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News & Views

Celebrating Black Lives: Walter Tull

As part of Rosslyn Hill Chapel's 'Celebrating Black Lives' series, we celebrate the Black British footballer and soldier Walter Tull.

Walter Tull was born in April 1888 in Folkestone. Sadly, his mother died of breast cancer when he was 7 and his father, who had come to Britain from Barbados in 1876, died of heart disease two years later. Tull and his brother Edward were sent to an orphanage.

After playing football in the Orphanage football team, Tull was selected to play for the amateur club Clapton in 1908. Scarcely four months had passed before he was invited to join Tottenham Hotspur, thus becoming the second Black man to play professional football in Britain. Walter Tull was a great success at Tottenham, yet racist abuse from football crowds meant that he was put on the reserve team after only seven first-team games. However, his obvious talents were put to better use upon his transfer to Northampton Town, for whom he played over 100 games.

As soon as the First World War was declared Tull swiftly left his footballing career behind him and joined the British Army. His leadership qualities were quickly rewarded with his promotion to the role of sergeant. He took part in the major Somme offensive. Despite it being forbidden for anyone with "non-European" heritage to become an officer, Tull become the British Army's first ever Black officer in May 1917 and was praised for his "gallantry and coolness".

Walter Tull died aged 29 on 25th March 1918 while leading his men on an attack against enemy lines on the Western Front.

"Allow me to say how popular [Walter] was throughout the Battalion. He was brave and

conscientious; he had been recommended for the Military Cross, and had certainly earned it"

Letter from Lieutenant Pickard to Tull's brother on 17th April 1918

"Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football. In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field."

Words of a contemporary journalist after Tull suffered racist abuse at a 1909 match at Bristol City

Each month we mark the significant life of a person of colour as a positive statement and a contribution to redressing historical imbalances in our society. More profiles.

Further reading:

Conway, Richard and David Lockwood. "Walter Tull: The incredible story of a football pioneer and war hero." BBC Sport, 23 March 2018,

"Walter Tull." National Football Museum,

"Walter Tull." Spartacus Educational,

"Walter Tull." Football and the First World War,

Illustration by April Clough


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