Arthur Wharton (28 October 1865 – 12 December 1930) is widely considered to be the first black professional footballer in the world.  Though not the first black player outright – the amateurs Robert Walker, of Queen’s Park, and Scotland international player, Andrew Watson, predate him (possibly a professional before Arthur Wharton for Bootle F.C. in 1887) – Wharton may have been the first black professional and the first to play in the Football League.


Arthur Wharton (28 October 1865 – 12 December 1930) was a Gold Coast born mixed race British football player. He is widely considered to be the first black professional footballer in the world.[1][2][3] Though not the first black player outright – the amateurs Robert Walker, of Queen's Park, and Scotland international player, Andrew Watson, predate him (possibly a professional before Arthur Wharton for Bootle F.C. in 1887)[4][5] – Wharton may have been the first black professional and the first to play in the Football League.[1]

Arthur Wharton
Personal information
Date of birth (1865-10-28)28 October 1865
Place of birth Jamestown, Gold Coast
Date of death 13 December 1930(1930-12-13) (aged 65)
Place of death Edlington, Yorkshire, England
Position(s) Goalkeeper/Winger
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1885–1886 Darlington
1886–1888 Preston North End
1889–1894 Rotherham Town 19 (0)
1894–1895 Sheffield United 1 (0)
1895–1896 Rotherham Town 15 (0)
1896–1897 Stalybridge Rovers
1897–1899 Ashton North End
1899–1901 Stalybridge Rovers
1901–1902 Stockport County 6 (0)
*Club domestic league appearances and goals

Early life, ancestry and early career

Wharton was born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now part of Accra, Ghana). His father Henry Wharton was a Grenadian missionary of Scottish and African descent,[6] while his mother, Annie Florence Egyriba was a member of the Fante Ghanaian royalty.[7] Wharton moved to England in 1882 at age 19, to train as a Methodist missionary, but soon abandoned this in favour of becoming a full-time athlete.[1]

He was an all-round sportsman – in 1886, he equalled the amateur world record of 10 seconds for the 100-yard sprint in the AAA championship.[3] He was also a keen cyclist and cricketer, playing for local teams in Yorkshire and Lancashire. However, Wharton is best remembered for his exploits as a footballer; while he was not the first mixed-heritage footballer in the United Kingdom — leading amateurs Robert Walker and Scotland international Andrew Watson predate him, however Wharton was the first mixed-heritage footballer to turn professional.[3]

Football career

Wharton (seated second from left on front row) while playing for Darlington F.C. (1887)

Wharton started as an amateur playing as a goalkeeper for Darlington, where he was spotted by Preston North End after playing against them.[8] He joined them as an amateur, and was part of the team that reached FA Cup semi-finals in 1886–87.[8] During the third round victory against Renton, Wharton's clean sheet was described by Athletic News as "one of the best exhibitions of goalkeeping I have seen for a long time."[9] Though part of "The Invincibles" of the 1880s,[10] he left Preston in 1888 to concentrate on his running, and thus was not part of the team that subsequently won the Double in 1888–89.[8]

In 1888 the Sheffield Football Association agreed to give a testimonial to Sheffield Wednesday's Billy Mosforth, versus Preston North End. The meeting of both clubs in the FA Cup meant that the match was postponed until February, by which point the Olive Grove was snow covered and the match was switched to Bramall Lane. Arthur volunteered for the 'Sheffield Wednesday and District' team but despite both clubs being locked into a draw in the first half Preston ran away with the match, winning 8–1. It was reported that Wednesday's heavy loss was "in great measure owing to the wretched performance of Wharton, who utterly failed to uphold his high reputation as a goalkeeper" and that he "could not have stopped the ball had it been half as big as a balloon".[11] It was reported that at times the Wednesday fans applauded every kick Arthur took and one fan angrily asked the Preston team where they had "brought him from" as it was well known that Arthur was a former Preston player. There were even fears that Arthur would be the victim of violence as he left the field.[12] Arthur did have a connection to Sheffield Wednesday, through his trainer in Sheffield 'Billy' South, who amongst other noted Sheffield sporting icons of the day also trained Wednesday's Tommy Crawshaw.[13]

Having failed to impress at Sheffield Wednesday he returned to football in 1889, joining Rotherham Town, signing as a professional. In 1890 he married Emma Lister (1866–1944) at Rotherham in Yorkshire.[14] By 1891 he was the landlord of the Albert Tavern in Rotherham.[15] In 1894 he moved to Sheffield United, though he was understudy to regular first-team goalkeeper William "Fatty" Foulke.[3] During the 1894–95 season, Wharton played three games for Sheffield United, against Leicester Fosse, Linfield and Sunderland — the latter being a First Division game, making Wharton the first mixed-heritage player to play in the top flight.[3] In 1895 he left for Stalybridge Rovers but after falling out with the management moved to Ashton North End in 1897, where he opened a tobacconist shop in Ashton-under-Lyne.[16] Ashton North End went bankrupt in 1899, and he returned to Stalybridge Rovers, playing with a young Herbert Chapman, before seeing out his career playing for Stockport County of the Second Division in 1901–02.[8] As well as playing in goal, he would also occasionally feature outfield as a winger.


