United's Academy enjoying their education.

Academy learns about War hero Tull

Manchester United’s youngsters have been learning about Walter Tull as part of a special project based around the Premier League’s Truce tournament, 100 years after the end of the First World War.

United's work is entitled ‘No Barriers’ and pays particular attention to Tull, a former footballer with Clapton, Tottenham and Northampton Town, who was sadly killed at the second Battle of the Somme in March, 1918. Tull had a remarkable life, born to a father from the Caribbean, he was orphaned and had to overcome great prejudice and hardship as a pioneering black player.

The half-back made his home debut for Spurs against United in September 1909 but would become a War hero – signing up to the Middlesex Regiment on two occasions after initially being hospitalised with shell shock. The core of the Regiment was made up of professional footballers and they suffered huge losses during the conflict. Unfortunately, his body has never been recovered but he was the first black infantry officer in the history of the British Army and recommended for the Military Cross, leaving a lasting legacy with his gallantry, bravery and leadership ability.

Reds' Walter Tull projectVideo

There was the privilege of welcoming Phil Vasili, Tull’s biographer, after he made the trip north especially from London to conduct a workshop, as the boys quizzed him about the former soldier’s life and what times were like in the early part of the 20th Century. Academy programme adviser Tony Whelan, from United’s Academy, brought things to life for the squad by dressing in uniform and taking part in a separate Q&A while assuming the persona of the late Tull, an idea which was very well received by the pupils.

To reflect the concept of breaking down barriers, children from St Alphonsus Primary School in Trafford, of all different ages, religions and nationalities were invited through the gate at the Aon Training Complex to meet with the Under-12s. Following a presentation about Tull’s story, with speeches made by the United youngsters, there was then a football skills session.

Some of the Under-18s with the Under-12s group.
Members of the Under-18s squad helped out with the Under-12s.

Development player care assistant Chris McCready oversaw a workshop that championed creativity in the forms of words and phrases to generate emotive themed poems and letters from the youngsters, which were sent on to Tull’s distant relatives in Scotland.

There was also a trip to Northampton, where the player had his longest spell, to participate in the Walter Tull Memorial Festival with the Cobblers and Wolves, before some dignified, respectful and moving talks and the laying of a wreath at the PTS Academy Stadium’s memorial ahead of watching the League Two match with Forest Green.

Dave Bushell and Tony Whelan.
Dave Bushell and Tony Whelan, who is dressed in an army uniform.

Coach Lee Unsworth’s side were also helped by Academy player liaison officer Dave Bushell and Academy coaches Gary Sampson and Tony Coyne, plus outstanding administrative support from Clare Nicholas, Marie Beckley and Claire Trewhitt, as the project really took off and provided some compelling work for the boys.

This was a truly wonderful way of looking back at the life of a particular First World War hero in order to educate the club’s young players about the sacrifices that were made in the past, which has helped to shape our experience of the modern world. Furthermore, the aim is to inspire the boys to learn valuable lessons about courage, resilience and leadership, which are certain to help them on their journey through life.

Walter Tull in his Spurs shirt.
Walter Tull poses for a photograph in his Spurs kit.
This article first appeared in United Review, the official matchday programme.

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