Black war hero and football pioneer, Walter Tull, kicks off in Forest Gate

Wednesday 5 June 2013

One of Britain's earliest and most successful black footballers, and war hero - Walter Daniel Tull (1888 - 1918) - first established his sporting credentials at Forest Gate's Clapton FC, in the years before the first World War.

Tull was born in Folkestone to a Barbadian man and local woman in 1888, but soon lost both of his parents. By the age of ten he was living in an orphanage in Bethnal Green , when he played for the orphanage football team. 

He joined Clapton FC, aged 20, in 1908. Whilst with the Tons he won winners medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. The photos below shows him (second from the right, front row) as part of the Amateur Cup winning team of 1909.

1909 Clapton FC Amateur Cup winning team, Walter Tull - front row, second from right

Later that year he signed for Tottenham Hotspur, to become Britain's second Afro Caribbean professional footballer. While at Spurs he experienced spectator racism for the first time, in an away fixture in Bristol, in "language lower than Billingsgate". In 1911 he moved to Northampton Town, where he scored nine goals in 110 appearances, as a half back.

Walter Tull, in his Spurs days

He enlisted when the war broke out, to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and was posted to France in November 1915. He was soon promoted to sergeant and took part in the Somme Offensive of July 1916. He developed trench fever later that year and was repatriated, to recover. 

Despite military regulations forbidding "any negro or person of colour" being an officer Tull received a commission in May 1917. He became the first black officer in the British army and led his men at the Battle of Piave, in Italy. He was mentioned in dispatches for his "gallantry and coolness" under fire.

He came under German fire, in the Spring offensive in France in March 1918 and is assumed to have sustained a fatal wounding, although his body was never recovered.

Lieutenant Tull

His record as the first British-born black army officer was recognised in Northampton in 1999, when a memorial plaque to him was unveiled at Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium, and the approach road to the ground was renamed Walter Tull Way.

So, as a footnote to British Black history, it should be remembered that war hero and football pioneer, Walter Daniel Tull first made his mark on football at Forest Gate's Old Spotted Dog ground, with Clapton FC.

With thanks to for the material

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing your post, I found about Mr Walter Tull after watching a BBC TV programme on his life three years ago, I was so amazed that I decided to research anything I could find and then felt the need to write a blog post to coincide with 11.11.2011. He was I feel a Sporting Hero, a War Hero always to be remembered and as I grew up in Forest Gate near the Old Spotted Dog Ground, he is my Local Hero. Thank you again!


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