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Walter Tull

Walter Tull
Personal information
Full name Walter Daniel John Tull
Date of birth (1888-04-28)28 April 1888
Place of birth Folkestone, Kent, England
Date of death 25 March 1918(1918-03-25) (aged 29)
Place of death Pas-de-Calais, France
Playing position Midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1908–09 Clapton  
1909–1911 Tottenham Hotspur 10 (2)
1911–14 Northampton Town 111 (9)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Walter Daniel John Tull (28 April 1888 – 25 March 1918) was an English professional footballer who played as an inside forward for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. He was the second person of mixed race to play in the top division of the Football League, the first mixed-race British outfield player in the top division of English football. His professional football career began after he was spotted while playing for his local amateur club, Clapton F.C.. He began playing for Clapton in 1908 and within a few months he had won winners' medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. In March 1909 the Football Star called him "the catch of the season".

Tull was brought up in a National Children's Home orphanage in Bethnal Green, London, along with his brother, following the death of their parents. He joined Tottenham in 1909 and transferred to Northampton Town in 1911, where he made 111 first-team appearances.

During the First World War, Tull served in the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 30 May 1917. Tull fought in Italy in 1917–18, and was mentioned in dispatches for "gallantry and coolness" while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party into enemy territory. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive; his body was never recovered.

Campaigners have called for a statue to be erected in his honour, and Northampton South MP Brian Binley has campaigned for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross.


  • Early life 1
  • Football career 2
  • World War 1 3
  • Commemoration 4
  • Legacy 5
    • Memorial 5.1
  • Media 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Tull was born in Folkestone, Kent, the son of Barbadian carpenter Daniel Tull and Kent-born Alice Elizabeth Palmer. His father's mother was a slave in Barbados.[1] His maternal English grandmother was from Kent. He began his education in what is now Mundella Primary School.[2]

In 1895, when Walter Tull was seven, his mother died of cancer. A year later his father married Alice's cousin, Clara Palmer. She gave birth to a daughter Miriam, on 11 September 1897. Three months later Daniel died from heart disease. The stepmother was unable to cope with so many children. The resident minister of Grace Hill Wesleyan Chapel, recommended that the two boys of school-age, Walter and Edward, should be sent to the National Children's Home orphanage in Bethnal Green.[3]

Edward was adopted by the Warnock family of Glasgow, and qualified as a dentist, the first mixed-race person to practise this profession in the United Kingdom.[4]

Football career

His football career started at Clapton F.C. where he played alongside Clyde Honeysett Purnell and Charlie Rance in the team that won the London Senior Cup and FA Amateur Cup in 1908-09 and, in doing so, became the first mixed-race player to win a medal in English senior football.

At the age of 21, Tull signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909, after a close-season tour of Argentina and Uruguay, making him the first mixed-race professional footballer to play in Latin America. Tull made his debut for Tottenham in September 1909 at inside forward against Sunderland, making him the second mixed-heritage player to play in the top division (after goalkeeper Arthur Wharton of Darlington), but only made 10 first-team appearances, scoring twice, before he was dropped to the reserves.[5] This may have been due to the racial abuse he received from opposing fans, particularly at Bristol City, whose supporters used language "lower than Billingsgate", according to a report at the time in the Football Star newspaper.[6]

Further appearances in the first team (20 in total with four goals) were recorded before Tull was bought by Herbert Chapman's Northampton Town on 17 October 1911 for a "substantial fee" plus Charlie Brittain joining Tottenham Hotspur in return.[7] Tull made his debut four days later against Watford, and made in all 111 first-team appearances and nine goals for the club. He lived in Rushden and at one time at 26 Queen Street. When war broke out Tull enlisted in the army, in December 1914, the first Northampton Town player to do so. It was reported in the Glasgow Evening Times in 1940, in an article about Tull being the first mixed-race infantry officer in the British Army, that he had signed to play for Rangers once the war was over.

