World’s first Black pro footballer who gave wages to the needy inspires a generation
The exceptional ability of football pioneer Arthur Wharton thwarted numerous opponents, but he also made a difference behind the scenes.
Arthur, who in the 1880s became the world’s first black professional footballer, gave his wages to the needy.
The sportsman, regarded as the best goalie in Britain in his day, is inspiring a new generation of stars, including England striker Marcus Rashford who campaigns on child food poverty.
Shaun Campbell, a businessman who set up the Arthur Wharton Foundation, said: “Arthur was a remarkable man.
“And if you think of what Marcus is doing today, Arthur was doing the same more than 100 years ago.
“Back then he was thinking of the poor. He was a black champion in his community. All those years ago he played and gave his time and wages for others.
“There is a certain irony that all these years later, Marcus Rashford is doing the same thing.
“It is sad that we still have these cases of children in need.”
Fans loved Arthur’s athleticism and showmanship.
He became a box office star when professional football was in its infancy. Arthur was born in Accra in the Gold Coast (now in Ghana) in West Africa in 1865.
His mum was descended from the Fante royal family, and his dad was born in the West Indies, the son of a wealthy Scottish trader.
Arthur moved to England aged 17 in the early-1880s to train as a Methodist missionary. But he decided instead to become a full-time athlete – excelling in numerous sports.
Arthur, based in Darlington in Co Durham, joined Darlington FC in 1885. A year later he broke the 100-yard world record, finishing the race in exactly 10 seconds.
The record stood for over 30 years. His athletics achievements have wowed none other than Jamaican star Usain Bolt.
The eight-time Olympic gold medal sprinter told Shaun: “Without Arthur, there would be no Usain Bolt.”
Arthur became a pro footballer with Rotherham Town in 1889. At Sheffield United in 1894-95, the keeper became the first player of mixed heritage to play in the top flight of English football.
At the time, players at the club could earn about £3 a week (£400 in today’s money). There were also win bonuses, usually of up to 10 shillings. The average weekly wage of a working man was £1. Arthur, whose career lasted until 1902, also played for Preston North End and Stockport County. He was also a cycling champ, and a fine cricketer and rugby player.
He is an inspiration to a host of today’s stars. Those who have sent a video message to the Arthur Wharton Foundation – which promotes equality and champions his life – include Bolt, Rashford, Les Ferdinand and Stevie Wonder.
Many footballers had not heard of Arthur before the foundation was set up.
Viv Anderson, who in 1978 became the first black player to represent England in a full international, learned about him through an exhibition at the National Football Museum in 2003.
He said: “I didn’t know his story until then – and I was a black professional footballer.” Arthur died penniless aged 65 in 1930. There is now a 16ft statue of him at the FA’s HQ in Burton, Staffs. And in 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
Man United star Rashford has a giant mural in his hometown – just like the one unveiled in Darlington for Arthur.
With sporting prowess as well as a social conscience, Arthur’s exploits on and off the pitch mean his legacy will live on.