This film is held by the BFI (ID: 408634).


Coverage of the 18 strong Nigerian football team, the first ever to leave West Africa, who played nine matches in five weeks against top English amateur sides.

The African players, having arrived on 29 August 1949 in Liverpool, listen to instructions from their manager Captain D.H. Holly. The commentator explains that 'a telegram from the Duke of Edinburgh gave them a hearty welcome', while the players embark on a training session with their coach John (Jack) Finch, 'the famous Fulham football star'. The players walk out, barefoot, for their first match against Marine Crosby at Liverpool. Watched by a capacity crowd of 7,000 - including many Africans - the Nigerians win 5-2. The other recorded match, against Dulwich Hamlet, shows the Nigerians being defeated by one goal to nil.



Phil Vasili argued that 'during the period 1949-1959, football, in particular, was seized upon by Britain’s ruling class, to be utilized for the greater good of Great Britain Ltd' (Vasili, 1995, 55). The Nigerian tour in 1949 was followed by tours from the Gold Coast in 1951, Trinidad in 1953, Uganda in 1956 and the Caribbean in 1959, and all served in part to illustrate the development of these areas under British rule and to highlight the continued role of the British throughout the Empire.

The 1949 tour sought to change perceptions of the Africans. Vasili argued that the selectors ‘wanted the players to present a collective face to the British public that went some way to dispelling racial myths about Africans and which would also stand testament to the positive contribution made by the expatriates, confirming the legitimacy of their presence in the colony’. As such, the players selected were largely representative of colonial society. Fourteen of the eighteen players were civil servants, and another two were teachers, while the team’s player/secretary Kanno had been educated in England and had thus, it was deemed, ‘acquired the refinements necessary for the public engagements’ (Vasili, 1995, 60-1).

The tour appeared, in some respects, as a further indication of the ‘westernisation’ of colonial Africa, as the tourists were also prohibited from wearing traditional African robes. The tour included a tea party at the Colonial Office, trips to Parliament, to Westminster Abbey and Wembley Stadium, and thus served also to illustrate British primacy in political, cultural and economic terms. It promoted an amateur ethos, which Vasili argued was aligned to the values of imperialism, while British reports on the tour repeatedly emphasised the social values displayed by the Nigerians – such as ‘sportsmanship’ – which were qualities popularly represented to define British identity (Vasili, 1995, 69).

Colonial Cinema, in a two-page report on the tour, argued that ‘the team did not take long to establish a fine reputation not only for fast, clever football but also for excellent manners and sporting behaviour on the field’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1949, 68). An editorial in the magazine further noted that ‘of even greater importance than their technical ability was the fine atmosphere of sportsmanship they left along their trail’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1949, 55). The reports, like the tour in general, sought to reconfigure the Africans, with the apparent intention of demonstrating the role of the British in ‘civilising’ and developing African society. An editorial in The Times suggested that the tour ‘has a sociological significance’. ‘The disappearance of tribal warfare and other inconvenient forms of self-expression has left a gap there’, the editorial stated, adding that ‘while exempt from terror and famine, the African peoples nowadays are powerfully afflicted with boredom. They need new interests, cultural and sporting’ (The Times, 29 September 1949, 5).

Nationalists within Nigeria argued that football was symptomatic of British control throughout society. The West African Pilot wrote that ‘through the avenue of sports the stranglehold on the African by alien peoples is strengthened and the control of the thinking processes of the African is thus assured for a long time yet’ (Vasili, 1995, 59). Yet, Nigeria was also gaining international recognition through sport. Nigerian athletes had visited London in 1948 (shown in Colonial Cinemagazine 20), but were deemed ineligible to compete in the Olympics. However, a small team did compete in the Empire Games in New Zealand in 1949 and in 1952 C. E. Newman, the President of the Nigerian Olympic and Empire Games Association, led a team of nine competing at the Helsinki Olympics (Newman, 1951, 131).

The film contains footage from the tourists’ first game against Marine Crosby in Liverpool, which was filmed by cameraman Sydney Samuelson. When recently discussing his work on this film, Samuelson recalled, in particular, filming the feet of the Nigerians as they came on to the pitch (Personal Interview, 15 June 2010). Newspaper reports of the tour also repeatedly emphasised that the Nigerians were playing barefoot. ‘If during the next month, you see a full back put a football on the spot for a goal kick and hoof it beyond midfield with his bare foot’, a Daily Mirror report began, ‘there’s no need to cringe. He likes doing it. In fact, he prefers it that way’ (Daily Mirror, 30 August 1949, 6). The widely discussed policy of playing without boots was acknowledged as the reason for the Nigerian’s heavy 8-0 defeat in their match against the Athenian League, which was played in slippery conditions in the rain.

