Arthur Wharton

Birth Name
Arthur Wharton
Date of Birth
28 October 1865
Birth Town
Jamestown, Accra, Ghana

Considered as the world’s first professional black footballer which to date nothing has been presented to disprove this fact.

African born to a Ghanaian mother and Grenadian father who moved to England with the intentions to train as a Methodist missionary. Whilst living in England his career focus changed to becoming an athlete and displayed to be an all round sports person participating in sports such as athletics, cycling, football and cricket. It was football that took president and what Arthur is remembered for.

Although his career would appear to be an unsuccessful one not winning any trophies or making an international appearance. Being the first black professional in the sport was monumental for any aspiring black footballers who would of had serious doubts during a time of prejudice and inequality.

National Inheritance

Born into one of eight children and with limited accounts of his childhood experience we can assume unlike many others, Arthur may not have been exposed to racial hatred and discrimination early on in his life until he moved away from Ghana. Arthur’s father Revd Henry Wharton, a well known minister and missionary and mother Annie Florence Egyriba who was related to the Fante royal family both had Scottish fathers. Taking their background into account Arthur’s upbringing wasn’t necessarily poverty stricken but would of had strong religious grounding and influence.

Around the age of 10 years old he moved to England for schooling following his father’s death 2 years prior and after a 4 year stay Arthur would return home for a short spell as he would leave again for England with the purpose of training in teaching and ministry at the Wesleyan Methodist Shoal Hill College. Possibly inspired out of respect and to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now in his late teens the opportunities available to him at college will eventually challenge Arthur’s learning objectives as the youngster explores the world of sport. This becomes a possibility not only because the options allowed him too but a natural talent for sport was evidently clear in each sporting activity he participated in.

Examples of his sporting abilities during this transitional period in 1886/1887 includes setting a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn, playing cricket in the Yorkshire and Lancashire leagues whilst becoming the fastest man in Britain as he set another record at the Amateur Association Athletics in the 100 yards sprint event. This has later been said to be the first world record but this is yet to be verified.

Arthur surely had a decision to make even though he was able to make a living through multiple sports at the time, the choice becomes an easier one by taking the footballing route as he goes on to play amateur football as a goalkeeper for both Darlington F.C and Preston North End F.C over three seasons, featuring in an FA Cup semi final. Unfortunately Arthur’s career to this point failed to meet expectations however a milestone is set in 1889 when he signs for Rotherham Town F.C. Making him the first black footballer to hold a professional contract and play in the top division for Sheffield United F.C as a backup goalkeeper after a six year spell at Rotherham Town F.C.

The final seven years of his career would see Arthur appear for four different clubs, unsuccessful in establishing himself as a first team regular, retiring presumably a forgotten man. Recorded accounts express his individual playing style, something ahead of its time and diluted as being eccentric. Unknowingly his sporting accomplishments symbolises, the impossible that is not only inspiring but should always be remembered.

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