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Anti-racism group backs black footballer memorial bid

Folkestone football hero Walter Tull. Picture: Kick It Out
Folkestone football hero Walter Tull. Picture: Kick It Out

He was the first black professional outfield footballer in the UK and the first black officer to win a commission and lead his troops in battle in the First World War.

Now the campaign to win greater recognition for Folkestone hero Walter Tull is being backed by influential anti-racism organisation Kick It Out.

Mr Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, the son of a Barbados carpenter and a women from Dover. He went to Mundella school but both his parents died before he was 10.

He and his brother, who went on to become a dentist in Scotland, were taken into a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green, where he was soon spotted playing football.

He was signed for local team Tottenham Hotspur, where he encountered virulent racism on the terraces, before joining Northampton Town as a defender.

He joined the Army on the outbreak of the First World War and in 1917 became the first black officer to win a commission and lead his troops in battle, despite there being a colour bar.

He died under machine gun fire on the Western Front trying to help one of his men. His body was never found.

Northampton MP Brian Binley has launched an early-day motion in an attempt to gain Mr Tull a posthumous Military Cross.

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And Kick It Out director Piara Power said he was keen to see Mr Tull used as a figurehead for young people in the area.

He said: “I was born and brought up in Gravesend. If Walter Tull had come from my town it would have been a big thing.

“Mr Tull is very significant for the reasons we all know about – he was a black officer in the armed forces when it was not common and presumably his fellow officers were not comfortable with that, and his football achievements rank alongside that.

“Some people know Mr Tull’s name but part of the problem is asking people to think back to another era, but when you think of what he achieved it should give them inspiration.”

Mr Power added: “I think that what happens is that black or minority heroes can be overlooked and that is something we have been working on very hard the last few years.”

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