Octagon tackles tale of first black player

RACISM in football is once again firmly under the spotlight.

From Marvin Sordell’s claims he and other Bolton Wanderers players were racially abused by some Millwall fans earlier this month, to ugly scenes after England’s under-21 match against Serbia last week, it is an ongoing issue and Manchester United player, Rio Ferdinand, refusing to wear an anti-racim T-shirt.

There has also been the shocking case of the 14- year-old boy who posted a mock-up picture on the social networking website, Facebook, showing Sordell with a gun pointed to his head.

The youngster has since sent a letter of apology to the Wanderers’ striker.

And next February, the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, will present Tull — the remarkable and inspiring life story of Walter Tull, one of the first black footballers to play top level football in Great Britain.

The play has been written by Phil Vasili, author of a Walter Tull biography, who has worked alongside the Octagon’s creative director David Thacker to create a timely world premiere production.

Tull first played for Tottenham Hotspur on a tour of Argentina and Uruguay in the summer of 1909.

Mr Vasili said: “I wrote the play for lots of reasons.

First of all, I felt it was an injustice that Tull and his story had been forgotten and the achievements he accomplished.

“He is quite an amazing character.” It is widely believed Tull’s promising career at Tottenham was cut short because of the racism he endured.

During a match at Bristol City in September 1909, a report in one London newspaper, The Football Star, was headlined the ‘Colour Prejudice Problem’ and this is thought to have been the first time racism at a sports event was highlighted.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Tull signed up and soon demonstrated a natural flair to lead and inspire.

Overcoming racial prejudice and military rules, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and became the first black officer in the British Army.

Having fought and survived the first Battle of the Somme, Tull was killed in the second in March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive.

Mr Vasili said: “He only lived until he was aged 29 but he achieved so much, coming from such a difficult background, being an orphan.

“Being black, in that time, the opportunities in his life were not as many as there were for other kids of his age.

“He was an incredible character in terms of his strength and perseverance.

“He wanted to be judged by his actions, not his words.

“He didn’t shout about his achievements, he just got on with his life the best he could.

“He was a really good example of how you can overcome adversity and achieve great things.”

Mr Vasili, Mr Thacker and actor Nathan Ives-Moiba, who will play Walter Tull in next year’s play, attended a Show Racism the Red Card event at the Reebok Stadium.

Mr Vasili said: “I think it’s frightening there are still places around the world, and in Britain, where people are judged by the colour of their skin and not — to use a Martin Luther King line — by the content of their character.”

Tull is at the Octagon from February 21 to March 16. For more information, go to octagonbolton.co.uk or call the ticket office on 01204 520661.

■ Staff from the Octagon Theatre will be in the Town Hall Square today to celebrate the life of Walter Tull and support a project to challenge racism in Bolton.

Community groups and organisations from all over the town will come together to share their heritage and culture, through the arts and sport, between 10am and 4pm.

Over the next six months, the Octagon will be working in schools and in the community to tell Tull’s inspirational story and explore its relevance to modern society.

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