Statue recognising world’s first black player unveiled by English FA20 October 2014


The statue stands in a memorial garden at the entrance to the National Football Centre, the training hub developed by the English FA.

Arthur Wharton was born in Ghana in 1865, moved to the UK in 1882 before being signed by Darlington at the age of 19 and later by Preston North End and Sheffield United.

Missionary turned athlete
He had moved to Darlington, amidst the industrial North East region of England, with the intention of training as a Methodist missionary but became a full-time athlete.

And during a career that spanned 17 years, he went on to play as a goalkeeper for Preston North End, Rotherham Town, Sheffield United and Stockport County.

Not just skilled with a ball, Wharton was a true all-round athlete. In 1886 he became the Amateur Athletics Association’s national 100-yard running champion, he also excelled in cricket, boxing, cycling and rugby before turning his full attention to football – in which he played primarily in goal, but also occasionally on the right wing.

“This is a future day”
St. George’s Park chairman David Sheepshanks conducted the ceremony and said: “Today is a historic day to mark the achievements and the legacy of the late great Arthur Wharton.

“But it’s also a future day because it’s a day that is going to inspire a whole new generation of young players and in particular young coaches to want to reach for the top and be the best they possibly can be.

“We often talk how hard it is for young people from black and Asian minority backgrounds to get into top jobs today, so imagine what it was like then.

FURD headstone campaign
After suffering from a number of illnesses in later life, Arthur Wharton died penniless in 1930 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Edlington Cemetery in south Yorkshire.

However, his grave was given a headstone in 1997 after a campaign by Fare members Football Unites, Racism Divides.

Howard Holmes, the Chairman of the Fare network who was there with family members of Arthur Wharton said, “We are all very proud. A story that started so long ago in west Africa, that took so many turns, has now been recognised by the English FA.

“The statue is a milestone but the journey of legacy continues, it is one in which FURD will continue to be at the centre of.”

Wharton Foundation
Shaun Campbell, founder of the Arthur Wharton Foundation, who recently handed UEFA President Michel Platini with a miniature version of the statue, was also in attendance and agreed that the unveiling was not the end of a journey to get him the recognition he deserves, but part of the tackling of a global issue.

“Today is a very proud day,” said Campbell. “It’s been a long journey but it’s one that’s been an absolute honour and a privilege to be part of.

“But this statue is not the end, it is the beginning. Football is part of the wider problem, but it is also the biggest army in the world. If you can unite the fans, the support base, it has the capacity to really make a difference – and it’s very exciting.

Players and coaches
The unveiling was attended by numerous former black players and coaches, including Les Ferdinand, Chris Hughton, Cyrille Regis, Paul Davis, Brendon Batson, Viv Anderson and Chris Ramsey.