Posts tagged: Chelsea

Arthur Wharton – the first black professional footballer

By , 29th March 2011 18:11

First black professional footballerGhana 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.

Update:

Arthur’s statue was unveiled at St George’s Park, the FA’s national training centre on Thursday 16 October 2014.

The Doggett’s Coat & Badge

By , 20th August 2009 11:07
World's oldest sporting event

World’s oldest sporting event

As an oarsman, for many years I’ve been aware of the claim that the Doggett’s Coat & Badge is the oldest, continuously-contested, sporting event still contested in the world today.

Thomas Doggett (c1640 – 1721) was an Irish-born comic actor who trod the boards at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  Later, he became involved in managing the theatre before moving on to the Theatre Royal Haymarket around the time of its opening in 1720.

During years of commuting by river from his home in Chelsea to Westminster, Doggett developed an interest in the skills of the watermen who had been providing the most efficient means of moving passengers and goods around London for several centuries.  (London’s watermen have been regulated since an Act of Parliament passed in 1555 that created the Company of Watermen.)

In 1715, to commemorate the first anniversary of the accession of George I and the House of Hanover, Doggett organised a race for young London watermen who had recently completed their apprenticeships.   The race, for a prize of a scarlet 18th century waterman’s coat with a silver badge on the arm and white breeches, was staged on 1 August.  The start was at the White Swan near London Bridge with the finishing line at the Old Swan, near Cadogan Steps in Chelsea – a distance of four miles seven furlongs.

Swan Pier, Doggett, London

Swan Pier near London Bridge, close to the site of the White Swan Inn

The race became an annual event – organised by Doggett himself until his death in 1721.  (He is burried in St John’s churchyard, Eltham High Street.)

In his will, Doggett instructed his executors to endow the race in perpetuity.  Perhaps shrewdly, the executors offered an endowment of £300 to encourage the Company of Fishmongers to take over the staging of the race.

Initially raced against the tide on August 1st, the rules have subsequently been modified so that now the contestants row with the strongest tide.  Now managed by the Company of Watermen,  today the race is staged on a date in July determined by the time of high tide.  The 296th race took place on 10 July 2009.   Sadly, the race achieved no detectable media coverage apart from a posting – since disappeared – on the Thames Rowing Club website.  Is this lack of interest a throw-back to the historic resistance to professionalism of a rowing establishment dominated for so long by the public schools and universities?  Or just another example of the challenge the so-called “minority sports” face when trying to compete against football for column inches?

These barriers are breaking down.  Watermen are no longer prohibited from competing in domestic rowing events.  Indeed, Mark Hunter, winner of an Olympic Gold medal in the lightweight doubles in Beijing and silver medalist at London 2012, is himself a qualified waterman and freeman of the Thames. He was elected as a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in 2013.

In 2000, as an apprentice, Mark competed in, and won, the Millennium Coat and Badge race for double sculls made up of a freeman sculling with an apprentice.  Sadly, circumstances conspired to prevent Mark from racing in the Doggett’s Coat and Badge – he was too old by the time he passed his final exams.  Mark’s younger brother, and fellow member of Leander Club – a one-time bastion of archetypal English amateurism – did win the Coat & Badge in 2006.

The Race now has its own website which includes a listing of all the known winners since 1716.

Reflecting its links with the commercial life of the River Thames, the Watermen’s Company and Port of London Authority feature the event on their websites.

View Doggett’s Coat & Badge in a larger map

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