The story of Arthur Wharton - who is widely considered to be not just the first black professional footballer in the world but also a highly skilled professional athlete and cricketer - is to be captured in full for the first time thanks to a grant of just over £117,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Black footballers today make up around 20 per cent of professionals in the English football leagues. With this project Football Unites, Racism Divides will aim to reach out to local people and involve them in the fascinating story of the world’s first black professional – Arthur Wharton.
Having played for Sheffield United and Rotherham Town among a number of northern football clubs in the 1890s, he also set the world record for the 100 yards sprint in 1886. This sporting heritage on Sheffield’s doorstep will be explored by school groups around Key Stage 3, local diverse groups, and the wider public including mining communities. Activities planned include a film-making project that will document Wharton’s symbolic life to be distributed to schools, community groups and football clubs. Dramatic workshops, a travelling exhibition, Victorian Sports Day, teaching packs and an interactive website have also been devised to encourage people to learn about the contribution our BME descendants had on the social history of Britain. The players union, the PFA, have also backed the project financially.
Fiona Spiers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “There are many gaps in the knowledge we have about Arthur Wharton and the material is currently scattered across several archives. This grant will enable his remarkable story to be preserved while offering many people the chance to gain valuable skills in the process.”
Paul Blomfield MP, a long standing campaigner against racism and strong supporter of the project, said: “The story of Arthur Wharton’s life is a powerful message that race and background should not be allowed to be a barrier for talent. Football Unites, Racism Divides do outstanding work using football to bring people from different backgrounds together. I know that by taking Arthur’s remarkable story into our schools and the community FURD will be able to break down more barriers.”
Arthur Wharton was born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1865 to a half Granadian / half Scottish father, and a Ghanaian Royal mother. This privileged background sent him to Britain for an English education in the early 1880s, where he excelled in sports. Officially the fastest runner in the world from 1886 until 1888, he became the first black athlete to win the 100 yards at the Amateur Athletics Association’s Championship at Stamford Bridge, London, in 1886, later turning professional to win the world sprint championship. His footballing career started at Preston North End before he was signed professionally at Rotherham Town to become the world’s first paid black footballer.
FURD Director Howard Holmes commented: “FURD has championed the incredible sporting life of Arthur Wharton for many years but there is still so much that remains hidden. Arthur spent the majority of his adult life in South Yorkshire so it is fitting that young people from Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield will help produce educational materials that will spread Arthur’s story far and wide”
Made distinguishable from other British sportsmen by his race and background, the compelling narrative of Arthur Wharton’s life illustrates how fortunes can change not only due to class and talent but also fame, the passing of time, and health. Despite his meteoric rise and an upper-class background, Arthur Wharton ended his days dying of emphysema in a workhouse sanatorium in the 1930s – by which time he was poor and mostly forgotten by his 19th century fan. FURD are seeking partner schools in the Doncaster area to work on this exciting project. If interested, or for any other information about the project contact Howard Holmes or Lisa Sultanti at FURD on 0114 255 3156