When fledgling company Tottenham Theatre was searching for a story that would capture the imaginations of people in the area they didn’t have to look any further than the incredible life of local hero Walter Tull.
As we mark 100 years since the start of World War One there could not be a more fitting time to tell the tale of the orphaned grandson of a slave who was brought up in London and went on to make history on the football and battlefields.
He became the first mixed race outfield footballer to play in the country’s top division when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur, for £10 from Clapton FC, in 1909. And he broke the mould again after becoming the first mixed heritage person to be commissioned as an infantry officer in the British Army, sadly dying in action on March 25, 1918, aged just 29.
Kentish Town writer Phil Vasili captured his story in the play Tull and this month it will be performed by young people at four local venues.
The ten-strong cast has been brought together by Tottenham Theatre, which was co-founded by Lynda Jessops after a chat with her friend Lynda Brennan.
“We realised there wasn’t any live theatre in Tottenham,” she says, “and we decided that the only way to get started was to do something, and then we came across the Tull story and it went from there.
“I saw an exhibition about him at Bruce Castle, before that I had never heard of him, and then it didn’t take much searching to find Phil’s play and it just seemed absolutely the perfect thing to do.”
The Tottenham resident adds: “He overcame huge adversity to become a really great footballer and then a real leader.”
Because of the play’s WWI connection the duo were able to get a start-up grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and worked with educational sports and performing arts provider LetMePlay to find their cast of stars, who are aged 17 to 23.
Lynda says they have been busy rehearsing almost every day at Bruce Grove Youth Centre to prepare for the first performance at Bernie Grant Arts Centre next Friday.
“Bernie Grant was a great supporter of Tull so it feels like it’s the right place to be doing it,” says Lynda.
“It has all been quite intense but is very exciting and the young people are just putting in so much work.”
The play will chronicle Walter’s life including the start of his sporting career at Clapton FC, where he was quickly talent spotted and signed to Spurs in 1909 aged 21.
He went on to make ten first-team appearances for the club, scoring twice, before he was dropped to the reserves, which may have been due to the racial abuse he received from opposing fans.
Lynda hopes the performances will bring Walter’s story to more people.
His gallantry in the war saw him recommended for a Military Cross but he never received the honour, and playwright Phil Vasili and Spurs have both backed a campaign to have the medal awarded to him posthumously.
A spokesman for Tottenham Hotspur says: “Walter Tull is a significant figure in the club’s history. We have assisted in supporting a number of events concerning Walter Tull including Tottenham Theatre’s latest play based on his life.”
Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Town Hall Approach, Tottenham Green, Friday, July 28, 7.30pm. Details: berniegrantcentre.co.uk
Bruce Grove Youth Centre, Bruce Grove, Friday, July 25, 6pm.
The Hub, Lordship Recreation Ground, Higham Rd, Saturday, July 26, 2pm.
Guiseppe Conlon Centre, Mattison Road, Saturday, July 26, 7pm.