Last night before the game against England and Ghana the worlds first black footballer, Arthur Wharton, was officially recognised by the FA. Wharton’s oldest living relative, and campaigner, Sheila Leeson was joined by West Bromwich Albion’s black football pioneers, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson along with Sir Trevor Brooking in a pitchside presentation featuring a mini version of The FA’s Arthur Wharton statue. Last year The FA donated £20,000 to the Arthur Wharton Foundation towards building a statue in Wharton’s adopted hometown of Darlington.
Arthur Wharton was the first black professional footballer in history. He was born in Jamestown (now Accra, Ghana). his father was half-Grenada and half-Scottish,and his mother was a half-Scottish and half Ghanaian and a member of the Ghanaian royalty. He moved to England in 1882, to train as a Methodist missionary, but soon abandoned this in favour of becoming a full-time athlete. Born into an upper middle class family his decision to enter professional sport brought him down to a lower social level and after he finished his sporting career he was rejected by the Gold Coast Colonial Administration for a civil service post as his sporting prowess was regarded as ‘inappropriate’ for a colonial official. He spent much of the rest of his working life as a colliery haulage hand in the South Yorkshire pits. He died in December 1930 and was buried in a third-class grave in Edlington, South Yorkshire. But the site is now recognised with a proper headstone after campaign work by Sheila Leeson, Football Unites, Racism Divides and the Arthur Wharton Foundation.
Career in Football.
Wharton started as a semi-professional playing as a goalkeeper for Darlington F.C between 1885-1886. At the end of the season while competing at the AAA at Stamford Bridge, the same Stamford Bridge that Chelsea play at today, Wharton set a then world record of 10 seconds for the 100 yards. he retained his title in 1887 That drew the attention of Preston North End. He did not sign a professional contract but was again a semi-pro though he did gain gifts or money from “anonymous” sources which was a loop hole in those days to pay players more than they would normally be allowed to earn. Wharton was at Preston North End for 2 years leaving and was a part of “The Invincibles” of the 1880s, he left Preston in 1888 to concentrate on his running, and therefore was not part of the team that went on to win League and FA Cup Double in 1888-89.
When he signed for Rotherham it made history as when he signed for Rotherham it was not a as a semi-pro but as a professional footballer, the black professional footballer in the world. He spent more years at Rotherham than at any other team he played for spending 6 years there, leaving in 1894.
He signed for Sheffield United but was there only for one season leaving in 1895. He didn’t have much luck there only making three starts and moved to Stalybridge Rovers. He spend two years there but after falling out with the management he moved to Ashton North End where he spent two years but they went bankrupt, returning to Stalybridge Rovers. He finished his career at the turn of of the century at Stockport, signing in 1901 and retiring in 1902.
A remarkable character, a true sportsman, as not only had he held the world record for the 100 yards sprint, and being a professional footballer, he was also recorded to cyclist and a club cricketer to boot. You could say he was not the conventionally sportsman, or footballer. Though he was a sprinter he played in goal, though sometimes did play on the wing, but back then football was a different game, and a goalkeeper was allowed to handle the ball anywhere in their own half, but also players were allowed to shoulder barge the keeper at anytime,whether in control of the ball or not. Wharton did also have his tricks that would make René Higuita, the scorpion kick king, look normal. As In a match between Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday at Olive Grove Wharton jumped, took hold of the cross bar, caught the ball between his legs leaving three onrushing forwards…to fall into the net. That trick was not something he did only once either.
Its great to see a remarkable man like this to be honoured, though it is a shame that it has been so long before it has happened, it is good that it is happening now.
For more information there is a great right up on Arthur Wharton here I definitely suggest reading it.