This match in front of 7,000 supporters in Liverpool assumes particular significance as Liverpool had been the scene of ‘anti-Black riots’ in August 1948. White mobs, encouraged by the National Union of Seamen’s campaign to exclude black seamen from British ships, attacked hostels and clubs that catered for black seamen. Most of the arrests that followed were amongst the black community, which numbered approximately 8,000 in Merseyside. (Hesse, 2001, 100) Increased black immigration, exemplified by the arrival of 492 passengers from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush in 1948, further heightened racial tension in many parts of the country.



As the Nigerians come out to play their first match on tour, the camera offers a close-up of their feet, revealing that the Nigerian team are playing without boots. This shot is significant in illustrating the cultural differences between the British and Nigerians. On the one hand, since clothing is often seen as a signifier of ‘civilisation’, the camera’s focus on the feet emphasises the still ‘undeveloped’ aspects of colonial Africa, suggests British primacy and endorses established racial stereotypes. Significantly, however, the British administrators wanted the Nigerians to wear boots, and so the decision to play barefoot could also be seen, on the other hand, as a sign of defiance – the retention of a traditional Nigerian identity – within a tour that clearly sought to establish an image of a modern ‘British’ Nigeria. There is an odd disjuncture between the image and sound here, as the commentary makes no mention of the Nigerians’ feet. This image of ‘difference’ and of a retained African identity, while evidently of interest to the British press and public, is ignored in the commentary, which instead proclaims a rhetoric of imperial co-operation and of a ‘westernised’ Nigeria.

The image of a ‘westernised’ Nigeria is evident throughout the film – for example, in the training sessions, the blazers worn by squad members, and in particular through the manner in which the Nigerians are defined by the commentary. The commentator emphasises the ‘gentlemanly behaviour’ of the Nigerians and refers to a game between ‘two teams of true sportsmen’. The film shows the teams exchanging pennants and shaking hands, emphasising these ideals of imperial friendship and unity.

In showing a team managed and coached by British men, the film illustrates the continued role of the British in the development of modern Nigeria. However, this modern image also furthers Nigeria’s moves towards independence, and recognises the emergence of a modern Nigeria on the international stage. The final shot of the film shows the Nigerians and English shaking hands on the pitch – ‘you played like the sportsmen you are’ – while a child seeks an autograph from a Nigerian player. The film, as a Colonial Film Unit production intended for African audiences, presents the Nigerians as role models, and this was also the case on their return. For example a Government report stated that one player, Mr O. Chukwura, was invited to speak at a school of young offenders on his return (Colonial Reports: Nigeria, 1951, 74). The tour can also be seen to fuel Nigerian nationalism. C.E. Newman noted that the football tour of England ‘aroused nationwide interest and enthusiasm in Nigeria’ (Newman, 1951, 131), while an editorial in West Africa suggested that the tour ‘has also made a small contribution to Nigerian nationhood by focussing the attention of Nigerians on “our” team’ (Vasili, 1995, 62).

Historian Catherine Thomas has noted that football was often a site of confrontation in Nigeria – ‘football matches between Europeans and Africans are constantly producing incidents’ – and the commentary within this film does use inflammatory language (Vasili, 1995, 56). The matches are described as ‘fights’ on four occasions – for example, ‘a real clean sporting fight’, ‘the fight gets hotter’ – yet ultimately the film affirms an image of racial integration. This integration is not only between the Nigerians and British on the pitch, but more significantly between the white and black people watching within the crowds. Repeated crowd shots focus on suited black men and women standing alongside white people on the terraces and celebrating together. The film ignores any direct reference to the racial animosity, particularly within Liverpool, instead presenting an ideal of racial harmony at a moment of increased racial tension.

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

‘Editorial Notes’, Colonial Cinema, December 1949, 55.

‘Nigerian Footballers in England’, Colonial Cinema, December 1949, 68-69.

Great Britain Colonial Office, Annual Report on the Colonies: Nigeria, 1950 (London: HMSO, 1951).

‘Bare Feet Give them a Kick’, Daily Mirror, 30 August 1949, 6.

Hesse, Barnor, ‘Diasporicity: Black Britain’s Post-Colonial Formations’, Un/settled Multiculturalism: Diasporas, Entanglements, ‘Tranruptions’ (London: Zed Books, 2001).

Personal Interview with Sir Sydney Samuelson, conducted by Tom Rice and Emma Sandon, 15 June 2010.

Newman, C. E., ‘Nigerian Sport in 1950’, Annual Report on the Colonies: Nigeria, 1950 (London: HMSO, 1951), 131-2.

‘Footballers from Nigeria’, The Times, 29 September 1949, 5.

Vasili, Phil, ‘Colonialism and Football: the first Nigerian tour to Britain’, Race and Class 36, 4, 1995, 55-70.

Zack-Williams, Alfred B., ‘African Diaspora Conditioning: The Case of Liverpool’, Journal of Black StudiesVol. 27, No. 4, March 1997, 528-542.




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
382 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit





Production Organisations