Story of Britain's first black professional footballer Arthur Wharton from Ghana

How Britain’s first black professional footballer who moved to the UK from Ghana signed for Rotherham in 1889 but ended his life as a destitute miner

  • Missionary’s son Arthur Wharton came to England from Africa in 1880s
  • He became world’s first person to run the 100 yard sprint in 10 seconds
  • Player then turned successfully to football and also became a cricketer
  • But he later spent 20 years working down a coal mine in South Yorkshire
  • Story revived after great-granddaughter appeared on Antiques Roadshow

By
Dan Bloom, Daily Mail

New light has been shed on the incredible life of Britain’s first black professional footballer after his great-granddaughter discovered a long-lost box of memorabilia.

The son of a wealthy missionary, Arthur Wharton arrived in Cannock, Staffordshire, in the early 1880s as a teenage immigrant from Gold Coast, now Ghana, and his talents did not go unnoticed for long.

He ran the first 10-second 100 yard dash and played for Rotherham Town and Sheffield United – before spending 20 years down a South Yorkshire coal mine and dying a pauper.

Making history: The son of a wealthy missionary, Arthur Wharton arrived in Cannock, Staffordshire, in the early 1880s as a teenage immigrant from Gold Coast (now Ghana) and sprinted before playing football and cricket

Making history: The son of a wealthy missionary, Arthur Wharton arrived in Cannock, Staffordshire, in the early 1880s as a teenage immigrant from Gold Coast (now Ghana) and sprinted before playing football and cricket

Making history: The son of a wealthy missionary, Arthur Wharton arrived in Cannock, Staffordshire, in the early 1880s as a teenage immigrant from Gold Coast (now Ghana) and sprinted before playing football and cricket

Mr Wharton (pictured as an amateur with Darlington FC) became known as a goalkeeper who would indulge in punching the ball as far as the halfway line and catching the ball with his legs while swinging on the crossbar

Mr Wharton (pictured as an amateur with Darlington FC) became known as a goalkeeper who would indulge in punching the ball as far as the halfway line and catching the ball with his legs while swinging on the crossbar

Mr Wharton’s tale has been revived after his great-granddaugher Dorothy Rooney discovered a long-lost box of photographs and documents relating to his extraordinary career – including his personal bible.

She took them to share with an event run by the BBC show Antiques Roadshow, where they will appear this Sunday.

Ms Rooney said: ‘My mother and I found some old photos (of Arthur) and traced him
back. We have actually been to Ghana and met family members, and they
didn’t know of Arthur.

‘He was a Victorian sporting hero.’

The 6ft teenager was sent to Britain in the 1880s to train as a Christian missionary, but soon took up athletics, winning the Amateur Athletic Association national championships two years in a row.

Revealed: Mr Wharton's granddaughter Dorothy Rooney (right) found a box of memorabilia

Revealed: Mr Wharton’s granddaughter Dorothy Rooney (right) found a box of memorabilia

Historic: The cache was then analysed by the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, which will be aired on Sunday

Historic: The cache was then analysed by the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, which will be aired on Sunday

Long-lost: The items recovered by Mr Wharton's family included his bible, pictured, and many photographs

Long-lost: The items recovered by Mr Wharton’s family included his bible, pictured, and many photographs

After hanging up his running shoes Mr Wharton went on to become an accomplished goalkeeper.

During his amateur days, which included a debut for Preston North End in the FA Cup, he became known for punching the ball as far as the
halfway line and catching the ball with his legs while swinging on the
crossbar.

Then, in 1889, he made history by signing professional terms for Rotherham Town and playing in the Football League.

Riches to rags: In later life Arthur Wharton became a coal miner, dying a pauper aged 65

Riches to rags: In later life Arthur Wharton became a coal miner, dying a pauper aged 65

The move made him the first black full-time paid footballer in the history of Britain, and quite possibly the history of the world.

He later joined Sheffield United and played in the First Division, which is now the Premier League.

The trailblazer played some 80 years before the likes of Bermuda-born Clyde Best played for West Ham United.

His career did not stop there. Mr Wharton also became a professional cricketer, being recognised as a great all-round sportsman.

He was the token professional player for local Yorkshire Greasbrough, but in 1914 he turned down a cricket coaching role at Durham to work as a miner.

He spent 20 years down a coal mine in South Yorkshire and died a pauper aged 65 in 1930, having spent all his earnings from professional sport.

Howard Holmes, of the Football Unites, Racism Divides campaign which installed a headstone on Mr Wharton’s grave, went with his great-granddaughter to the event.

‘You think of black footballers in England and you think of Clyde Best and Laurie Cunningham,’ he said. ‘But Arthur was 70 or 80 years before their time.

‘That is why his story is so important because it shows there was a black presence in English football right at the very start of the professional game.

‘But Arthur’s was a real riches-to-rags story. He would have been quite well-paid when he was a goalkeeper but after that he had to earn a living as a miner.

‘He did that in an overwhelming white community in Yorkshire.

‘Can you imagine some of the multi-millionaire Premier League footballers of today having to do that?’

Fame: Mr Wharton ran the first 10-second 100 yard dash on what was an all-white athletics circuit

Fame: Mr Wharton ran the first 10-second 100 yard dash on what was an all-white athletics circuit

Memorabilia: Some of the items which were recovered and will appear on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow

Memorabilia: Some of the items which were recovered and will appear on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow

Source: Daily Mail

READERS COMMENTS

  1. SHANGO says:

    @Samedge,I hope you do not look like Arthur with a big nose,otherwise my sister that is meant for you will cut your big nose off and parcel it to comrade banger.

  2. Ofosu says:

    am proud to be a ghanaian.thank you mr wharton

  3. Leon Agyapong says:

    Great article

  4. Annobil says:

    I’m proud to be fante!