Most Influential Black Footballer of All Time
Of all the people who played football in the 19th century, this man deserves his own chapter. In decades to come, his name will be on the lips of everyone who professes to know anything about the history of the game. I have an exceedingly strong bias towards Andrew Watson. He, more than any other sports person I have ever studied, changed the direction of my life.
Before I go on, there is one thing you need to know about football from, even 40 years ago. You cannot say one player was better than any current player. That way lies madness. Different training. Different tactics. Different amount of time spent in practising the game. Different dietary regime. Different medical support. Different rules and pitch markings. Let us continue with an anecdote.
In 1990, I came to Glasgow to act as a consultant to the SFA and Glasgow City Council. They wanted me to tell them, if the concept of a museum of football was a goer. I ended up in the offices of the Queen’s Park Football Club. Of immediate interest were their big albums of photos, going back to the Scotland team of 1873 and the Cup winning team of 1874. So far, so good. I turned over the pages and studied a photograph of the 1882 Scotland team. There, standing at the back, in the centre, was a black dude.
You have to understand that, at this time, almost everything I knew about football had been filtered through the prism of English ‘history’ books. I knew that the world’s first black footballer was Arthur Wharton of Preston North End and Darlington. Wharton had been born in Jamestown, on the Gold Coast. Well: that’s the old British Empire name. The name applied to a separate and distinct culture, in a deliberate attempt to smother and destroy it. If you are heading for Apple Maps, I would suggest you look for Accra in Ghana, if you want to see his birthplace.
So: the question had already been answered. Q: First black footballer? A: Arthur Wharton. Another football question answered to the satisfaction of anyone who just knows JUST KNOWS - that England invented football. So, there I was: a historian ignoring the cardinal rule of research: maintain a skeptical stance at all times.
More than three decades ago, that photo threw me into a state of confusion. I could not be looking at a black Scottish footballer, because they didn’t exist at that time. Arthur Wharton made his debut, as a goalkeeper for Darlington in 1885. I cannot stress this enough. I am asking you to make a similar change in what you think you know. I will never forget my brain freezing. My mind was trying - and failing - to square a circle of my own making.
I leafed backwards and forwards through the album. There he was, again and again. Andrew Watson in the colours of the Queen’s Park FC. Andrew Watson in the colours of the Scottish National team. Andrew Watson in the colours of the Crusaders, a team he invented, for the sole purpose of playing Aston Villa.
Clearly, he was a man of great importance. He played for the best club side in the world and the best national side in the world. This was my road to Damascus. I had been walking the wrong road all this time. My only excuse is that somebody deliberately gave me the wrong directions. Time to start heading, heading down the road.
Over the next decade, I and my colleagues at the Scottish Football Museum pieced together the basic information. Tommy Malcolm’s discovery of a birth certificate and the record of his first marriage in Pollokshields confirmed what I had known, in my bones, that momentous day, in 1990.
Watson was the son of a wealthy Scottish sugar planter: Peter Miller Watson (1805 - 1869). Peter Watson was the son of James Watson from Orkney in Scotland. Andrew’s mother was a local British Guianese woman named Hannah Rose. He was born in the British Empire colony of Guyana, on the north coast of South America. The Brits and the Dutch had been fighting over this chunk of territory for the best part of a century.
Peter Miller Watson and other members of his family had been making extremely large profits from the sugar plantations. By ‘extremely large’ I mean that - in modern money - we are well into the hundreds of millions of pounds. Profits which had been made from the blood and deaths of black slaves. Please note the irony. On his father’s side, Andrew Watson was the son of a slave owning family. On his mother’s side he came from a family who would have been slaves. Life is complicated.
Here is where it gets really, really interesting. The British Empire was full of men who had fathered children to slaves or indentured servants. You might have read George Orwell’s fictional novel ‘Burmese Days’. In it he refers to this little ‘advantage’ of being a white imperialist in a foreign colony. But here is where a decision changes the course of world football history. Peter Miller Watson returned to the UK, bringing Andrew and his elder sister Annetta with him. They set up home in central London, just around the corner from the where the BBC now has its headquarters.
