Plans to create a statue honouring the world’s first black professional footballer have been unveiled.
Arthur Wharton, who is buried in Edlington, broke boundaries in the game when he became the globe’s first black soccer star in 1899.
The Arthur Wharton Tribute project was launched at Rotherham United’s New York Stadium where the statue will be created.
2014 marks the 125th anniversary of Arthur signing for Rotherham in 1889 to become the world’s first black professional footballer.
The statue will mark the achievements of this remarkable man who pioneered the way and created a heritage for black footballers in this country.
The guests at the launch were joined by football legends Cyrille Regis, former England International and FA Cup Winner plus Manchester United European Cup Winner Alex Stepney who are supporting the project.
The project is the brainchild of businessman Jim Cadman who will work with renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson to create the statue. Mr Ibbeson, who has created world famous statues including those of Eric Morecambe, William Webb-Ellis and Don Revie, will sculpt the statue and a bronze maquette of the statue was on display at the launch.
This is privately led and financed project, which has the support of Rotherham United Football Club and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council as well as football players and football administrators throughout the country, plans to engage the supporters of Rotherham United and the local business community in the area to be actively involved in the project.
As Jim Cadman explained: “This year we celebrate the 125th anniversary for football when Arthur Wharton signed for Rotherham to become the world’s first black professional footballer.
“Along with Graham I decided that we should mark such an occasion and it seemed only fitting that the tribute be in Rotherham itself, particularly as his family still live in the area. “We were delighted to have Arthur Wharton’s granddaughter Sheila Leeson and great granddaughter, Dorothy Rooney with us.
“We know that the project will attract interest from football fans and players all over the world and will bring a positive national focus on the Town and the football club.”
Tony Stewart, Chairman of Rotherham United added: “We are thrilled to be part of what is a very exciting project for the football club and for the Borough of Rotherham. We are delighted to be able to honour a remarkable individual who is still being talked about as a pioneer some 125 years after he signed professionally for Rotherham United, and thanks to this wonderful project Arthur’s achievements will be remembered for many years to come.”
Councillor Roger Stone, Leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council said: “This statue reflects what we’re about here in Rotherham – it’s about heritage, tradition, strength and resilience in the face of adversity. It signifies breaking down barriers and bringing the community together.
“Excellence, achievement and blazing a trail for others to follow are the values which we associate with Arthur Wharton – and that’s why we as a Council are endorsing the project, and encouraging local businesses and the community to get involved and to make it a reality.”
Mr Cadman has established the ‘Rotherham Sporting Guild’ which has already attracted financial support, and during the year other fundraising initiatives will include The Arthur Wharton Golf Day, The ‘125’ Football Match Challenge, and The Arthur Wharton Tribute Dinner, plus sponsored plaques and a range of supporter events throughout the community.
Arthur died in 1930 in Edlington and for 67 years was buried in an unmarked grave until a permanent headstone was created after an appeal to remember his contribution to the game.