Our Statement on the Atko Affair

Walter Tull and Family History

It was a typically dank Remembrance Day,
When I biked out to Lydiard Millicent,
Through Wiltshire lanes and sodden yellow leaves;
I went to see Mr. Arthur Tull, a relation of my mum’s,
Who had a family tree going back, he reckoned,
To the 18th century seed drill Tull, good old Jethro.
We didn’t discuss the fact that 4% of white Britons
May well have black slave ancestry,
Nor did the TV show any West Indian or Asian old soldiers
Marching beneath the umbrellas, laying any wreaths,
And when we talked football and the good old days,
We didn’t mention Walter Tull, Tottenham inside left
Until he was traumatised by Bristol City bigots,
Back in those imperial golden days before the Great War.
Walter, the London grandson of a slave,
Transferred to Northampton Town,
Then courted by Grimsby and Glasgow Rangers,
Until he joined the 1st Football Battalion,
The Middlesex Regiment,
Fighting on the Somme and maybe meeting my footballing granddad,
Becoming a sergeant, and then 2nd lieutenant Tull,
The 2nd ever black professional footballer,
And the 1st ever black officer in the British Army.
2nd Lieutenant Walter Tull,
Once a printer, grandson of a slave, orphaned son of a joiner,
KIA 25th March 1918, aged 29,
Eulogised by his Commanding Officer,
“The battalion and company have lost a faithful officer
and personally, I have lost a friend”,
And so popular with his men,
That they repeatedly tried to get him back,
As he lay dead in No Mans’ Land,
He must have had the common touch, Walter,
Even though he was an uncommon man.
But I didn’t discuss any of this with Arthur,
How could I? I hadn’t heard of Walter 20 odd years ago –
But next season, when Swindon play at Northampton,
I’ll visit his Garden of Remembrance,
And I’ll take a poppy from me and one from Arthur,
And one from my dad and my grandad
And one from my brother-in-law,
And his dad from Bristol City,
So the future can reclaim the past
And so the past can redefine the future,
A future of comradeship way beyond the confine of colour.


© Stuart Butler

Source: https://footballpoets.org/news/2004/04/16/our-statement-on-the-atko-affair/