Arthur Wharton in later years

Having developed a drink problem,[1][17] Wharton retired from football in 1902 and found employment as a colliery haulage worker at the Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington. By 1911 he was employed as a collier and living in Moor Thorpe, West Yorkshire, with wife Emma. When World War I began in 1914 Wharton joined the Volunteer Training Corps (roughly equivalent to the Home Guard of World War II), volunteering to give his life in defence of Britain if called upon.[18] On his death in 1930 he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. The grave was given a headstone in 1997 after a campaign by anti-racism campaigners Football Unites, Racism Divides. In 2003 Wharton was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the impact he made on the game. A campaign to have a statue erected in Darlington as well as in Rotherham to acknowledge Wharton's achievements has gained wide support within the professional game.[19][20] In 2012, a small statue of Wharton was presented to Sepp Blatter at the headquarters of FIFA, where it will be on permanent display.[21] On 16 October 2014, a statue honouring Wharton was unveiled at St George's Park National Football Centre.[22]

In 2020, a mural was unveiled in Darlington on Arthur Wharton's 155th anniversary.[23][24]

Career statistics

Club Season League FA Cup Other Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Preston North End 1886–87[25] 6 0 6 0
1887–88[26] 0 0 0 0
Total 6 0 6 0
Darlington 1887–88[27] 1 0 1 0
Rotherham Town 1893–94[28] Division Two 19 0 1 0 20 0
Sheffield United 1894–95[28][29] Division One 1 0 0 0 1[a] 0 2 0
Rotherham Town 1895–96[28] Division Two 15 0 5 0 20 0
Stockport County 1901–02[28][30] Division Two 6 0 0 0 1[b] 0 7 0
Career total 41 0 13 0 2 0 56 0
  1. ^ Appearance in United Counties League
  2. ^ Appearance in Manchester Senior Cup


  1. ^ a b c d "Arthur Wharton". 100 Great Black Britons.
  2. ^ Phil Vasili (1998). The First Black Footballer, Arthur Wharton, 1865–1930. Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-4903-1.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Arthur Wharton". Football Unites, Racism Divides. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
  4. ^ "Fate of Scotland's first black footballer revealed".
  5. ^ Moffitt, Dominic (14 October 2021). "Andrew Watson: The pioneering black footballer who turned pro at Bootle". Liverpool Echo.
  6. ^ "Wharton, Henry". A Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland.
  7. ^ "Arthur Wharton: The Early Years". Arthur Wharton Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 January 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d "Arthur Wharton: The first Black Footballer". BBC.
  9. ^ Vasili 1998, p. 63.
  10. ^ Taw, Thomas (2006). Football's Twelve Apostles: The Making of The League 1886–1889. Desert Island Books. p. 17. ISBN 1-905328-09-5.
  11. ^ "Preston North End v. Sheffield Wednesday and District". Sporting Life. 29 February 1888. p. 3.
  12. ^ "Mosforth's Benefit". Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 28 February 1888. p. 8.
  13. ^ "Old Sheffield Handicaps". Star Green 'Un. 30 November 1912. p. 4.
  14. ^ England & Wales, Free BMD Marriage Index, 1837–1915 for Emma pay to view
  15. ^ 1891 England Census for Arthur pay to view
  16. ^ 1901 England Census for Arthur pay to view
  17. ^ Chris Webber, "Black football pioneers from Arthur Wharton to Viv Anderson and beyond", The Observer, 30 August 2009.
  18. ^ White, Mark (27 October 2020). "The extraordinary story of Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer". Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  19. ^ Arthur Wharton Foundation. Archived 8 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Arthur Wharton: Campaign to honour football pioneer", BBC News, 7 January 2013.
  21. ^ Walker, Andy (6 June 2012). "FIFA boss touched by Wharton statue presentation". Northern Echo. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  22. ^ "Pioneer Arthur Wharton honoured at St. George's Park". The FA.
  23. ^ Nolan, Laura (28 October 2020). "Arthur Wharton mural launched in Darlington after 12 year labour of love". The Northern Echo.
  24. ^ "Art house: a celebration of football murals – in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  25. ^ Vasili, Phil (1998). The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865–1930. Frank Cass Publishers. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-7146-4459-2.
  26. ^ Vasili 1998, p. 70.
  27. ^ Richards, Keith. "1887-1888 F.A. Cup matches" (PDF). SoccerData. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 January 2022.
  28. ^ a b c d "The English National Football Archive". Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  29. ^ Clarebrough & Kirkham (2012). Sheffield United: The Complete Record. The Derby Books Publishing Company Limited. pp. 278–279. ISBN 978-1-78091-019-2.
  30. ^ Vasili 1998, p. 146.

Further reading

  • Phil Vasili, The First Black Footballer, Arthur Wharton, 1865–1930: an absence of memory, Frank Cass, 1998 (ISBN 0-7146-4903-1)
  • Phil Vasili Colouring Over the White Line. The History of Black Footballers in Britain (ISBN 1-84018-296-2)

External links

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