The Legendary Arthur Wharton
Arthur Wharton was the first black professional and the first to play in the Football League.
The Early Years
Born on 28 October 1865 in Accra, formerly the Gold Coast, now the capital of Ghana, West Africa. In 1884, aged 19, Arthur moved to the North East to train as a Methodist preacher at Cleveland College, Darlington.
It was whilst at college that he began his amazing sporting careers, competing at this stage as a ‘gentleman amateur’. He excelled at everything he tried (even setting a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn in 1887).
Scoring an Own Goal
His sporting prowess was spotted at Darlington Football Club, where he was selected to play as a goalkeeper. Arthur became the first black professional footballer in Britain.
At Darlington, he was described as ‘magnificent’, ‘invincible’ and ‘superb’. There was no league championship then and the FA Cup was the main competition, along with district and county matches.
In 1885/86 seasons, whilst still a Darlington player, Arthur was selected for the prestigious Newcastle and District team. At that time it was the best in the city and far superior to the West End and East End sides which later combined to form Newcastle United.
A True English Eccentric
Like many other great goalkeepers before and after him, he gained a reputation for being eccentric! Apparently, he would wait in a crouching position at the side of the goal before rushing out to save the ball.
His performance for Darlington came to the attention of the then mighty Preston North End, who signed him. He played in their FA Cup team of 1886/7 while continuing to turn out for Darlington.
In 1888 he left the region to become a professional runner in Sheffield but after a year he returned to football.
His Later life
In 1915 he went to live in Edlington, Doncaster – possibly looking for work. He became a haulage hand at Yorkshire Main Colliery. He also joined the Home Guard of WW1 sometime between 1915 and 1918.
Arthur continued with his cricket and his running. Even in his 50’s, an eyewitness reported that ‘he could catch pigeons’. In 1930, Arthur died penniless in the Springwell Sanitarium in Balby and was buried in an unmarked grave in Edlington Cemetery.
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Article credit: BBC