Over the next couple of years the Royal Mint are releasing a number of commemorative coins to mark the anniversary of WW1. Hearteningly it seems that within the first batch is a coin marking the life of Walter Tull, the pioneering footballer and solder of West Indian extraction.
Walter is often mis-attributed with being the first black professional footballer in England and the first black officer in the British Army. The former is certainly not true – that honour goes to Arthur Wharton, who would indirectly have an influence on Tull’s career. The latter is at least partly true, in that he was almost certainly the first British Army officer to officially self identify on his application as being of non-European descent (which in 1917, when Walter applied, was meant to be compulsory for officers).
That both of these facts are more complex than at first they seem should not be seen as detracting from Walter’s story – if anything they highlight just how fascinating his life truly was. With that in mind, over on A Game of Throw-ins I’ve written up the story of Walter Tull’s life. In particular (and perhaps not surprisingly given the fact that AGOT is a football website!) I’ve focused on the challenges he faced as a footballer and the influence legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman (then managing Northampton Town) had on his life – something that often gets overlooked in many tellings of Walter’s life:
In 1911 much of this was still to come. Already though Chapman was demonstrating his determination to look to the future, not to the past, when it came to improving his team and the game. It was this that caused his eye to fall on the struggling Walter Tull and see an opportunity for both Tull and Northampton Town to benefit.
As far as Chapman was concerned, Tull’s colour was a non-issue. In part this was no doubt due to his generally forward-thinking nature, but it was also due to the fact that Chapman was one of the few former-players and managers in Britain with first hand experience of working alongside a non-white footballer at a serious level – Arthur Wharton.
If Walter’s story is something you feel that you might enjoy, then pop on over and give it a read.