Ghana becomes the 84th country to play a football international against England today. A few days ago, Henry Winter, the Telegraph’s excellent football correspondent, profiled Arthur Wharton the first black professional footballer in England and probably the world. Wharton was born in Jamestown in the Gold Coast – what is now Ghana – on 28 October 1865.
The son of the first Afro-Caribbean to be ordained as a Wesleyan Methodist missionary in Africa, Arthur was educated in England with the intention of becoming a minister or teacher.
His remarkable sporting career has been chronicled by Football Unites Racism Divides. As an amateur footballer, Arthur played for Cannock & White Cross FC, Darlington, representative teams in Newcastle and Durham, Preston North End – where he appeared in the 1887 FA Cup Semi-Final – and Sheffield United.
Wharton’s talents were not confined to football. In July 1886, competing for Birchfield Harriers, Wharton won the 100 yards at the AAAs championship at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. His time of exactly 10 seconds was later ratified as the first world record in athletics. In 1888, just as the Football League was being established, he achieved success in pedestrianism – professional running – winning the prestigious September Sprint Handicap at the Queen’s Ground, Sheffield.
He is also known to have played rugby at Heckmondwyke and was also a professional cricketer at various times, playing for the Rotherham clubs of Greaseborough and Rawmarsh, the Borough Police and, later, Stalybridge.
He became the first black professional footballer when he signed for Rotherham Town in September 1889.
He supplemented his footballing income as licensee of the Albert Tavern, at 53 Old Street, Masbrough (where he was living on census day 1891) and the Plough Inn, Greasborough, in 1892.
He was also to play for Sheffield United between 1894-6, becoming the first black professional to play in the top flight of English football in a match against Sunderland in Februray 1895. Later, he went on to play for Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and finally, in 1901, Stockport County. His 1901 home was at 158 Old Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne. He retired from professional sport in 1902. Judging by Google Street Map, Arthur’s 1891 and 1901 homes stood in areas that have been significantly redeveloped in recent years.
From 1913, Wharton worked at the Yorkshire Main Colliery at Edlington near Doncaster. He died, after a long illness on 13 December 1930 at 54 Staveley Street, Edlington.
For 67 years, his grave was unmarked. Arthur had married Emma Lister on 21 September 1890 but the couple had no children. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Emma may have felt disinclined to erect a headstone on the grounds that Arthur was believed to have fathered her own sister’s daughters Minnie and Nora.
Thanks to the efforts of Football Unites, which is based in Sheffield, and the generosity of the Professional Footballers’ Association and other benefactors, the last resting place of the first professional footballer is now commemorated.
A campaign to erect a statue of Arthur in Darlington received a donation of £20,000 in October 2010.
Arthur’s statue was unveiled at St George’s Park, the FA’s national training centre on Thursday 16 October 2014.