IN this final part of a series to mark Black History Month, today I am going to look at the exceptional story of the world’s first black international footballer and first black professional player, Andrew Watson, who captained Scotland to our biggest ever away win over England in 1881, a 6-1 thrashing at The Oval in London.

Watson’s story has been told before, but not enough in my opinion, and I am doing my little to rectify that – in my opinion, Watson’s story should be told to every boy and girl as an example of how race should be no barrier to success.

By fortuitous timing the Alex Salmond Show on RT this week featured Watson and revealed the latest findings by Scottish football historian Ged O’Brien who has been delving into Watson’s story for many years – I am grateful to Alex Salmond and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh for permission to quote extensively from their fascinating programme which you can view on Youtube or on Facebook at

Some basic facts first: Andrew Watson was born on May 24, 1856, in Demerara in British Guiana, which since 1966 has been the independent nation of Guyana – another country that left the British Empire and hasn’t gone back.

Watson’s father was a wealthy sugar planter, Peter Miller Watson, of Orcadian descent. His mother was a Guianese woman, Hannah Rose. They moved to London and Watson had just entered his teens when his father died, aged 64, in 1869. Andrew and his older sister Annetta inherited their father’s wealth, the equivalent of about £3 million in today’s money.

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He attended public schools before moving to study at Glasgow University, where Lord Kelvin was one of his professors. Those were tough times for anyone with black skin, as racism was endemic in society, yet his mixed race seems to have been no deterrent to him in becoming a popular student, both well-spoken and confident in his own abilities, especially after he took up football where he excelled as a full-back, able to play on either side of the defence.

These were the fledgling days of football, and it was a time when Scotland was simply the best footballing nation in the world – England were our only real rivals and in the first 15 years from the original international match in 1872, Scotland lost only twice.

The reason was simple. Scotland quickly developed the passing game, with Glasgow and what is now West Dunbartonshire – Dumbarton, Renton and Vale of Leven were all top clubs – as the cradles of the sort of football which is now played worldwide. England stuck with the original dribbling game in which individual players would try to take the ball forward – Scotland saw football as a team game and practised it, England viewing training as cheating, and of course professionalism was not allowed.

England persisted with their old-fashioned approach until 1881 and the advent of Andrew Watson. In Glasgow he played for Maxwell FC and then Parkgrove where he was elected club vice-president, an almost unheard of honour for a non-white person in those days. Incidentally, another black man, Robert Walker, played alongside Watson at that club.

In 1880, Watson moved to Queen’s Park, then the biggest and best club in Scotland and therefore arguably the whole world, where he also became secretary – which almost certainly means he was the first black person anywhere to be a football administrator. He was thus also the first black player to win medals in football as Queen’s Park won several tournaments in his time.

After university he moved into a warehouse business as a partner and married his first wife, Jessie Nimmo Armour, in 1877 – they had two children. His performances at Queen’s Park were such that he was selected to play for Scotland in March, 1881, and indeed he was made captain for his debut which was at the Oval in London, thus becoming the world’s first black internationalist and captain.

Scotland ran riot under Watson’s leadership and beat England 6-1 in front of 4000 spectators. On that famous cricket ground it could have been a cricket score, as Scotland had four goals disallowed, probably due to the difference in interpretation of the laws of the game at the time. It is still England’s biggest-ever home defeat.

Watson was capped twice more: against Wales a few days after the Oval match, with Scotland winning 5-1; and the following year at Hampden in front of 11,000 people, as the Scots handed out a 5-1 drubbing to England.

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Having to move to London for his work, Watson was not picked for Scotland again as the Scottish Football Association’s rules meant only home-based players could play for the national side. He played for Swifts and was noted in a match programme as an international player, and he was also the first foreign player to play for the famous Corinthians. After professional football was legalised in England in 1885, he signed for Bootle FC in 1887 and was paid to play, meaning that Watson – and not Arthur Wharton as is often thought – was the first black professional player.

By then, the English were learning how to play professional football, taught to them by the influx of “Scotch Professors” – payments were not allowed in Scotland – whose influence would spread worldwide. His first wife having died, Watson married Eliza Kate Tyler and had two children with her.

He trained as an engineer in Liverpool and on retiring from playing he moved to London where died of pneumonia in 1921. He is buried at Richmond and there is currently a project to restore his gravestone in time for the centenary of his death.

Ged O’Brien told Alex Salmond: “Andrew Watson played at a time when England in 1882 had to admit that their game was wrong and they set out to copy Watson and the other Scotch Professors. This game went through England, and, through Scots and English people who followed them, went around the world.

“He is easily and by far the most important black sportsman of the 19th century.”