Racism in sport and football in particular has never really disappeared. From accusations of discrimination with clubs late last season to injudicious comments from such respected figures as Ron Atkinson on live television, black conscience, which first dominated the 1968 Olympics in Mexico with the Black Power Movement, still has a role to play.
Many people believe that players such as Brendan Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Viv Anderson were ground-breaking personalities in the sport of football during the late 1970s. Far from it. In an age where black athletes have proven their superiority in every discipline, it is often forgotten that the real pioneers fought for the cause in much earlier times. Even before Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, goalkeeper Arthur Wharton became the world’s first black professional footballer when playing for Preston North End, the first Football League champions, from 1885.
Walter Daniel Tull – the game’s first black outfield player – who made his debut for Spurs in 1909, followed him. Tull also broke down other barriers. When war broke out, he enlisted as a private in the Middlesex Regiment. He was promoted to sergeant, the highest rank attainable by a black soldier at the time, but continued to demonstrate bravery and composure under fire.
Tull was sent to officer training school and emerged as a second Lieutenant – the first black officer in the British Army and the first to lead white troops into battle. He was fatally wounded during the second Battle of the Somme and recommended for the Military Cross. His life had ended, but the war had been won – against the enemy within and abroad. Walter Tull was a hero who made a difference. Do you ‘make a difference’?