Culture

Mark Walters in the Footsteps of Andrew Watson, the First Black Footballer & Orkney Links

By John Mowat                                                                                                                                

A BBC Scotland Channel 9 television programme at 10pm on Tuesday 25th May promises to make fascinating viewing.

Talented black, former Rangers & England footballer, Mark Walters played 106 games for Rangers between 1987 & 1991. His professional Football career lasted from 1981 to 2002.   Mark, now 56 years old grew up in Birmingham playing at the top level for Aston Villa, Rangers & Liverpool, in addition to a number of lesser Clubs.

Scotland sometimes claims to be the “Best Small Country, in the World”.

However, as an enigmatic stateless nation, within the UK, the reality can sometimes be rather different.

The programme takes us back to the infamous Hearts v Rangers  match in 1987  when Mark was subjected to mindless abuse, having bananas & other objects thrown at him.  Shamefully, at the time such behaviour was regarded as almost normal. Throwing of bananas at black players is something no Scot or Brit can condone or be proud of, today.

During the highly divisive Brexit campaign, banana throwing incidents made a comeback at some English football matches, as Middle England looked inwards, rather than outwards to Europe, as was the case in Scotland & Northern Ireland.

Mark grew up in the English Midlands, in Birmingham and was one of the first of a number of talented black footballers to play at the top level & do their talking on the football field.He is a highly intelligent, able & thoughtful individual, who has since carved out a successful media career, often challenging racial issues.This brings us to Andrew Watson, who was born 24th of May 1856 in Guyana, South America & died in London on 8th of March 1921, also a talented black footballer.

The Orkney Connection

Andrew Watson’s father, Peter Miller Watson had close Orkney family connections. Andrew’s mother, Anna Rose Watson of Georgetown, was black & not married to Peter.    He went to Guyana where lived, worked & owned 2 sugar plantations. Peter returned to Glasgow in his later years, taking his black son, Andrew, with him.

Peter died in 1869 when Andrew, his only son, was 13 years old. Andrew was described as an orphan, given that his parents were never married. Andrew was academically able, attending various private schools, studying, Maths, Physics & Civil Engineering at Glasgow University. He clearly inherited some, in not all  of his late father’s wealth.

Andrew was over 6 feet tall and a talented sportsman, particularly at football & rugby. He played a number of games as the top player in Scottish International teams which beat England on a number of occasions. In these early days of Association football, financial rewards would have been modest. 

It appears that Andrew, later concentrated on his professional engineering career which took him to London, Australia & eventually USA, where he died in 1921 & was buried in Richmond Cemetery, aged 65. It is only in the last few years that details of Andrew Watson’s career, as the first successful pioneering black footballer has been appreciated.

The Black Lives Matter Campaign has been widely supported by Scottish & English Premier League players “Taking the Knee” at the start all of matches, in 2020-21.Football has played a central role in changing racial abuse culture.

Football often mirrors events taking place in the wider society. In recent years, black, English, Aberdeen FC Player Shay Logan, 2014 -20 received some racial abuse from a few opposition white players. His manager, Derek McInnes & the SPFL gave him their full backing.  Earlier in 2021, Rangers black Finnish player, Glen Kamara was subjected to high profile abuse from at Sparta Prague Czech internationalist, at Ibrox, Glasgow. Such incidents are becoming less common while teams & football authorities are now increasingly prepared to throw the book at abusers. It has been and is a long journey. 

Today’s programme, complete with Orkney connections, is worth viewing.

Related Links : Twitter Ged O’ Brien

Orkney’s Connection with Slavery:

1 reply »

  1. Great story.When Mark Walters was scoring lots of goals for Rangers I was a youth worker in Lanarkshire working with young people at risk. I did a bit of work around racism with one young man who was a big Rangers fan.He would verbally abuse players like Mark but we used thedissonance between his love of Rangers and Marks football skills to challenge hiis behaviour. Mark was kind enough to autograph a programme for him. Its great to hear he is doing this TV programme.

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