A Forgotten Hero: The First Black International

A Forgotten Hero: The First Black International

March 12, 2021

  • Andrew Watson (centre back) was the first black international player in football

  • He led Scotland to a 6-1 win over England exactly 140 years ago as captain

  • On a forgotten football legend the author Lelev Walker

In a dark alley just a few kilometers from the famous Hampden Park in South Glasgow, frescoes of two black footballers adorn a wall.

One of them shows Pele, the most famous player of all time. The second shows a footballer who is almost forgotten even in the Scottish homeland. In terms of historical significance, however, Andrew Watson is on par with other top footballers and is certainly on par with the Brazilian king of football.

He secured his place in the history of the sport exactly 140 years ago when he was the first black player to play an international football match. Watson was not only a simple player but also the captain of the Scottish national team and led the team to a 6–1 victory in London – the biggest ever home defeat. three lions had to accept.

This success is remarkable, but it is only one of his many extraordinary achievements.

“He really should be much better known,” says historian Lelev Walker, a New biography about Watson written and collects funds for the construction of a monument, “Of all the early black players who have been “rediscovered” and rightfully celebrated in recent years – such as Arthur Wharton and Walter Tulls – Watson is the most influential and important.

Not that he was the first black international and the first black player to captain his country on the field, although those facts are of great historical importance in their own right. He was also the first black man to win an important cup competition and the first black man to have a player and official role in the English FA Cup (he had two linesmen). He was also the first black person to serve as a football administrator – and earned the utmost respect in all of his roles.

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Furthermore, the Scottish team he was a part of has changed football profoundly and forever. The following year a 6–1 defeat against Scotland and another 5–1 SWAT forced the British to make really significant changes.”

The British were so impressed with Watson that they brought him to the country in the months following their second defeat. Born in Guyana to a Scottish sugar maker and a Guan mother, the defender led a group of “Scottish professors” who taught their southern neighbors a whole new concept of the most beautiful of all sports.

Walker explains: “These ‘professors’ introduced the combination game – passing, positional play, strategy and teamwork – all things that Scotland adopted very rapidly and turned English football, which was by then with rugby roots was very close and together with British influence in spreading the game globally, it eventually changed football around the world.”

Walker himself is English and stumbled upon Watson’s story through his involvement. Corinthians Casual – The famous amateur team that was one of the Scottish Pioneer Clubs. Walker is concerned with the importance of Watson’s achievements and the lack of recognition he has received, but is equally concerned with the fact that Watson did so well in the first place and became a hugely popular figure in the late 19th century.

Because while widespread kneeling at sporting events is a painful reminder that racism has not yet been eradicated, Watson lived in a time when racism was common.

Bournemouth, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Chekhou Coyte of Crystal Palace takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement before the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Crystal Palace at Vitality Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Bournemouth, England.  Football stadiums across Europe remain empty due to the coronavirus pandemic as the government's social distancing laws restrict fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“Racism and racist beliefs were widespread in Britain at the time,” Walker explains. “But with Watson, the race didn’t matter much. He did it by being very, very good at everything.

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He was the first real example of diversity in sport; For the theory that it doesn’t matter what your skin color is, but how good you are. Everything I read about him shows how popular he was, and this was where he went. He was simply wonderful.

There is a wonderful story when he came to England and played so well in a game at Charterhouse School that the students took him with pleasure. Now, however, Charterhouse is a bastion of white English that has given birth to a prime minister and many other important men, so it is surprising that this black man was highly respected there. It just proves how well he must have been that he deserved that kind of respect and admiration.”

Of course, it’s even more regrettable that this belief faded over the decades and Watson’s story was forgotten. But with Walker and others back in the spotlight, the story of the first black national football player moves down the dark alleys of history.

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