Football finally remembers its forgotten pioneer
Professional footballer, record-breaking sprinter, champion cyclist, club cricketer: to suggest Arthur Wharton could play a bit is to tell only a fraction of an incredible story.
That story, which starts in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in 1865 and appears to end in a pauper's grave near Doncaster in 1930, was lost for over 60 years but is now finally being given the attention it deserves.
I say "appears to end" because a more appropriate final chapter to Wharton's life is currently being written, thanks, in large part, to the efforts of two people: Darlington businessman Shaun Campbell and Rotherham grandmother Sheila Leeson.
This pair will be part of a Wembley ceremony before Tuesday's England v Ghana friendly to celebrate Wharton's legacy as the first black professional in world football. And with this being the first senior match between England and its former colony, it is difficult to think of a more suitable occasion to mark the achievements of a true pioneer.
The son of a renowned half-Grenadian, half-Scottish Methodist minister and a Ghanaian princess, an intrepid Wharton came to England in 1884 aged 19.
A remarkable sportsman, Wharton was versatile enough to play in goal and on the wing
The plan was to train as a missionary at Cleveland College but the more secular calling of Darlington FC proved impossible to resist. The pulpit's loss was sport's gain.
The "gentleman amateur" soon became a fixture between the sticks for Darlo and it was during his first season with the club that he was spotted by Preston North End. He joined the Lancashire giants a year later and featured in their run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1887 (this was when the FA Cup was football's premier competition).
But Wharton was no ordinary goalie. For a start, he was also the world record-holder for 100 yards - his Amateur Athletics Association Championship-winning performance at Stamford Bridge in 1886 was the first anywhere to stop the clock at 10 seconds flat. And in 1887 he set a record time for a bike race between Preston and Blackburn.
This all-round prowess led Wharton to quit PNE for a stint as a professional runner in 1888 - so he missed being a part of the club's storied Double-winning team in 1889 - but a year later he was back in football as a professional with Rotherham Town.
After that there were stints with Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County. His last season was County's Division Two campaign in 1902.
There may have been no major honours or international caps during Wharton's 17-year career but how many other goalkeepers can you think of that were versatile enough to play winger too? And that's not to mention his feats in club cricket, athletics or cycling. Wharton would have given C. B. Fry a run for his money in a Victorian version of Superstars.
So why don't we know more about him?
There is no easy answer to that but any attempt would surely start with racism (he was commonly called "Darkie" Wharton) and end with bad luck (he fell on hard times after his playing days were finished).
That we know anything about him at all is mainly down to the aforementioned Campell and Leeson.
The latter often wondered about the grandparents her mother refused to talk about but did not pursue the matter until her mum died in 1991 and she found a box of photographs.
That box sat unopened in her house for three years until her husband died and she was forced to move. Sorting through her belongings, Leeson's son-in-law found the photos and spotted one of particular interest, a fading snap of a wiry-looking sportsman standing by a large trophy.
That sportsman was Wharton and the trophy was the prize for that record-breaking sprint 108 years before. Leeson did not need another invitation to uncover her hidden history.
Before long the retired schoolteacher, now 79, had found her grandfather's unmarked grave and, with the help of historian Phil Vasili, put together the pieces of his later years.
Once his days as a professional sportsman were over, Wharton became a miner, moving from colliery to colliery and drinking too much. From the scrap heap to the slag heap. When the end came at 65 he was penniless.
But by 1997 he was no longer forgotten. First, a Sheffield-based charity called "Football Unites, Racism Divides" took up Wharton's cause and paid for a headstone. And then, a decade later, Campbell entered the fray.
A self-styled "creative thinker and practitioner", Campbell first heard of Wharton when he picked up a leaflet about him at an anti-racism event.
Moved by his story, Campbell set up the Arthur Wharton Foundation and began a campaign that should result in Darlington getting a fitting memorial to one of its most illustrious but underappreciated adopted sons: a bronze statue of Wharton tipping a shot over the bar.
The cast of characters who have played a role in what will be the first public statue of a black footballer in this country is almost too long to list but a few names stand out: the Ghana-born George Boateng (who became the foundation's first football patron during his stint at Hull City), Viv Anderson (the first black player to represent England in a full international), the writer Irvine Welsh and music legend Stevie Wonder.
But perhaps the biggest step towards a proper memorial to Wharton came last year when the Football Association gave £20,000 to the foundation. That money, coupled with a slightly smaller donation from Uefa, has enabled Campbell to commission the respected sculptor Vivien Mallock, whose earlier work includes the statue of a young Brian Clough that stands in Middlesbrough's Albert Park.
No firm decision has been made yet on where Mallock's Wharton will reside but Campbell promised me "it will be somewhere people can see it and be inspired by it".
A model of the statue will be presented to Leeson by Sir Trevor Brooking in Tuesday's pre-match presentation, although she told me she was more excited by the prospect of meeting some of the footballers who have followed the trail her grandfather blazed more than a century ago.
Recognising that achievement on this night of Anglo-Ghanaian relations is a celebration worthy of Wharton and an indication of how far we have come.