Until recently, it was believed that the world’s first black footballer was Arthur Wharton, who played for Preston North End in the late nineteenth century. However, evidence has recently come to light showing that a man by the name of Andrew Watson was playing in Scotland around ten years earlier than Wharton.
Watson was born in British Guyana in 1857 and later came to Britain, attending public school in Halifax. In 1875 he enrolled in Glasgow University, where he studied Maths, Natural Philosophy, Civil Engineering and Mechanics.
Watson, who played on either side of defence or in midfield, began his playing career with Maxwell in Glasgow, followed by a stint at Parkgrove in 1874. Later, he played for Queens Park, the top team in Scotland at the time, spending seven years there from 1880-1887.
According to the ‘Scottish Football Association Annual’ of 1880-81, he was:
“One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen’s Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; a powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.”
He is also known to have represented the London Swifts in the English Cup Championships (FA Cup) in 1882, becoming the first player of African descent to play in an English cup competition. Watson won four Charity Cup medals and two Scottish Cup medals, the earliest of which was another milestone in football as he became the first non-white player to be in the winning side of any major football competition.
Watson also holds the distinction of being the first black international player. Acknowledged in the ‘Who’s Who’ for his international performances, he represented Scotland three times from 1881 – 1882, in the International Challenge Match. In his first international on the 12th of March 1881, Watson was captain and led Scotland to a 6-1 mauling of England at Kennington Oval in London, with a crowd of 8,500.
In his second, two days later, 1,500 people saw his side beat Wales 5-1 at Acton Park, Wrexham. His team again hammered England a year later on 11 March 1882 in the same competition, beating them 5-1 at First Hampden Park in Glasgow, in front of 10,000 fans.
Watson was not only a pioneer on the field; as club secretary at Queens Park, he was probably the first black member of a football club’s boardroom. Watson spent most of his career as an amateur and was a seasoned and valued player at Queens Park when football officially went professional in 1885, although it is unclear whether he himself turned pro.
When his playing days were over, he and his family emigrated to Australia, where he remained the rest of his life.
After his death, Andrew Watson fell into obscurity but has now reemerged to claim his place in both football and black history. As a successful black sportsman living at the end of the nineteenth century, it is easy to speculate on the difficulties and prejudices he would have undoubtedly faced.
However, despite the obstacles put before him, he had a successful career in a previously all white sport, and deserves to be remembered as one of histories true trail-blazers.
Recent evidence has come to light that reveals a man by the name of Andrew Watson was the world’s first black football player. Starting his career in 1874, he was successful at all levels of the game and set the path for those that would follow him.
Written by Auron Renius
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