17 November 2017

Both on the pitch and in the stands, modern day professional football is often a mirror of the globalised world we live in. Before its onset, the sport was largely ethnocentric. We have delved into the history books, trawled through online articles in search of a pioneer of the cultural mosaic we are accustomed to today. As the first black player on record to play international football, Andrew Watson paved the way for players of all ethnic backgrounds to step onto the pitch.

 

WHO WAS ANDREW WATSON?  

 

Born in 1856 in Georgetown, British Guiana as the illegitimate child of plantation manager and former slave owner called Peter Miller Watson and local British Guianese woman Anna Rose, Andrew Watson. As a young child, he was taken to England by his father, leaving his mother and the colony behind. When Peter Watson died in 1869, the fortune of £35,000, the equivalent of many millions today, he left to his son, meant a financially secure future for Andrew Watson. It was also, but not only due to this position of privilege that he was able to later leave a lasting mark on the beautiful game.

 

THE PATH TO FOOTBALL AND WHAT IT MEANS TODAY

 

After being educated at a series of boarding schools in England, Andrew Watson moved to his father’s home country in 1875 and enrolled at the University of Glasgow to pursue studies in Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Civil Engineering. It was during this time that his love of football blossomed. To counterbalance his sedentary university life and keep up his health, Watson joined local side Maxwell FC where his speed and skill soon drew attention from other clubs in the region. Parkgrove FC knocked on his door, Watson opened.

 

At Parkgrove, Watson not only took to the pitch as a winger, but also to the books as the club’s match secretary, making him also the first black administrator in football. At the age of 23, his performance on the pitch lead to a seismic shift in Watson’s career when he signed with Queen’s Park – at the time, Britain’s largest football club. One year later, he also became their match secretary. He lead the team to a number of Scottish Cup wins which prompted his invitation to not only represent Scotland in 1881, but also captain the team when they faced “the Auld enemy”: England. He and his team sealed a 6-1 victory.

 

Andrew Watson not only revolutionised the game by being the first black football player, but is also known to have transformed the sport in his manner of playing. Pervious to his time in the sport, football was played in an individualistic matter. Watson however recast the game’s strategy through the method of passing. The way the game was played began to change with Watson being at the forefront.  

 

Andrew Watson was a pioneer of his time and paved the way for football players after him. The sport as we know it today, now played with a team-based ethic, where individuals from all nations are valued for what they can bring to the field. That said, the beautiful game is not free from ugly prejudice, as incidents like the racist chants directed at Kevin-Prince Boateng in 2013 during a “friendly” match between Pro Patria and his club AC Milan, demonstrate. Times have changed and improved, but there is still work to be done.