World’s first Black professional footballer who played in County Durham still an inspiration today
The world’s first black professional footballer is still inspiring a new generation of stars – including England striker Marcus Rashford.
Arthur Wharton played in Darlington, County Durham in 1883, and across the North East after moving to England, and gave his wages to the needy more than a century before Rashford began his child food poverty campaign.
Wharton, gifted with remarkable sporting prowess as well as a social conscience, was also the fastest man in the world in 1886.
During his football career, he was widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper in the country.
Fans loved his athleticism and showmanship, and he became a ‘box office’ star when the English national game was still in its infancy.
Wharton played football at Anfield, on September 1, 1892, and his last ever professional game was against Newton Heath, the team which was to later become Manchester United.
He signed and coached Arsenal legend Herbert Chapman.
And his life is an inspiration to a host of black superstars of the modern era, from the worlds of sport, music and entertainment, including Usain Bolt, and even Stevie Wonder.
Rashford and Bolt have both sent video messages to the Arthur Wharton Foundation – the charity set up to promote equality and champion his life – telling followers ‘Arthur Wharton No 1’.
The Man United star has a giant mural in his hometown – just like the one unveiled in Darlington for Wharton.
Businessman Shaun Campbell, 59, who set up the Arthur Wharton Foundation, said: “We have messages from US chat show host Jay Leno, Usain Bolt, Les Ferdinand, singers Gregory Porter, Ruby Turner, Stevie Wonder and of course Marcus Rashford.
“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.”
Jamaican Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time, has also recognised Arthur’s achievements in athletics.
He learned how Arthur made history on July 6 1886 with the 100 yard sprint world record of 10 seconds.
And he told Shaun: “Without Arthur Wharton, there would be no Usain Bolt.”
Arthur’s name is the first on the Amateur Athletic Association cup for 100m champions – or 100 yards in the early days – with sprint legends Linford Christie, Alan Wells, Don Quarry.
Many had not heard of him before he was recognised thanks to the Foundation in his name.
Viv Anderson – the first black player for the full England team – first learned about Wharton through an exhibition at the National Football Museum in 2003.
“I didn’t know his story until then – and I was a black professional footballer,” said former Nottingham Forest star Anderson.
As well as a career in football – at clubs including Preston North End, Rotherham Town, and Sheffield United – Wharton became a cycling champion. He died penniless in 1930.
But there is now a 16ft statue of him at the FA’s St George’s Park HQ, in Burton-on-Trent, and in 2003, he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
Like Rashford, it is his exploits both on and off the pitch which will ensure that his legacy lives on.