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Black History Month: The pioneers of soccer

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We meet the first black players in world soccer history.

Source: LA Sentinel

When the game of soccer started back in the mid-1800s, it didn’t take long for the game to spread. In many aspects of life at the time, black people were focused on attaining the civil rights that had been denied them. Still, for 3 black people, their destiny was to help break the soccer color barrier. Andrew Watson, Robert Walker, and Arthur Wharton did just that in the late-1800s.

Andrew Watson is considered to be the world’s first black player to play soccer at an international level. According to Ged O’Brien of the Scottish Football Museum, Watson—born in Guyana but who moved to England as a child—began his career with Maxwell FC in Scotland, moving to Parkgrove in 1874 when he was 18. After 6 years at Parkgrove and flourishing at wingback, he moved to one of Scotland’s premier clubs, Queen’s Park F.C.

There, Watson continued to star, and eventually was selected to not only play for Scotland in a Cup series against England and Wales, he was picked as the team’s captain. He was a respected player who was regarded as one of the best players in Britain at the time. Watson’s career spanned for over 20 years before he finished in 1892.

Robert Walker was one of the first black players in the sport’s history. Born in Scotland, he first appeared as a member of Parkgrove, where he played alongside fellow black player Andrew Watson. Walker featured in the 1876 Scottish Cup final, which made him the first black player to appear in a national cup final. Not much is known about his career, but as historians pore through old newspaper clippings from the late 1800s, more has been discovered about Walker’s career that proves that he was one of the world’s first black soccer players, and that black players featured at a much earlier time than most thought.

Arthur Wharton is thought by most to be the world’s first black professional soccer player. Born in Ghana, he moved to the United Kingdom when he was 19 years old. He was an incredible athlete, becoming the first man ever to run 100 yards in 10 seconds. He also is considered the first black player to play professional cricket and was a record-setting cyclist as well. That athletic excellence led to him being discovered by Darlington, who signed him to a contract, the first black player to sign a professional deal to play soccer. Wharton played goalkeeper at Darlington, where he gained the interest of Preston North End, who eventually signed him. He played there until 1888, when he left to try his luck as a professional runner. After a year, he went back to soccer, playing for Rotherham Town before moving onto Sheffield United. His 17-year career ended with stops at Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End, and Stockport County before he retired in 1902.

Wharton’s story is the most well-known and recognized of the three trailblazers of black people in soccer, but all three players have earned recognition over the years as more of their story is uncovered and documented in history. Andrew Watson, Robert Walker, and Arthur Wharton came to the sport from three different walks of life, but their contributions in breaking the color barrier in the sport will never be forgotten.