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.
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.
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.
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.