A NEW pilot project has been launched to help celebrate the legacy of Andrew Watson – widely regarded as the world’s first black footballer.

Watson was born in Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1856 to Anna Rose, a Guyanese woman and a rich Scottish slave and plantation owner, Peter Miller Watson.

He is well known for captaining Scotland to a famous 6-1 victory over England (below) in 1881.

Sports historian Ged O'Brien spoke with The National about how his discovery of Watson completely changed his outlook on football.

“Thank god I wasn’t interviewed before 1990 because I would have told you some amount of nonsense”, he explained.

The National:

“Watson changed my life when I first encountered his story in 1990 and he completely and utterly turned on its head what I thought football was all about.”

O’Brien was invited to Glasgow in 1990 to assess whether there was a feasibility of having a football museum in Scotland.

He explained: “I introduced myself to Queen’s Park and they sat me down in their director’s room and gave me big photo albums which was superb.

“I was going through them because I thought they’d be great in a museum and I came across their 1880/81 team photo and found Watson.

“It became apparent he was not only of the most important footballers of all time but he was the world’s first black international footballer, he was secretary of Queen’s Park.

“I thought if I’ve got this wrong then what else do I think I know that’s nonsense? It ended up taking me nine years to prove that Andrew Watson was who he said he was because it was too fantastic.

“The whole history of football unravels when you ask who Andrew Watson is because he is the most influential black footballer of all time.”

A familial connection

The new pilot project is being delivered by the National Library of Scotland. It has partnered with Malik Al Nasir (below) – an author and academic from Liverpool currently reading for a PhD in history at Cambridge.

It aims to bring together underrepresented audiences and to delve into the National Library’s collection about Andrew Watson to make the information presentable to “new audiences who would not think of being a part of the readership or the membership of the library”, O’Brien explained.

The National:

The project will be based at the National Library in Kelvin Hall with one workshop having already taken place.

For Al Nasir (formerly known as Mark Watson), the project is a personal one as he is an ancestral cousin of the 19th century footballer.

He told The National: “My father and grandfather hailed from Demerara. My connections to Andrew Watson came as a result of a BBC Scotland documentary in 2003 which was presented by Stuart Cosgrove after some old annuals were discovered which had a black footballer in them.

“I saw that documentary, saw that he looked like me and had the same family name. He came from the same place as my father.

“This led me on an epic journey back to Guyana in 2008 to do some research and to look into the archives to see if I could find any documents and find that family connection.”

His impressive body of work explores how his own story and that of Andrew Watson can be tied in with the UK’s legacy of enslavement and colonialism.

“I approached the National Library and said I wanted to find everything related to Watson in their archives and get it all digitised," he said.

“For our first workshop we had a group of 11 from local communities across Glasgow and we’ll be having more sessions. We want to see how it develops.”

A modern context

Part of what makes the project so important is that it’s being delivered in a modern context in which football is still wrestling with racism in the game.

As part of the project, The National Library is working with a number of organisations including Show Racism the Red Card.

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“If you don’t know where you came from, then you don’t know where you’re going”, said O’Brien.

“We need to represent people like Andrew Watson. Non-white footballers have been a part of this sport since modern football was invented.

“We need to contextualise their issues by saying this is where it started in the 1870s in Scotland with people like Andrew Watson.

“Football is an international, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural sport and it always has been.”