FURD’s Arthur Wharton Heritage Project has just returned from a trip to Ghana.
81-year-old Sheila Leeson, Wharton’s closest living relative in Britain, and her daughter Dorothy, have travelled to Accra in Ghana, West Africa to meet their relatives there for the first time and FURD’S Arthur Wharton Heritage Project manager, Lisa Sultanti had the privilege of accompanying them. The party also included Shaun Campbell of the Arthur Wharton Foundation, who presented a maquette statue of Arthur Wharton to the Ghana FA Vice-President Fred Crentsil. The trip came about as part of a documentary about Wharton being made by the BBC for its ‘Inside Out’ series. Here is Lisa’s account of her trip:
"The trip was an absolute success and FURD was able to establish links in order to share the story of Arthur’s accomplishments with government bodies, footballing authorities like the Ghana FA, young people and all of Ghana.
The days were absolutely packed with activities. On arrival, we were whisked off to visit the British High Commissioner at his residence. Mr Peter Jones was delighted to meet us and was in agreement that the story should have an international focus.
After a rested night, we went to meet the chief of Ga and the Minister of Information. The chief had whole heartedly welcomed us to Accra and blessed the intention of our trip. A gentleman, in his early 90’s, also of great sporting prowess spoke of how important it was for the youth of Ghana to be involved in sport.
The Minister of Information spoke highly of Arthur’s contributions and was keen to have more resources developed to aid the telling of Arthur’s story. FURD will be sending on information and resources to the minister and the schools…
Following the meeting of the chief we met Arthur’s relatives, who were very keen to meet Sheila as they were always interested in the families that left Ghana to settle in other countries. They referred to it as the 'returning home' of their 'sister.'
The next day we embarked on our visit to the boarding school that Arthur attended until the age of 10, Mfantsipim School. The prefect we met stated that the knowledge of Arthur’s legacy was inspirational to him and that the boys in the school would thoroughly benefit from knowing that the world’s first black professional footballer attended their school, a school that educated other world-renowned figures such as Kofi Annan.
Following the visit to the school we went on to meet Nii Odartey Lamptey, a former Ghanaian professional footballer. During his career he played as a striker from 1990 until 2008 notably for Aston Villa, PSV Eindhoven, Coventry City and the Ghana national football team. Nii Lamptey has built a school of soccer and a school of education where he believes in providing young people with opportunities to progress in life. He was aware of Arthur and spoke frankly about his experiences of racism and why there was a need for more work to be done by organisations like FURD.
Our final eventful day, 28th October, 2012 was spent in James Town in front of the Mantse Palace, a tournament organised by PLAY and the Arthur Wharton Foundation, supported by FURD. The tournament players were local young people who were extremely passionate about the game of football and very appreciative of the event. The 28th October is also the birth date of Arthur and the organisations that we met in Ghana have proposed that this date be the Arthur Wharton Memorial Day.
For Sheila and Dorothy, the journey was incredibly amazing and she has already planned her return journey with several other member of her family. For FURD, it was great to know that the last 16 years of dedication to raising awareness about Arthur’s contributions to society was only the beginning of the next chapter.
The trip to Ghana showed how important it is to continue working with young people to raise awareness about racism and its effects as such a legend’s story is only now being told."