As another Black History Month winds down, homage should be paid to those who sacrificed and paved the way for others to succeed.
Some of Britain’s most famous Black soccer players, including Viv Anderson, Laurie Cunningham, John Barnes, Ian Wright, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand stood on the shoulders of trailblazers like Andrew Watson, Walter Tull who died on the battlefield and Arthur Wharton, the world’s first professional Black player who was honoured last week with a statue in South Yorkshire.
Designed by sculptor Graham Ibbeson, the statue stands outside Rotherdam United’s New York Stadium.
“We are delighted to be able to honour a remarkable individual who is still being talked about as a pioneer,” said the club’s chairman Tony Stewart.
A goalkeeper who signed as a semi-professional with Preston North End in 1886, Wharton made it to the Football Association (FA) Cup semi-finals a year later where his club succumbed 3-1 to West Bromwich. There was speculation at the time that he was good enough to play for England but he was never considered mainly because of racial prejudice at the time.
Wharton inked his first professional contract with Rotherdam United three years later.
Businessman Jim Radman, who spearheaded the erection of the statue, said the unveiling took place to mark the 125th anniversary of Wharton’s signing with Rotherdam.
In addition to being an outstanding goalkeeper, Wharton was a world-class sprinter and excellent cyclist. In 1886, he ran the 100-yard dash in a world record 10 secs. and a year later set a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn which are about 10 miles apart.
Born in Ghana in 1865 to parents with Grenadian and Scottish roots, Wharton moved to England at age 17 to train as a missionary. Bored with the academic and religious life, he quit school to pursue sports.
After he retired from soccer in 1902, Wharton’s life spiralled downwards and he died penniless in a workhouse sanatorium in 1930.
A statue of Watson is on display in the president’s lounge at the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) headquarters in Zurich.
Watson, who was born in then British Guiana in 1857 to a Scottish sugar planter and a local woman, enrolled at Glasgow University in 1875 to study Math, Natural Philosophy and Civil Engineering.
He represented Maxwell and Parkgrove before signing with Queen’s Park – then Britain’s top club – which he captained to several Scottish Cup wins. He was also the club’s secretary.
The defender won three Scotland caps and was the first Black to play in the FA Cup for London club, Swifts. Two years later, he became the first Black to be invited to join Corinthians, a team that allowed only 50 elite members.
Watson, who was posthumously inducted into the Scottish Soccer Hall of Fame in November 2012, died in Sydney, Australia in 1902 at age 44.
Raised in a London orphanage following the death of his parents, Tull – an inside forward – was Britain’s first professional Black outfield player who represented Tottenham Hotspurs and Northampton Town prior to the First World War.
Britain’s first Black Army officer, Tull – the son of a Barbadian father whose mother was a slave – fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and in Italy a year later.
He was killed in France during the 1918 Spring Offensive and his body was never recovered.
A petition is gaining momentum for the Military Cross to be posthumously awarded to the fallen solider who was 29 when he died.