One of the first black professional footballers to play in the English top division.
Born in Kent like his mother and father from Barbados which his grandfather was a slave back in his father’s native country. Sadly he was an orphan from a young age, spending his childhood raised in a children’s home in London.
Against the odds he grew up to be a top division footballer and model professional within two different career paths breaking barriers during a time of racial prejudice, paving the way for future black players to come.
One of two out of six children who were sent to be raised in a children’s home and orphanage due to financial constraints which potentially may have made the Tull household homeless in an attempt to support the whole family. Walter’s father appeared to have found work as a carpenter since arriving from the Caribbean and information about his mother is unknown but confirms she died of cancer. At the time of her death, Walter was only seven years old with unpredictable changes still to come that would affect both the dynamics of his home life and childhood by the age of nine years old. His father remarried having another child during this period but died shortly after the birth from heart disease. It was thought with a newborn, Walter’s stepmother now was no longer able to support seven children financially and had to place him and brother Edward into care.
The brothers remained at the orphanage living in Bethnal Green for at least another two years under the guidance of Wesleyan Methodist principles until being separated when his brother Edward moved to Glasgow due to being adopted by a dentist named James Warnock and his family. Accounts of Walter’s experience from here on is unknown but there are references of a natural sporting aptitude for cricket and football with traits of an honest and respectable young boy. Prior to leaving school the youngster took an apprenticeship in the orphanage print shop and with the experience gained he was able to start working life in the printing industry.
Now a working young man the love for the sport, football in particular never diminished juggling the two as Walter also played for the orphanage football team. The footballing talent was evident and as a result, he earned himself a trial with Clapton F.C who at the time was an amateur club doing well and still active to this day with semi-professional status as members of the English Essex Senior League. After making an impression he was signed with the view of being a talented prospect but presumably to his own surprise an unforeseen selection to play for the first team came and Walter appears to have taken full advantage of the opportunity as newspaper reports praise his performances.
This was a successful season for Clapton F.C as they won the Amateur Cup, London Senior Cup, and London County Amateur Cup. Although Walter’s contribution is unknown we can assume an impression was left after each match he appeared in, as Football League First Division club Tottenham Hotspur offer him a contract at the age of 21 in 1909. During the early stages of the 1909-1910 season playing in the first team became a reality as previously shown this young footballer did not shy away from showcasing his abilities with Manchester United on the receiving end during a home debut match with newspaper coverage printing a glowing report. The standard now set and appears to have continued according to written articles as it’s not long before he scores his first goal for the club whilst now on course to make a name for himself but more importantly taken seriously in a sport at the time dominated by white players and at the same time withstanding repeated racial abuse.
Unfortunately making a name didn’t materialise due to being dropped from the first team, playing in the reserves for the remainder of the season. In recent times as Walter’s story has been explored and shared, the sudden downgrade to the reserves has been questioned, with the strongest evidence available to make the assumption it was due to racial abuse displayed towards him which would affect the club owners profitability. The following season Walter would have minimal appearances for the first team before being bought by Northampton Town F.C, playing over 100 times for the first team over a 2/3 year period.
In 1914 the First World War began whilst still a Northampton Town player, Walter enrolled into the British Army staying true to his dutiful character. He earned the rank of lance sergeant followed by becoming the first black infantry army officer in a British Army regiment as an official second lieutenant by 1917. A year later Walter was killed in action at the age of 30 and should be honoured for both his footballing and military contributions whilst maintaining his pride and professionalism during a time filled with racial oppression.