Andrew Watson’s father died in 1869, leaving Andrew £55,000: more than £3 million in our money. This is no surprise. The Watson family had grown ridiculously wealthy on the back of slavery and sugar. The 13-year-old Andrew was set fair, for a very pleasant life. When he was in London, he studied at the King’s College School in Wimbledon. Aged 19, he moved to Scotland. He studied Natural Philosophy (Science to you and me), Mathematics and Engineering at the University of Glasgow. This is a young man who mixed brains with his growing football skills. His studies were brief at Glasgow University, but he continued studying. He was getting the skills needed to become a master engineer.
He spent months at Glasgow University, becoming a partner in Watson, Miller and Baird: a wholesale warehouse company. I have seen him mentioned in the records as a warehouse man. Oh no! This young man was vastly too superior, to start at the bottom. With the knowledge I have at the moment, I feel he will have left Glasgow University, because he had to part of the family empire to run. Think of Mark Zuckerberg leaving Harvard University before he got his degree. Why? Because he could see the billions of dollars he was going to make, running Facebook.
In the same year, he married Jesse Nimmo Armour. They had a son Rupert Andrew and a daughter Agnes Maude. Sadly, his wife died in the autumn of 1882, when they were living in London. He returned to Glasgow and married Eliza Kate Tyler, in February 1887. With her, he had a son, Henry Tyler and a daughter, Phyllis Kate.
Watson’s football career started in Glasgow, in 1876, with Maxwell FC. He quickly joined Parkgrove and became their match secretary. At the time, the match secretary was key to the success of any football club. Apart from one game guaranteed in the Scottish Cup, the success of your season rested on your match secretary persuading important clubs like Queens Park, Kilmarnock, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton and Renton to give you a game. If they didn’t send the first team, you tried to get the second team.
The Parkgrove team was ethnically mixed, for the time. Andrew Watson played alongside Robert Walker. This is where facts, on their own, don’t tell us much. I am sure Robert Walker was a cracking player. However, he did not have 1% of the influence on World football that Andrew Watson did.
Watson was becoming noticed. He played for Glasgow against Sheffield in 1880 (1-0 to Glasgow at Bramall Lane). At the time, these were the world’s two most important footballing cities, in their respective countries. The statistics show that Glasgow gave Sheffield a mauling, more often than not.
The big change in Andrew’s life came, when he was persuaded to move to the Queen’s Park FC, in 1880. They were by far and away the biggest and most influential football club in the world. How can I put it, in modern terms? Imagine that Juventus, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man Utd, Liverpool and Bayern Munich were one club and you still don’t get a taste of the Spiders’ influence. They had staged the world’s first international football game in 1872, with all their own players. They had co-founded the English FA Cup, the Scottish FA Cup and the Scottish FA. They had built the world’s first national football stadium and created the world’s first national set of rules. That’s who Andrew Watson represented.
Playing for Queen’s Park made being picked for Scotland, a near certainty. Note that I did not say that he was signed by Queen’s Park or that he was transferred. In the amateur days, you played for whoever you liked. Nobody had a call on you. It is why people sometimes claim that Queen’s Park did not have 11 players in the world’s first international. The Smith Brothers were turning out for South Norwood in London, where they worked. An example for our English readers: look at the players in the the mid-1880s in the national team. Some of them have three clubs after their name. Example: Andrew Amos: capped 1885 v Scotland. Cambridge University AFC, Old Carthusians AFC and Corinthian FC.
Watson became Club Secretary of Queen’s Park in November 1881. The world’s first black footballer was the world’s first black administrator of a major club. I cannot stress this fact enough. Someone was going to be the world’s first black footballer. Who cares? It’s just a statistic. Andrew Watson was asked to run the most influential football club in the world, less than eighteen months after joining them. No other footballer can come close to this influence. I am sure that we will find a black footballer from the 1860s and probably the 1760s. He will need to go some, to be held in even one hundredth the regard with which football held Andrew Watson.
