Walter Tull and the History of Prejudice
Paul Hardman, avid football fan and Support Coordinator at Creative Support’s Blackburn Social Inclusion Service, has been finding out about a pioneering sportsman and the history of prejudice in the beautiful game and society at large:
“Following the postponement of Northampton Town’s match at Wycombe Wanderers last Saturday, I took my youngest son to learn about a remarkable man by the name of Walter Tull.
Walter Tull was the first ever black outfield player to play in the English First Division. After plying his trade for Clacton, Spurs and Northampton Town he signed up to fight in World War I. Despite military regulations at the time forbidding ‘any negro or person of colour’ becoming an infantry officer he attained this honour through his heroism in battle. He later died during the second battle of the Somme protecting his men.
I knew a little about Walter as he has a memorial at Sixfields Stadium, home of Northampton Town. His life has recently been documented in a play entitled ‘Tull’ at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. Written by Phil Vasili and directed by David Thacker ‘Tull’ is an incredible journey that explores social history at a time when black immigrants had been born into plantation slavery, the Suffragettes were force fed during hunger strikes and the origins of Action for Children were founded. Walter’s relationship with the Cobblers’ manager Herbert Chapman was heart-warming and the horrors of the 1st World War unimaginable.
During his time at Spurs and against a backdrop of racial abuse from Bristol City fans one journalist wrote, ‘Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football whether they be amateur or professional’. As much as the British game has done well to try and stamp out racism over the ensuing years, recent events here and abroad tell us that sadly there is still an awful lot to do.
From a personal point of view I have always related racism in football to the bad old days of the ‘70s and ‘80s when monkey chants were commonplace on the terraces and the likes of Cunningham, Regis, Batson and Barnes were subjected to weekly abuse. Things have improved drastically since then with black players often outnumbering their white counterparts in any given starting XI up and down the country, but there are still undertones of prejudice highlighted by high profile banning orders of so called fans (thanks to television cameras and CCTV) and the lack of black managers. UEFA and FIFA have done little to punish teams and fans, particularly in Eastern Europe and countries such as Italy and Spain, choosing instead to hand out paltry fines and sticking their heads in the sand.
The story of Walter Tull is truly inspirational. It would be naïve to hope for a world that does not discriminate but stories like Walter’s story needs to be told because education is the best weapon in eradicating prejudice. Ask any football fan who threw a banana onto the pitch in the 70’s and 80’s why they did it and they would not be able to give you an answer that would justify their actions. Hopefully, they are now hanging their heads in shame.
Phil Vasili is currently in advanced discussions with a producer to make a film about the incredible life of Walter Tull. In the meantime, why not find more information online, be inspired and help kick racism into touch?
There is currently a campaign to ensure that Walter is awarded the Military Cross posthumously. Prior to his death in action he was recommended by his Commanding Officer for the medal. However, the request was refused because of his ethnicity. 100,000 signatures need to be raised by 6th November 2013 to force the Government to reconsider. Please click here to sign the e-petition.”
by Paul Hardman