Meet Arthur Wharton, the first Ghanaian professional footballer

Stories and facts

Arthur Wharton, born on 28 October 1865 in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now part of Accra, Ghana), is revered as a pioneer in the history of football. He is widely acknowledged as the inaugural black professional footballer, having made substantial advancements in the sport during the late 19th century.

Wharton's ancestry showcases his mixed background. His father, Henry Wharton, had roots in Grenada and Scotland, while his mother, Annie Florence Egyriba, came from Ghanaian Fante royalty. At 19, Wharton traveled to England in 1882 with dreams of pursuing Methodist missionary work but soon shifted his focus to athletics, leading him to pursue a career as a professional athlete.

As a versatile sportsman, Wharton excelled not only in football but also in sprinting, cycling, and cricket. His athletic prowess was evident when he equaled the amateur world record for the 100-yard sprint in 1886. Despite his multifaceted abilities, Wharton's impact in football remains his most enduring legacy.

Wharton's football journey began as a goalkeeper for Darlington, where he caught the attention of Preston North End. Joining Preston as an amateur, Wharton played a pivotal role in their FA Cup semi-final appearance in 1886–87. Notably, during a victory over Renton, his goalkeeping skills were lauded by the Athletic News.

Despite parting ways with Preston in 1888 to focus on running, Wharton returned to football the following year, signing as a professional for Rotherham Town. His football career took him to several clubs, including Sheffield United and Ashton North End, where he showcased his talents both in goalkeeping and as a winger.

Wharton's influence extended beyond his performance on the field. His narrative illuminates the obstacles and victories of a black athlete during a period characterized by racial prejudice. Despite facing obstacles like alcoholism later in life, Wharton's perseverance and talent left a lasting impact on the football community.

In 2003, Wharton was posthumously inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, recognizing his enduring influence on the sport. Efforts to commemorate his legacy continue, with campaigns for statues in Darlington and Rotherham gaining widespread support within the football community.

In 2020, a mural was revealed in Darlington to commemorate Wharton's 155th birthday, underscoring his lasting influence and the ongoing relevance of his groundbreaking contributions to football history. Wharton's journey continues to inspire and symbolize the progress achieved in promoting diversity and inclusion in the realm of sports.

Explore the life of Arthur Wharton below.



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