International football came to Andrew Watson 12th March 1881. The debutant was also made captain. The 6-1 defeat he handed out to England still remains their record home defeat, 140 years later. Wales were played, less than a week later. Scotland again won, 5-1. His third and final cap, came in the game which broke English hearts: the 5-1 victory over England. It was played at the first Hampden 11th March 1882. Why did his International career end so abruptly, after having been so ridiculously successful? Three wins. 16 goals. Three goals against. Simple. He moved to London in the summer of 1882. The SFA only picked players based in Scotland, at the time. His international career came to an early end.
The next non-white footballer to receive a full international cap for Scotland, was Paul Wilson of Celtic, in 1975. 93 years later. The next black sportsman selected to play for Scotland was Nigel Quashie in 2004. 120 years later. Not exactly a large haul for people of colour. Questions should be asked - not of people like me but of people who are not white. They are the ones who have been misrepresented. They are the ones whose answers should be listened to.
I feel that those games against England brought him to a wider audience. In particular, I think that his very high social status meant that the amateur players of England looked past the colour of his skin. It’s a funny thing about racism. It changes to suit whatever you need it to be. I recall the Apartheid South Africans making Japanese people ‘white’ because they desperately needed to work with Japanese companies.
When he moved to England in 1882, he ended up playing for London Swifts. This was the team of the England International Charles Bambridge (Charlie Bam), who had played against him in the 5-1 humiliation. Let’s face it: who in their right mind would refuse the chance to have the world’s best back, in their team? This led to him claiming another statistic: the first black player to play in the English FA Cup.
Again, this is a statistic to which you can go ‘so what?’ I’ll tell you what. The Swifts were using Andrew Watson to learn how to play the Scotch Professor, passing and running game. Southern England did not have access to the Scotch Professors of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the English Midlands. They had Andrew Watson.
Watson was so important to Queen’s Park, that he would come back to Glasgow to play in important matches. He won the Scottish Cup in 1881, 82 and 86. He won the Glasgow Charity Cup in 1880, 81 and 84. For those of you outside Glasgow, the Charity Cup (second oldest major trophy in the world) brought together clubs like Queen’s Park, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton, Rangers, Third Lanark, Renton. The best teams in the world, at the time.
Watson signed for Merseyside club Bootle, in 1887. Note my use of the word ‘signed’. Bootle offered wages and signing fees to a number of players. Professionalism had been accepted in England in 1885. It had only been voted into existence, because it had very specific conditions of eligibility, relating to the English FA Cup. Bootle were drawn against Smethwick side Great Bridge Unity. An anonymous telegram from ‘Smith of Oakfield’ to the club, alleged that Bootle were going to play both Watson and another Scotch Professor, Anderson when they were ineligible for the Side. Immediately after Unity lost 2-1, they made an official complaint to the English FA. The EFA organised an investigatory committee of North-Western football men.
Ebenezer Cobb Morley of Blackburn chaired the meeting. Morton Peto Betts came up from London, as a committee member. The meeting adjourned and sent its findings to the EFA in London. Bootle were found guilty. Here is where it gets strange. Extraordinarily, Bootle only received a caution. When Everton were caught paying players, the EFA closed Anfield (yes - Anfield) for a month, as a punishment. How could this be? Remember the old saying: ‘for our friends we interpret the rules, for our enemies we enforce them’?
Andrew Watson was not going to be put in an embarrassing position by his pals. They still ran football. They were on the committees of the London-based FA. He is not officially recognised as the world’s first black professional footballer. Why? I think it was because his pals in the English FA made sure that the allegations against him would ‘go away’. If you have a better explanation, then I am happy to entertain it. I can change what I say, to suit a superior theory. The English FA (in reality the London FA) was still packed with old amateurs. They despised the northern, working-class, Scottish professional players. They only slowly gave up their power over the decades. They retreated, inch by inch. They fought a rearguard action, every step of the way. If you had a team of Scots, like Preston North End, they tried to crush you into the ground with their rules. Not for Bootle FC and Andrew Watson. This is the influence, a Black Scotsman had, on the highest echelons of English football.