World War 1

During the First World War Tull served in both Footballers' Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, 17th and 23rd, and also in the 5th Battalion, rising to the rank of Royal Field Artillery in 1915; and David Clemetson was commissioned in the Pembroke Yeomanry in October 1915[10]). Tull's superior officers recommended him for a commission regardless. Tull fought in Italy from 1917 to 1918 and was cited for his "gallantry and coolness" by Major General Sydney Lawford, commander of the 41st Division, having led 26 men on a night raiding party, crossing the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory and returning them unharmed, soon after he was recommended for a Military Cross. He returned to northern France in 1918 and was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive, near the village of Favreuil in the Pas-de-Calais. His body was never recovered, despite the efforts of Private Billingham to return him while under fire.


Tull is remembered at the Arras Memorial, Bay 7, for those who have no known grave.[11] He fought in six battles: Battle of Ancre, November 1916 (first Battle of the Somme); Battle of Messines, June 1917; 3rd Battle of Ypres, July–November 1917 (Battle of the Menin Road Ridge); September 1917; Second Battle of the Somme St. Quentin, March 1918; Battle of Bapaume, March 1918.


In the history of mixed-race footballers in Britain, Tull may be mentioned alongside Arthur Wharton, a goalkeeper for Darlington and Rotherham United who became the first mixed-race professional in 1889, and Andrew Watson, an amateur, who is credited as the earliest black international football player, winning his first cap for Scotland in 1881.

Campaigners have called for a statue to be erected in his honour at Dover,[6] and Northampton South MP Brian Binley and Phil Vasili, has begun campaigning for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross.[12] However, as the Military Cross was not authorized to be awarded posthumously until 1979, and the change did not include any provision for retrospective awards, this would not be possible without a complete change in the rules for awarding that medal.


Walter Tull memorial at the Sixfields Stadium, Northampton

On Sunday 11 July 1999, Northampton Town F.C. unveiled a memorial to Walter in a dedicated Garden of Remembrance at Sixfields Stadium.[13] The epitaph, written by Phil Vasili, the author of Colouring Over the White Line: History of Black Footballers in Britain and Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer, reads:

Through his actions, Tull ridiculed the barriers of ignorance that tried to deny people of colour equality with their contemporaries. His life stands testament to a determination to confront those people and those obstacles that sought to diminish him and the world in which he lived. It reveals a man, though rendered breathless in his prime, whose strong heart still beats loudly.[14]

The road that runs behind the North Stand (The Dave Bowen Stand) at Sixfields Stadium is named Walter Tull Way.

In 2004, Tottenham Hotspur and Rangers contested the "Walter Tull Memorial Cup". Rangers won the Cup after defeating Spurs 2–0 with goals from Dado Pršo and Nacho Novo on 28 July.[15]

On 8 January 2009, plans were announced in the media to construct a statue in Tull's memory outside the proposed new Tottenham Hotspur ground. Early backers of an online petition included Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.[16]

As of 29 June 2010, plans to erect a bronze memorial statue of Tull in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, which lies within the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, had reached the stage of formal consultation with local residents. Permission for the statue was later refused by Southwark council.[17]

On 21 October 2014, a blue plaque was unveiled at 77 Northumberland Park, London N17, on the site of the former house where Tull lived before the war, close to the White Hart Lane ground. The plaque was provided by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and was unveiled by former Spurs striker Garth Crooks who described Tull as an "amazing man," whose recognition had been " a long time coming".[18]


Plans are under way to make a film about the life of Walter Tull, with a screenplay written by Phil Vasili, based upon his biography Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer, optioned by Araguaya Films.[19][20][21][22]

Walter's War, a drama about the life of Walter Tull, starring O. T. Fagbenle and written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, was made by UK channel BBC Four and screened on 9 November 2008 as part of the BBC's Ninety Years of Remembrance season. It drew 406,000 viewers and was the third most watched program on BBC4 during the week ending 9 November 2008.

