because changing a single caption will apparently cost several hundred pounds ?!!! Thus a false history is being presented by our national museum, and the Phillips/Ousley/Herbert race industry cum gravy train trundles on, rewriting and falsifying our past in order to justify our present multicultural mess, and I very much doubt that a thoroughly decent man like Walter Tull would have approved.

  4. Tony Hunter 17/12/2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Surely the point is that Tottenham as a club were open to taking on player of minority ethnic origin. It would not have been a publicity stunt just taking a chance on a talented player, it didn’t work out for him. We don’t know the reasons but I’m sure there would have been some racism aimed at him, but at that time Britain was even more xenophobic than a Daily Mail reader. I’m sure from what I’ve read of his war record he was a good officer and may well have deserved some recognision, but virtually and one who served in that war were shafted. People just don’t seem to understand that joining a Football club was far easier 50 years ago as most clubs had public trials or signed players from non-league and the services, no 10 grand a month academy players in those days. Different times and attititudes

  5. Sam 17/12/2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Thanks for taking the effort to post, a very nice read, and a pleasant change from the usual drivel from the ITK sites. Ignore the knuckle draggers and haters. Bookmarked…COYS

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