It gets better. I have saved the best till last. After the 5-1 battering at the first Hampden, the English authorities, in the person of Nicholas Lane ‘Pa’ Jackson, had to accept that the Scottish Game was the only game in town. England’s individualistic dribbling and ‘backing up’ game was entirely inadequate. They were humiliated, when faced with the Scotch Professor’s combined passing and running game. Question: What could Pa Jackson do? Answer: create a team of socially elite amateurs and teach them how to play the Scottish Game. When they had learnt this new type of football, Jackson could make sure that they were picked, for the national team. How could Corinthians do that? Answer: invite socially superior Scotsmen, such as Andrew Watson, to come and teach the Corinthians how to play.
In 1884, Andrew Watson joined this new club. They were going on a trip to Lancashire and Yorkshire. During the tour, he played in an 8-1 victory against Blackburn Rovers. They were, at the time, the holders of the English FA Cup. Just slow down and think about this. England realised that it was playing the wrong game. A country - one tenth the population of England - was destroying them with an intellectual, scientific way of playing. The solution was to get footballing geniuses like Andrew Watson to teach his social equals how to play the communitarian style of the Scots. I use the term ’social equals’ with one comment: Watson was probably socially superior to and wealthier than many of the ‘gentlemen’ he coached.
We had a two pronged assault on the cul-de-sac that was the English game. Working-class Scottish players were signed by Northern English football clubs. This introduced the Scottish Combination game, along with payment for players. Professionalism, for a Scotch Professor. At the same time, players like Andrew Watson were spreading the same game to the elite. An elite who liked to think that they invented modern football.
Naw, ya didnae.
Why can you not read about this, in general histories of football? Answer: if you accept what I have said, you also have to accept that the Scotch Professor is the reason why England plays the game it does. You have to admit that the myth of English public schools founding football is a lie. If you refuse to accept my words about Andrew Watson, I leave you with the extremely difficult task of explaining away the presence of a black Scotsman in a team specifically founded for upper-class, white, Englishmen. It’s okay. I’ll wait.
There is an addendum here, to back up my point. 8th March 2021 was the centenary of the death of Andrew Watson. There were three articles in the Scottish press about Andrew Watson. The narrative was based around Llew Walker’s recently published book ‘A Straggling Life’ about Andrew and his time in England. Do you know how many times each article mentioned the term ‘Scotch Professor’. Exactly zero times. This would be like publishing an article on Marie Curie and somehow failing to use the word ‘scientist’.
It gets worse. Watson’s ‘Englishness’ is stressed because of his emigration to England, when his father returned from British Guyana. There is the fact that he went to school in England. It is quite reasonable that Llew Walker views Watson through the prism of Corinthians. He is a Corinthian Casual from head to toe and is rightly proud of his Club. However, the facts about Andrew Watson point only one way.
It gets worse. FIFA did a ‘piece’ on their website. The term ‘Scotch Professors’ is used once. They ignored the beautiful mural on the wall of Hampden Bowling club, on the site of the pitch of the first Hampden. Instead, they used a photo of the graffitied mural in Shawlands. The title of the piece is ‘Forgotten Hero’, FIFA manage not to mention that, as a Scotch Professor, he has been ignored. He gave football to England and England have told FIFA that they invented it. He does not fit the Creation Myth of Football.
Watson was a Guyanese born man who learnt his football in Scotland. If he hadn’t, I would not be writing about him. He would just be a set of statistics. He is a person of colour of whom we are all rightly proud. His cultural DNA is Scottish. His ethnicity, in football terms, is irrelevant. Socially it is important. He would have had a hard road to walk, in a country where White Supremacism was pushed from the Monarch, down. Guyana and Scotland have equal reason to be proud of their famous son. Compare and contrast with Arthur, Lord Kinnaird. Scottish aristocratic family going back centuries. Footballing DNA? English.