Portrait of Walter Tull.
Portrait of Walter Tull.

Walter Tull

Black footballer and Soldier


Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, His father, Daniel Tull, came to England from Barbados in 1876. Daniel’s father was enslaved on a sugar plantation. Walter’s mother, Elizabeth, died when he was seven; he was brought up in a children’s home. His brother, Edward, was adopted by a family in Glasgow. Walter played for Clapton FC until he joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1909.

Fame and Prejudice

Walter Tull made a good first impression at Tottenham, seen as a star of the future. But he suffered from racist behaviour by fans of opposing teams. In a match against Bristol City, Walter was described as “the best forward on the field”, but there were newspaper headlines about “Football and Colour Prejudice”. Tottenham dropped Tull from the team and he moved to Northampton Town. When war broke out in 1914, Walter was one of the first footballers to volunteer for the British Army.

Life story

Walter Tull served in the “Footballers Battalion” of the Middlesex Regiment, and fought in the Battle of the Somme. In 1917 he was made lieutenant, the first mixed-heritage commissioned officer in a British Army regiment. He hoped to re-start his football career once the war was over and signed a contract with Glasgow Rangers; but he was killed in action in March 1918. At Sixfield Stadium, home of Northampton Town FC, there is a memorial in honour of Walter Tull.

Thinking points

Walter Tull was the third player of mixed heritage to play top/level football in England, after Arthur Wharton and Billy Clarke. He was also an officer in the British army during the First World War.

Educators could look at the life story of Walter Tull and work with young people to consider these questions:

  1. What does the story of a boy from Folkestone whose grandfather was enslaved in Barbados tell us about colonial migration?
  2. How has the story of Walter Tull been used for remembrance in the 21st century?

Find out more

Find out more about Walter Full on the special World War One Centenary project website: Football and the First World War. Also you can see how this story has been further reported on by Nick Blackman on The Guardian. Educators may wish to use the resources developed by The National Archive or explore the wealth of resources gathered by Phil Vasili. Northampton Town Football Club opened a memorial to Walter Tull at Sixfields Stadium in 1999.

Walter Tull was a pioneering Black footballer and a soldier.

Life Story 38

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Portrait of Walter Tull.
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