The Black Diamond

Daily Mail (London), November 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Black Diamond


Byline: by Jim McBeth

AS a gentleman footballer in the best team in the world, he was a Victorian superstar - a player whose skills and exemplary conduct were the subject of regular and respectful comment in broadsheet newspapers.

But in an age before television made celebrity faces familiar and images of the famous were rare, there was no clue to Andrew Watson's ethnicity in the pictureless columns or in his stolid Scottish name.

In the Glasgow of the 1880s - a thriving, cosmopolitan port city that welcomed the world - reporters saw no reason to mention that the pioneer of the passing game and the finest footballer of his generation was a black man. It was that sense of acceptance which inadvertently denied him his unique place in global football.

It would not be until a century after his death that football 'archaeologists' discovered a report in a copy of the Falkirk Mail that described Watson as 'a coloured gentleman'.

No matter how uncharacteristic and indelicate the reference, it helped rewrite the record books, reinstating the illegitimate son of a Scottish father and a South American mother to his rightful place in the beautiful game.

A subsequent investigation revealed Watson had three amazing and hitherto unknown claims to fame. He was the world's first black player, the first black internationalist and the first black man to captain his country - a 6-1 thrashing of England, which remains the Auld Enemy's heaviest defeat on home soil.

Having at last been inducted into the SFA's Hall of Fame, Watson's pioneering contribution will never be forgotten.

Until recently, it was believed that English goalkeeper Arthur Wharton, who played for Rotherham and Sheffield United between 1889 and 1894, was the world's first black player.

But a search of the SFA archives unearthed a photograph of Watson that clearly shows his ethnicity and revealed he began his top flight career with Queen's Park in Glasgow a decade earlier than Wharton. He captained Scotland in victories over England (twice) and Wales between 1881 and 1882.

'In his day he was a celebrity, a Beckham for his time - and I mean that,' said Richard McBrearty of the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. 'He was at the top in the UK, which is where the global game started. The future of the game was being shaped in Scotland.

'But he was forgotten, like so many players of his era. We have done a lot of research on the early years of the game and as a result he will now become a wellknown figure in Scotland. He deserves it. His legacy is global.' BLACK Scottish players remain rare even today. It was not until 2004 that midfielder Nigel Quashie became the second black player to win Scottish honours. It was another four years before striker Chris Iwelumo made his international debut.

Watson paved the way, not only as a black player but as one of the architects of a technical revolution that reinvented football. Until his day, the game was expressed by brilliant individualism rather than team work. Watson's career began with Queen's Park - the Barcelona of their day - which pioneered esprit de corps and the passing game now so wonderfully played by the Spanish maestros.

But Watson's journey to Glasgow had been long and circuitous.

He was born in 1857 in British Guiana - now Guyana - a colony in the North-Eastern corner of South America.

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