Arthur Wharton was born on October 28, 1865, in Accra, Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, West Africa.
His father, Henry Wharton, was a well-known Methodist Minister and Missionary from Grenada in the West Indies, and his mother, Annie Florence Egyriba, was a descendant of the Fante Royal Family.
Arthur’s paternal grandfathers were both Scottish traders. One of his great grandmothers was a slave of African-Grenadian origin.
On this day in 1865, Arthur Wharton was born in Ghana. 🇬🇭
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) October 28, 2021
Arthur’s uncle was a successful businessman and the owner of the Gold Coast Times on his mother’s side.
At the age of 19, Arthur moved to the North East to train as a Methodist preacher at Cleveland College in Darlington.
He began his incredible sporting careers while still in college, competing as a ‘gentleman amateur’ at the time.
He was a natural at everything he tried (even setting a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn in 1887).
Arthur became the fastest man in Britain in 1886, when he won the Amateur Athletics Association national 100 yards champion at Stamford Bridge in London, the first time the trophy was won by a Northerner.
His athletic ability was recognized at Darlington Football Club, where he was chosen to play goalkeeper. Arthur was the first black professional footballer in the United Kingdom.
He was described as magnificent,’ ‘invincible,’ and superb at Darlington.
There was no league championship back then, so the FA Cup, along with district and county matches, was the main competition.
While still a Darlington player in 1885/86 season, Arthur was selected for the prestigious Newcastle and District team. It was the best in the city at the time, far superior to the West End and East End sides that later merged to form Newcastle United.
He earned a reputation for being eccentric, as did many other great goalkeepers before and after him! He would crouch at the side of the goal before sprinting out to save the ball.
His performance for Darlington drew the attention of Preston North End, who signed him. He was a member of their FA Cup team in 1886/7, while also playing for Darlington.
He left the region in 1888 to become a professional runner in Sheffield, but after a year, he returned to football, signing for Rotherham, where he stayed for six years before moving to Sheffield United for a season.
After a year at Stalybridge, he fell out of favour and joined rivals Ashton-under-Lyme in 1897, where he stayed until they went bankrupt in 1899.
At the age of 36, he returned to the Football League with Stockport County after another spell with Stalybridge. In 1902, he announced his retirement.
Arthur was offered a cricket-coaching job in County Durham in 1914, but he declined due to a lack of work to supplement his wages.
In 1915, he moved to Edlington, Doncaster, possibly to look for work. At Yorkshire Main Colliery, he worked as a haulage hand. Between 1915 and 1918, he also served in the Home Guard.
Arthur continued to play cricket and run. Even in his 50s, an eyewitness said, ‘he could catch pigeons.’
One of our forgotten heroes, Arthur Wharton, born in Ghana in 1865.
In 1883 he moved to England where he became the first black professional footballer, the first official fastest man whose record held up for over 30 years, a professional cricketer and a rugby player. pic.twitter.com/WviMQXZrmF
— Facts About Africa (@OnlyAfricaFacts) October 28, 2021
Arthur undoubtedly participated in the 1926 General Strike, which lasted seven months and caused great hardship for the miners.
Arthur died penniless in the Springwell Sanitarium in Balby in 1930 and was buried in Edlington Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
A memorial stone is placed over Arthur Wharton’s grave in Ellington Cemetery, Doncaster, during a special ceremony in 1997.