Campaign to remember first black professional footballer

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A campaign has been launched to honour the world’s first black professional footballer with a plaque at his former home in Moorthorpe.

Goalkeeper Arthur Wharton was from Africa’s Gold Coast, now part of Ghana, and played for Darlington, Preston, Rotherham and for both Sheffield clubs United and Wednesday after coming to England in the 1880s.

He stood up to racism during a legendary sporting career which also saw him record a world record 100-yard dash, but was buried in an unmarked grave after disappearing from public life.

In 2014, a 16-foot statue of Wharton was unveiled by the Football Association in Burton on Trent after a campaign was launched to recognise his achievements.

Now Matthew Thomas, of Moorthorpe, has set up an online fundraising appeal backed by anti-racism charities to pay for a blue plaque on Clifford Street, where Wharton lived in 1911.

On his Just Giving page Mr Thomas wrote: “The man who overcame prejudice to reach the pinnacle of sport used the attention that his prowess and his reputation brought to help others in the communities in which he lived.

“With the support and backing of Football Unites, Racism Divides and Kick It Out, the campaign to place a blue plaque on or near to the property that Arthur once called home is under way.”

Wharton played in goal at a time when keepers could handle the ball anywhere in their half of the field and faced dangerous tackles from opposition players. He was an entertaining figure between the sticks, according to one fan who wrote in the Sheffield Telegraph: “I saw Wharton jump, take hold of the cross bar, catch the ball between his legs and cause three onrushing forwards to fall into the net. I have never seen a similar save since and I have been watching football for over fifty years.”

In 1890 Wharton married Emma Lister in Rotherham and went on to run a pub in the town.

Despite a heavily criticised performance for Sheffield Wednesday in 1888, he continued to play until 1902.

He is said to have developed drink problems and found work as a haulage worker at a colliery in Edlington.

Wharton died in 1930 and was buried in a pauper’s grave which was eventually given a headstone in 1997. In 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. The campaign to honour him continued, and was even backed by Stevie Wonder, who spoke about Wharton at a concert in Birmingham in 2008.

The Arthur Wharton Foundation was also set up with the aim of tacking racism. For more log on to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/arthurwharton