About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Walter Tull

Growing up in England as a football fan in the 70s, one of the most exciting developments of the time was the emergence of black players as a force in the game.
Ironically it was Ron Atkinson who blazed the trail by making Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Remi Moses an integral part of his attractive West Brom team. Viv Anderson and George Berry became the first black players to represent England and Wales respectively with the likes of Luther Blissett, John Barnes and Mark Chamberlain not far behind. Beyond the top clubs the likes of Cec Podd, Bob Hazell, Tony Sealy and Terry Connor were real stalwarts whilst visitors to York Road will have been entertained by the Cordice brother Godfrey and Alan (still the Magpies' biggest transfer fee received at £5,000 from Norwich City), and of course Ben Laryea.
But do you know who the first black player for Tottenham was? Garth Crooks? Chris Hughton? In fact you have to go back almost 100 years to 1909 when Walter Tull signed for Spurs to become the second black professional footballer to play in the Football League first division following Arthur Wharton of Sheffield United in the 1890s. Incidentally Andrew Watson, an amateur, was the first black international when he played for Scotland in 1881.
Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but following the death of his parents he was brought up in an orphanage in Bethnal Green from the age of 10. He served an apprenticeship as a printer but found success playing amateur football for Isthmian League Clapton. Impressing in a team which won the FA Amateur Cup, Tull was signed by Tottenham in 1909. Tull only made seven first team appearances for Spurs and left White Hart Lane in October 1911 when Herbert Chapman signed him for Northampton Town for what was described as a substantial fee.
Tull flourished at the County Ground making 110 appearances for the Cobblers in the Southern League which was the equivalent of League One today. However when he was reportedly on the verge of a transfer to Glasgow Rangers World War One intervened. It is at this point that his story takes on a real Boys Own quality.
Tull abandoned his football career to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. His battalion arrived in France in November 1915. Taking part in such historic events as the Battle Of the Somme, Tull rose through the ranks to become the first black officer in the British Army. Receiving his commission in 1917 Lieutenant Tull was sent to the Italian front where he was mentioned in dispatches for his "gallantry and coolness" while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party, to cross the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory. For bringing his men back unharmed Tull was recommended for a Military Cross.
He was then sent back to France in 1918 where, at the age of 29, he was shot leading his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. Such was his popularity, several of his men made valiant efforts under heavy fire from German machine-guns to bring him back to the British trenches. These attempts were sadly all in vain and he is remembered at The Arras Memorial, Bay 7, for those who have no known grave.

No comments: