Celebrating the story of the world's first black professional footballer who played in Sheffield

Arthur Wharton is a name forgotten – or never known – by many.

By Errol Edwards
Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 7:30 am

He was the first black professional footballer and once the fastest man in the world.

It is apt the former Sheffield United footballer celebrates his birthday today, during Black History Month.

He is a major pioneer in the world of sport and paved the way for many we see as household names today.

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Arthur Wharton was the game's first professional black player.

Arthur was born October 28 1865, in Jamestown on the Gold Coast.

Today he would have been 155 years old.

He came to England to study theology, with the intention of becoming a missionary.

A keen sportsman, participating in many sports including athletics, it was this area in which he excelled.

In 1886 his time of 10 seconds flat, in the 100 yards sprint at the AAA Championship at Stamford Bridge, was recognised as a world record.

But his accomplishments as a footballer are where he is most remembered.

He started his footballing career as an amateur goalkeeper for Darlington before being spotted by Preston North End.

In 1888 he left the region to become a professional runner in Sheffield but after a year he returned to football, signing for Rotherham Town, the forerunner of Rotherham United, where he remained for six years.

Soon after his signing he married Emma Lister and went on to have two daughters Minnie and Nora.

He signed for Sheffield United in 1894, at the same time as the well known goalkeeper William Foulke was the established first team keeper.

He was rarely left off the team sheet meaning Arthur’s appearances were relatively rare.

One of his games in 1894’ was against Sunderland in the English First division, making him the first professional black player.

After completing one season with Sheffield United he moved back to Rotherham Town.

He then had quite a transient career playing for Staylbridge Rovers and Ashton North End, before finishing his career at Stockport County aged 36.

Arthur’s life away from football was not quite as notable or easy.

He began working in the coal mines around South Yorkshire and during the First World War he served in the Home Guard.

After the war he continued his love of sport competing in athletics and cricket into his 50’s.

His later life was difficult beset with ill health as his mining job took its toll.

He passed away on December 12, 1930 after being admitted to Springhill Sanitorium in Doncaster, aged 65. He was later buried in an unmarked grave.

After a campaign by his Football Unites, Racism Divides a headstone was placed on his grave in 1997 in Edlington, Doncaster.

He was later inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2014, a 16 ft statue was erected at the National Football Centre in Staffordshire.

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