Two films have been made for Teachers TV focusing on teaching about Walter Tull, and were launched in May 2008.[23][24]

Respect! a factual account of the life of Walter Tull written for young people by Barrington Stoke in 2005. The book was shortlisted in the Birmingham Libraries young readers' book festival May 2008.[25]

A book about Tull for young readers, Walter Tull: Footballer, Soldier, Hero, written by Dan Lyndon, was published by Collins Educational in January 2011.[26]

In 2014, Gazebo Theatre, based in Bilston Town Hall, toured a play about the life of Walter Tull, entitled The Hallowed Turf. It was presented in Wolverhampton on 3 October to launch the city's Black History Month.[27]


  1. ^ Dan Lyndon, Walter Tull: Footballer, Soldier, Hero, London: Collins Educational, 2011.
  2. ^ "The Extraordinary Life of Walter Tull".  
  3. ^ - Biography of Walter Tull
  4. ^ Phil Vasili (September 2004). "Tull, Walter Daniel John (1888–1918)".  
  5. ^ Topspurs A-Z of players. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  6. ^ a b Sapsted, David (13 June 2008). "Call to honour black Army hero".  
  7. ^ Garland, Jon. "Racism and Anti-Racism in Football".  
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30134. p. 5970. 15 June 1917. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  9. ^ W. H. Wyndham-Quin (2005) [1898]. The Yeomanry Cavalry of Gloucestershire and Monmouth. Golden Valley.  
  10. ^ The officer who refused to lie about being black, BBC News Magazine, 17 April 2015
  11. ^ "Casualty details—Tull, Walter Daniel John".  
  12. ^ "Medal campaign for black pioneer", BBC News, 23 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  13. ^ "In Memoriam", Northampton Town FC website.
  14. ^ War memorials Archive.
  15. ^ "Rangers see off sorry Spurs". BBC Sport. 28 July 2004. 
  16. ^ "Support for statue of Spurs war hero at new stadium". MailOnline. 8 January 2009. 
  17. ^ "Details of planning application – 10/AP/1361".  
  18. ^ Centenary news Retrieved 30 April 2015
  19. ^ Vasili, Phil (2009). Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer. London: Raw Press.  
  20. ^ "History of Black Footballers in Britain". Phil Vasili. Retrieved 13 June 2008. 
  21. ^ "Film being produced about Walter Tull's life".  
  22. ^ "Walter the first Black officer and footballer".  
  23. ^ "Walter Tull – Race, Football and Black Britain 1909". Teachers' TV. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  24. ^ "Walter Tull – the Pupils' Perspective". Teachers' TV. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  25. ^ Birmingham libraries book festival 2008, 30 July 2008.
  26. ^ Lydon, Dan (2011). Walter Tull:Footballer, Soldier, Hero. Collins Educational. p. 56.  
  27. ^ The Hallowed Turf at Gazebo Theatre website, accessed 18 October 2014.

Further reading

  • Lewis, Maureen; Jillian Powell; Bernice Barry (2005). Fields of Glory: The Diary of Walter Tull. Longman. (Please note: this is a fictional diary. There is no surviving diary written by Walter Tull.)  
  • Vasili, Phil, Colouring Over the White Line: History of Black Footballers in Britain, Mainstream Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-84018-296-2.
  • Vasili, Phil, Walter Tull, 1888–1918, Officer, Footballer. All the Guns in France Couldn't Wake Me, London: Raw Press, 2009. ISBN 9780956395405.

External links

  • Lyndsey Turner, "The lesson: Walter Tull", The Guardian, 25 March 1998.
  • For teaching material about Walter Tull, produced for Northamptonshire Black History Association,
  • Simon Kuper, "Political Football: Walter Tull", Channel 4 News, 4 September 2007.
  • "Walter Tull", Spartacus Educational.
  • Marilyn Stephenson-Knight, "First Black Army Officer, Footballer, and Great War Hero", The Dover War Memorial Project.
  • "The extraordinary life of Walter Tull", BBC London, 20 February 2008.
  • Tull's service record from Moving here, The National Archives and others. For more records relating to Tull in The National Archives, see Your Archives
  • "Crossing the White Line: The Walter Tull Story website", The Historical Association, 16 September 2008.
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