Arthur Wharton

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Arthur Wharton
Arthur Wharton c1896.jpg
Personal information
Date of birth (1865-10-28)28 October 1865
Place of birth Jamestown, Gold Coast
Date of death 13 December 1930(1930-12-13) (aged 65)
Place of death Edlington, Yorkshire, England
Playing position Goalkeeper/Winger
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1885–1886 Darlington 1
1886–1888 Preston North End 2 (1)
1889–1894 Rotherham Town 0 (0)
1894–1895 Sheffield United 1 (0)
1895–1897 Stalybridge Rovers 4 (1)
1897–1899 Ashton North End 1 (0)
1899–1901 Stalybridge Rovers 1 (0)
1901–1902 Stockport County 6 (2)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Arthur Wharton (9696968

October 1865 – 13 December 1930) is widely considered to be the first black professional footballer in the world.
[1][2][3] Though not the first black player outright - the amateurs Robert Walker, of Queen's Park, and Scotland international player, Andrew Watson predate him[1] - Wharton was the first black professional and the first to play in the Football League.

Early life, ancestry and early career[edit]

Wharton was born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now Accra, Ghana). His father Henry Wharton was Grenadian, while his mother, Annie Florence Egyriba was a member of the Fante Ghanaian royalty.[4] Wharton moved to England in 1882 at age 19, to train as a Methodist missionary, but soon abandoned this in favour of becoming a full-time athlete.[1]

He was an all-round sportsman - in 1886, he equaled the amateur world record of 10 seconds for the 100-yard sprint in the AAA championship.[3] He was also a keen cyclist and cricketer, playing for local teams in Yorkshire and Lancashire. However, Wharton is best remembered for his exploits as a footballer; while he was not the first mixed-heritage footballer in the United Kingdom — leading amateurs Robert Walker and Scotland international Andrew Watson predate him — he was the first mixed-heritage footballer to turn professional.[3]

Football career[edit]

Wharton (seated second from left on front row) while playing for Darlington F.C. (1887)

Wharton started as an amateur playing as a goalkeeper for Darlington, where he was spotted by Preston North End after playing against them.[5] He joined them as an amateur, and was part of the team that reached FA Cup semi-finals in 1886-87.[5] Though part of "The Invincibles" of the 1880s,[6] he left Preston in 1888 to concentrate on his running, and thus was not part of the team that subsequently won the Double in 1888-89.[5]

He returned to football in 1889, joining Rotherham Town, signing as a professional. In 1890 he married Emma Lister (1866-1944) at Rotherham in Yorkshire.[7] By 1891 he was the landlord of the Albert Tavern in Rotherham.[8]

In 1894 he moved to Sheffield United, though he was understudy to regular first-team goalkeeper William "Fatty" Foulke.[3] During the 1894-95 season, Wharton played three games for Sheffield United, against Leicester Fosse, Linfield and Sunderland — the latter being a First Division game, making Wharton the first mixed-heritage player to play in the top flight.[3]

In 1895 he left for Stalybridge Rovers but after falling out with the management moved to Ashton North End in 1897, where he opened a tobacconist shop in Ashton-under-Lyne.[9] Ashton North End went bankrupt in 1899, and he returned to Stalybridge Rovers, playing with a young Herbert Chapman, before seeing out his career playing for Stockport County of the Second Division in 1901-02.[5] As well as playing in goal, he would also occasionally feature outfield as a winger. He never won a major honour in the game during his career, nor was he capped at international level.


Arthur Wharton in later years

Having developed a drink problem,[1][10] Wharton retired from football in 1902 and found employment as a colliery haulage worker at the Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington. By 1911 he was employed as a collier and living in a rented room in Moorthorpe, West Yorkshire.[11] On his death in 1930 he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. The grave was given a headstone in 1997 after a campaign by anti-racism campaigners Football Unites, Racism Divides. In 2003 Wharton was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the impact he made on the game. A campaign to have a statue erected in Darlington as well as in Rotherham to acknowledge Wharton's achievements has gained wide support within the professional game.[12][13] In 2012, a small statue of Wharton was presented to Sepp Blatter at the headquarters of FIFA, where it will be on permanent display.[14] On 16 October 2014, a statue honouring Wharton was unveiled at St George's Park National Football Centre.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "Arthur Wharton". 100 Great Black Britons. 
  2. ^ Phil Vasili (1998). The First Black Footballer, Arthur Wharton, 1865-1930. Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-4903-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Arthur Wharton". Football Unites, Racism Divides. 
  4. ^ "Arthur Wharton: The Early Years". Arthur Wharton Foundation. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Arthur Wharton: The first Black Footballer". BBC. 
  6. ^ Taw, Thomas (2006). Football's Twelve Apostles: The Making of The League 1886-1889. Desert Island Books. p. 17. ISBN 1-905328-09-5. 
  7. ^ England & Wales, Free BMD Marriage Index, 1837-1915 for Emma Lister - pay to view
  8. ^ 1891 England Census for Arthur Wharton - pay to view
  9. ^ 1901 England Census for Arthur Wharton - pay to view
  10. ^ Chris Webber, "Black football pioneers from Arthur Wharton to Viv Anderson and beyond", The Observer, 30 August 2009.
  11. ^ South Elmsall History Society
  12. ^ Arthur Wharton Foundation.
  13. ^ "Arthur Wharton: Campaign to honour football pioneer", BBC News, 7 January 2013.
  14. ^ Walker, Andy (6 June 2012). "FIFA boss touched by Wharton statue presentation". Northern Echo. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  15. ^ "Pioneer Arthur Wharton honoured at St. George's Park". The FA. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Phil Vasili, The First Black Footballer, Arthur Wharton, 1865-1930: an absence of memory, Frank Cass, 1998 (ISBN 0-7146-4903-1)
  • Phil Vasili Colouring Over the White Line. The History of Black Footballers in Britain (ISBN 1-84018-296-2)

External links[edit]