Arthur Wharton is regarded as the first black professional footballer in the history of football.
Wharton was born in Accra, Ghana formerly called the Gold Coast, on October 28, 1865.
His father, Henry Wharton was a Methodist Minister and Missionary from Grenada in the West Indies and his mother was Annie Florence Egyriba, who was related to the Fante Royal Family.
At age 19, Wharton moved to England to train as a Methodist Minister, like his father, at Cleveland College, Darlington. However, he quickly turned his attention to sports and focused on becoming a full-time athlete.
Wharton excelled at various sporting disciplines including cricket, boxing, cycling and rugby, before turning his full attention to football.
In 1886, Arthur became the fastest man in Britain when he won the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) national 100 yards champion at Stamford Bridge, London in 10 seconds.
A year later, he set a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn.
Arthur Wharton’s football career
Wharton started his footballer career at Darlington Football Club where he was described as ‘magnificent’, ‘invincible’ and ‘superb’.
He played as a goalkeeper but occasionally played on the right wing.
He was later signed by Preston North End after his amazing performance against them for Darlington. He was a member of the Preston North End team that reached the semi-finals of the 1886/87 FA Cup. He was also a member of “The Invincibles” Preston North End team in the 1880s.
After that, he signed for Rotherham in 1889, where he became the world’s first black professional footballer. Wharton remained at Rotherham for six years before moving to Sheffield United for a season.
In 1895, Wharton joined Stalybridge Rovers but after falling out with the management, he moved to Ashton North End in 1897.
Ashton North End went bankrupt in 1899, and he returned to Stalybridge Rovers for a year before joining Stockport County of the Second Division in 1901.
Arthur Wharton retired from football in 1902. He became a haulage worker, and he also joined the Home Guard during World War 1.
He reportedly died penniless in 1930 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Edlington Cemetery.
In 1997, a special ceremony was held in memory of him and a memorial stone was placed over his grave after a campaign by anti-racism body ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides.
Arthur Wharton’s Legacy
Arthur Wharton, in 2003, was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the impact he made on the game.
In 2011, the English FA invited his granddaughter, Sheila Leeson, as a guest of honour for England’s friendly against Ghana. She helped to uncover one of the great stories of sporting history and now it’s immortalised in British footballing folklore.
In 2012, a 2.5ft solid bronze maquette statue of Arthur Wharton was presented to former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, at the headquarters of FIFA, where it has been put on permanent display.
In 2014, the English FA honoured Arthur Wharton with a 16-foot statue at St George’s Park – the English Football Association’s National Football Centre.
On October 28, 2020, a stunning mural of Arthur Wharton was unveiled on the side of a Darlington building in honour of his 155th anniversary.
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