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Arthur Wharton: The first Black Footballer
Arthur Wharton in black strip
Arthur Wharton: Sporting legend
Over 100 years before Dyer, Jenas and Ameobi, the North East had the UK's first professional black League player. Meet the legendary Arthur Wharton.
SEE ALSO

Black History Month
The Black Romans
Solidarity on Tyne
Jimmy Durham
When the Boat Came In

WEB LINKS

Arthur Wharton Timeline
FURD
Wharton: Biography

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Arthur Wharton was born on 28 October 1865 in Accra, formerly the Gold Coast, now capital of Ghana, West Africa.

His father, Henry Wharton was a famous Methodist Minister and Missionary from Grenada in the West Indies and his mother was Annie Florence Egyriba, was related to the Fante Royal Family.

A Prince among men

Arthur Wharton
Wharton exchanged a regal lifestyle for a career in sport.

Both of Arthur's paternal grandfather's were Scottish traders. One of his great grandmothers was an African-Grenadian slave.

Arthur's uncle on his mothers' side was a successful businessman and owner of the Gold Coast Times.

The Early Years

In 1884, aged 19, Arthur moved to the North East to train as a Methodist preacher at Cleveland College, Darlington.

It was whilst at College that he began his amazing sporting careers, competing at this stage as a 'gentleman amateur'.

He excelled at everything he tried (even setting a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn in 1887).

Arthur Wharton on playing card
Rare playing card celebrating Wharton's record breaking 100 yard sprint.

In 1886 Arthur became the fastest man in Britain winning the Amateur Athletics Association national 100 yards champion at Stamford Bridge, London - the first time the trophy was won by a Northerner.

Scoring an Own Goal

His sporting prowess was spotted at Darlington Football Club, where he was selected to play as goalkeeper. Arthur became the first black professional footballer in Britain.

At Darlington he was describes as 'magnificent', 'invincible' and 'superb'.

There was no league championship then and the FA Cup was the main competition, along with district and county matches.

In 1885/86 season, whilst still a Darlington player, Arthur was selected for the prestigious Newcastle and District team. At that time it was the best in the city and far superior to the West End and East End sides which later combined to form Newcastle United.

A True English Eccentric

Like many other great goalkeepers before and after him, he gained a reputation for being eccentric! Apparently he would wait in a crouching position at the side of the goal before rushing out to save the ball.

His performance for Darlington came to the attention of the then mighty Preston North End, who signed him. He played in their FA Cup team of 1886/7, while continuing to turn out for Darlington.

In 1888 he left the region to become a professional runner in Sheffield but after a year he returned to football, signing for Rotherham, where he remained for six year before moving to Sheffield Utd for a season.

Arthur Wharton with cup
Snubbed in his lifetime, Wharton has achieved a place in the Football Hall of Fame

A year at Stalybridge followed until he fell out of favour and joined rivals Ashton-under-Lyme, in 1897 until they went bankrupt in 1899.

After another spell with Stalybridge he returned to the Football League in 1901 with Stockport County at the age of 36. He retired in 1902.

Down. But not Out.

In 1914 Arthur was offered a cricket-coaching job in County Durham, which he turned down due to lack of work to supplement his wages.

In 1915 he went to live in Edlington, Doncaster - possibly looking for work. He became a haulage hand at Yorkshire Main Colliery. He also joined the Home Guard of WW1 sometime between 1915 and 1918.

Arthur continued with his cricket and his running. Even in his 50's, an eyewitness reported that 'he could catch pigeons'.

Arthur Wharton  in smart suit
Arthur cut a dash in fashionable Victorian society

Arthur will undoubtedly have taken part in the 1926 General Strike, which for the miners lasted seven months and caused great hardship.

In 1930, Arthur died penniless in the Springwell Sanitarium in Balby and was buried in an unmarked grave in Edlington Cemetery.

A fitting memorial

In 1997, at a special ceremony, a memorial stone is placed over the grave of Arthur Wharton in Ellington Cemetery, Doncaster.

Grave of Arthur Wharton

"He (Arthur) ended his days sadly, but he was not a sad figure, he did things his own way, despite obstacles put in his way."

Phil Vasili,
Wharton's biographer

 

 

Click and follow the
Roots Black History Trail

Black History Month
The Black Roman's
Solidarity on Tyne
Jimmy Durham
When the Boat Came In

 

 

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