Having written recently about early black players in Scotland, it occurred to me that I had never heard of any match officials. So I was surprised to come across a black referee called Eustace Elliott taking charge of matches here in the years before the Second World War, and what is more he did it in a time of acute discrimination.
However, it was as a football referee that he stood out, and it seems likely that he learned the game in Sierra Leone, whose football association was affiliated to the FA in London. He was a familiar face at matches in the 1930s, respected enough to be appointed to referee a juvenile international between Scotland and England in 1936 as well as several cup semis and finals at venues including Celtic Park and Tynecastle.
In a society that was overwhelmingly white, Elliott must have faced discrimination including the infamous 'colour bar' imposed by some Edinburgh bars and restaurants against African and Asian students. Although that racist ban caused such condemnation that it was soon withdrawn, it reflected a society where feelings were strong and Elliott spoke about this in later years.
A report of a YMCA meeting in 1948 reveals he gave a talk on 'The Colour Bar', and the article added: 'He will be remembered by many Broxburn football fans as the only coloured football referee ever to grace West Lothian Juvenile circles. He was a very competent official and woe betide those who questioned his decisions.'
In September 1939, just after war broke out, Elliott was appointed secretary of the Edinburgh Referees Association. I cannot find any more football references to him but he continued to play cricket.
Elliott was born about 1894 in Sierra Leone, where his father was a chemist, and was already in his thirties when he came to Edinburgh University in the early 1920s. After finishing his medical studies he married Ellen Hastings, a widow, and worked as a laboratory assistant in the city until shortly before his death in 1963.
Eustace Elliott may not have refereed at the highest level, but he is certainly a trailblazing figure in an era when black sportsmen were a rarity in the UK, and black officials were virtually unknown.
Eustace Egerton Elliott
Born c1894 in Sierra Leone to Anthony William Elliott, dispensing chemist, and Fanny Jackson.
Married 8 November 1938 to Ellen Hastings.
Died 25 March 1963 in Edinburgh.
NB as far as I know, the first BAME referees in England were Alf Buksh and Emerson Griffith in the 1970s, while the first in senior football in Scotland was Ramzan Bashir in the early 2000s.