Posted: 6/30/2011


       He was the first black professional football in England but died after contracting emphysema a disease he suffered from after working in a South Yorkshire coal mine, and was buried in a pauper's grave.

       Arthur Wharton was his name, born in Ghana in 1865 to a Scottish/ Granadian missionary father, and Annie his mother who was related to the local royal family there. He was sent to study in England and became an outstanding sprinter, the fastest in the world for a couple of years,from 1889 to 1888. He turned professional and won the world sprint championship.  He became a footballer with Preston North End and then signed a pro contract for Rotherham United, the first paid black footballer, and was a crowd favourite.

      He was mainly a goalkeeper but also played other positions and in 1891 during his playing days ran a pub in Rotherham, The Albert Tavern, a year after he married Emma Lister. In 1894 he was transferred to Sheffield United and was delighted when the law was changed the following year, banning the charging of goalkeepers. He began working down the Yorkshire Main Colliery at Edlington near Doncaster from 1915. By 1930 he was suffering terribly and died age 65.

      Sheila Leeson his 79 year old granddaughter came across an old box of photographs and press cuttings which were about to be thrown away in 1994. The Heritage Lottery Fund has given a grant of 117,000 pounds to support a film about his life to be distributed to schools, and clubs.

     Howard Holmes of Football United, Racism Divides, says that "He was a Victorian superstar and his story is as relevant today as it was back in the 19th century". He was also a champion cyclist, cricketer and rugby player with a fiery temperament. When he won a trophy for throwing a cricket ball, and also another event, he was told he could only have one trophy-so he smashed it to pieces.