First Black footballer, Andrew Watson, inspired British soccer in 1870s

A worn photograph, some yellowing newspaper files, a cryptic comment and a brief mention in a dusty census tome have been unearthed in Scotland in what has been described as the most important discovery in the history of Black footballers in Britain, the Chronicle has learned.

Andrew Watson
Andrew Watson of Queens ParkFC, Glasgow, circa 1879, courtesy of the Scottish Museum

"We believe the findings, dated between the 1870s and 1880s, could prove that the first black British footballer was Andrew Watson who played for Queens Park (Glasgow) and Scotland, said Ged O'Brien, director of the Scottish Football Museum and leading member of the Association of Sports Historians.

Born May 1857 in British Guiana, Andrew Watson lived and sired a family in Scotland and came to be known as one of the best players in the whole of Britain.

Details of the discovery read like pages from an archaeological adventure. Researchers sifting through old football programs and memorabilia noted the adolescent face and distinctive features of one Queens Park player and decided to investigate who he was. They combed through the pages of the Scottish Internationalist and the Who's Who 1872-1986. But after 5 years they still had no proper clues to the youth's elusive identity, said O'Brien.

But, scanning the recently digitalised 1881 census data put the researchers on the right track. The entry shows that an Andrew Watson, aged 24, lived with his wife and child at Afton Crescent in Govan. Newspaper interviews and articles of the day gave further clues. Photographs of Watson in the colours of the Queens Park Football Club, the most elite and famous amateur football club of the day, confirmed the discovery. "Our eyes were opened to a wider vision of Watson the man, the Scottish and international player, and club secretary, " says O'Brien.

In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Mr O'Brien revealed that Watson started his career with Maxwell FC in Glasgow. His next stop was Parkgrove in 1874. Then came the halcyon days of glory at Queens Park from 1880 to 1887. According to Scottish football researchers, Watson was "no mere scuffler on the field"; he was a respected player and team supporter.

Mr O'Brien said that Watson roamed far afield to play the game, as was common in those days, He was much sought after by clubs in England as well as Scotland. Records show he played in 36 competitive games for Queens Park. He also appeared for the London Swifts in the English Cup championships 1882, making him the first Black player in English Cup history.

Commentators of the day regarded Watson "as one of the best players in Britain". He earned 2 Scottish Cup medals and 4 Charity Cup medals during his career; the Who's Who acknowledged his performances in international matches.

Watson's place in football history extends to the highest echelons of the game. As Club Secretary for Queens Park - the man who arranged the team schedule and managed its affairs - Watson was first Black in a British club's boardroom. He helped build up the profile of his club and prestigious tournaments, and ensured the loyalty of future generations of fans and spectators.

Watson's stellar attributes marked him as special for his times.(The Football Association, the game's governing council, was formed in 1863 and professionalism was legalised in 1885). Undoubtedly, Watson was there at the birth of organised football out of its "aimless, chaotic", often violent, roots in workingmen's culture. No mean feat for a first generation immigrant in a game where nonwhites were rare, and in a city like Glasgow where African Caribbeans were nearly invisible.

Though much more investigation is needed, a few tentative conclusions can be drawn. The discovery could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of Black history in football, said Mr O'Brien. It can provide the impetus for further research into football as a proper area of academic study.

Black PearlsWithout doubt, sports observers will have to update their records. Prime examples include Paul Vasili, author of Colouring Over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain (Mainstream 2002) and Al Hamilton and Rodney Hinds writing in Black Pearls: The A-Z of Black Footballers in the English Game (Hansib 1999). The authors mistakenly cite as "firsts" Arthur Wharton, born in Ghana, who joined Preston North End in the late 1880s, and Walter Tull, of Barbadian descent, who played for the north London club Tottenham Hotspurs in the early 20th century.




The Watson discovery will also stimulate a radical rethink of prejudices about Black footballers' abilities, on and off the field. Andrew Watson, as a player and club administrator, put Scottish and British soccer on the world map. He pioneered a narrative of Black progress in British football that can be regularly tapped for inspiration.

Arthur Wharton
Mistakenly cited as a "first" Arthur Wharton

"Watson was a man of intelligence, foresight and entrepreneurial skills" said Mr O'Brien. Rescuing him from obscurity is one of the most exciting and important events in what remains a murky field of British football history.

What do you know of Andrew Watson? The Scottish Museum welcomes assistance in its continuing research, especially from readers in India and Guyana South America. Director Ged O'Brien can be contacted at:

© Copyright 1997-2005 Chronicle World - first published 30/07/02
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