The year was 1881: Scottish architect Richard Norman had built the first house to feature electric light, The Boer War had just begun, but most importantly, Scotland fired six past England in their back garden. Although the Scots’ 6-1 stomping in London was monumental, the score line wasn’t the most historic event that afternoon.
Queen’s Park’s neophyte Andrew Watson, of split British Guianese and Scottish heritage, featured at full-back. He became the first ever capped black footballer at international level.
The 24-year-old not only featured that day, but captained the blues, a meagre eight years after Britain’s slave trade act of 1873. That’s right, this revolutionary black footballer was in charge of ten white men, leading them to a momentous victory over a country that had shipped and enslaved his very own British Guianese countrymen.
Andrew’s international success wasn’t beginner’s luck either. Only a few days later, the trainee engineer led his nation to another convincing win, a 5-1 triumph over the Welsh. The defender then completed his hat-trick of appearances for Scotland in a picturesque manor, thrashing England one last time 5-1 in Glasgow the following year. Unfortunately, Watson’s international career ended prematurely when he moved to London in 1882. The Scottish FA only picked Scottish residents at the time leaving Andrew out of the question.
It took until 2004 for the next black player to feature for the Tartan Terriers in the form of Nigel Quashie, an obscene 120 years after Andrew’s pioneering appearance.
So, just how did Andrew achieve all this?
Well, Andrew’s journey began in British Guiana, his Scottish father Peter Miller Watson was a wealthy sugar planter in the British owned Caribbean nation (now Guyana) and his mother, Hannah Rose, was a local villager of the country. A few years after Andrew’s birth, he and his father vacated the small British colony and moved 4500 miles to Guildford, England. Andrew’s father died only a few years later in 1869, leaving behind a small fortune for Andrew.
This fortune would prove to be his golden ticket into footballing success.
His wealthy background consequently meant Andrew spent most of his childhood at boarding schools. A place that brewed his love for sport. Whilst at Kings College Wimbledon, records unpredictably show he played Rugby more than an any other sport at this point. The inheritance left by his father allowed him to complete his schooling and secure a place at Glasgow University, and this is where his passion for football really bloomed. He dropped out of University after his first year to pursue a career in engineering, and his fantastic performances for local sides began to draw attention from the largest clubs in Scotland.
His domestic career birthed at Parkgrove FC. He was not only a player but a match secretary too, making the Scotsman the first black administrator in football. He then moved onto the illustrious Queen’s Park in 1880 for which he’d have two spells. Most notably accumulating three Scottish Cup wins with the Spiders.
In the 1880-81 ‘Scottish Football Association Annual’, an entry about Watson gives us an insight to Watson’s strengths as a footballer: “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; powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.”
Astoundingly, despite being the first black international footballer, and playing for the biggest team in Britain for a total of six years, there is no real evidence or historical documentation that shows discrimination towards Andrew. Apart from the odd passing comment on his skin colour in match reports, there is hardly any mention of his race at all. Ironically, one report seemed much more fascinated about his bizarre brown coloured boots, rather than his skin colour.
This does make you beg the question why Andrew’s race can go without mention in 1881, yet racism is prevalent in the game this present day. Just over a month ago in England, a portion of Millwall fans were caught chanting derogatory terms directed to the Pakistani community in their 3-2 victory over Everton. So, when you consider the lack of progress in the last 140 years since Andrews appearance, it makes you fearfully wonder what stage the game would be at without him.
Written by Jack Ward, a freelance Journalist currently studying Sports Journalism at Staffordshire University.