Curators at the Scottish Football Museum make an interesting discovery from the 1800’s. Read the following article to find out more.
The Scottish Football Museum has discovered that an old football club from Govan called Parkgrove FC fielded two black footballers in the same team during the 1870s. Whilst team lines are often scarce in newspaper reports from this period there are at least two games recorded to date where Watson and Walker are listed together. The first of the players, Andrew Watson, is best known, having been inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in recent years. Watson is considered to be the world’s first black international footballer, first black international football captain and the first black player to win a national trophy (Scottish Cup, 1881). He was also a major influence at Parkgrove, becoming team captain and match secretary (making him the world’s first black football administrator). A book of sketches and reminiscences on the Scottish game, which was written by David Drummond Bone and published in 1890, noted of Watson that,
“It was in a great measure owing to his interest and energy that the young Parkgrove Club obtained proper ground, and was fairly put on its way rejoicing.”
In season 1877/78 (the season in which Watson and Walker are first noted as playing together), the Parkgrove club is listed in the Scottish FA Annual as having a privately owned ground in Govan complete with club house. The ground was called Trinidad Park and was situated at Copeland Road, neighbouring the site of Rangers’ current home Ibrox Stadium (Rangers were based at Kinning Park during this period). The team wore scarlet and blue colours. Watson would take on the position of Match Secretary for Parkgrove in season 1879/80.
The Parkgrove team of the 1870s, whilst having many Scots in their ranks, also appears to have included players from other nationalities as well as players from mixed ethnic backgrounds. Parkgrove’s leading striker was Welsh centre forward Thomas Britten, who would play twice for Wales against Scotland (1878 and 1880) and would also score for Glasgow in a 4-2 victory over Sheffield in the inter-city challenge match of 1878. One of Parkgrove’s goalkeepers Tommy Martin is described in an early history of Scottish Football (25 Years Football, written in 1896) as being a ‘son of Japan’. The same account introduces Robert Walker as follows,
“The half-back line was thoroughly consistent with the rest of the team – smart and quick on the ball. In the attacking row were, with successive changes, a curly-haired son of Africa, named Walker – a misnomer, however, so far as his pace on the extreme right was concerned...”
Watson and Walker are listed in the team that played against Vale of Leven, the leading team of the period, in a Scottish Cup quarter final tie in January 1878. Vale of Leven, with a team containing a number of Scotland internationals and en route to their second of three successive Scottish Cup titles, would secure a comfortable home victory against the Glasgow team. In the second match, played in February 1878, Parkgrove would lose away to Dennistoun team Alexandra Athletic. Despite the defeat in this match Walker and Watson receive praise in the Glasgow News article for their performances. The end of season submission by the club to the Scottish Football Annual also shows that they must have won the majority of their games. In the 20 games played for season 1877/78 Parkgrove are listed as having scored 47 goals whilst conceding just 21.
Andrew Watson would go on to play for Queen’s Park, the most celebrated Scottish team of the era, and would, of course, represent Scotland. Walker’s career, at this point in time, is less clear and more details should continue to emerge. One fascinating fact, however, is that he helped to get Third Lanark, another leading Glasgow team, to the final of the Scottish Cup in 1876. Walker is listed as a forward in the Third Lanark team for the opening match against Queen’s Park, which ended in a 1-1 draw, and in the replayed match which Queen’s eventually won 2-0. A retrospective article on the final which appeared in the Scottish Referee on 8th February 1904 gives reference to Walker’s ethnic appearance. Mirroring early twentieth century attitudes towards race and racial characteristics, the language used within the Scottish Referee article is offensive when viewed from a twenty first century perspective…
“Third Lanark are the only team to have a half caste playing for them; this was Darkey Walker, a familiar and conspicuous figure from 1874 to 1878. Andrew Watson, the famous Queen's Park back, and he were almost of a colour, Andrew being born in Jamaica.”
Walker’s appearance in the 1876 Scottish Cup Final is also alluded to in an article on the history of Queen’s Park which appeared in the Sunday edition of the Weekly Mail and Record on 23rd July 1916. The author of the piece J. Shaw Carmichael once again relates to the ‘nickname’ attributed to Walker in the Scottish Referee article and suggests that he was actually one of three players from Queen’s Park FC who joined Third Lanark at the start of season 1875/76 when the Cathkin Park club were struggling with injuries. Both accounts point to Walker playing in the final, making him the first black footballer to play in a national cup final.
The emerging story of Robert Walker reaffirms the fact that black footballers were very much part of the game in Scotland during a much earlier period than had once been believed. Along with his namesake John Walker, who played for Leith Athletic and Heart of Midlothian during the late 1890s and is Scotland’s earliest known black professional footballer, Robert’s story over time will emerge from the nineteenth century newspaper columns and find a place beside the illustrious Andrew Watson as a notable pioneer in the history of our national game.
Scottish Football Museum.