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Celebrating: Arthur Wharton

To mark the start of Black History Month, we tell the story of the world's first black professional footballer

30 September 2020

Wednesday 28 October 2020 marks 155 years since the birth of Arthur Wharton – the world's first black professional footballer, and the first black player to feature in The Football League.

Born in Ghana, Wharton moved to England in 1882, aged 19, and started his football career at Darlington. Soon after making his debut, he was spotted by Preston North End and joined them as an amateur.

In his first season with the Lilywhites, the goalkeeper/winger was part of the team that reached the 1886/87 FA Cup Semi-Final before leaving football in 1888 to concentrate on running – he had equalled the amateur world record of running 100 yards in 10 seconds two years earlier.

Just a year later, Wharton returned to The Football League and signed his first professional contract with Rotherham Town, spending five years there before moving onto Sheffield United.

Wharton played three games for United, with the last coming against Sunderland in the First Division, making him the first-ever black player to appear in England's top flight.

There is a 16ft statue of him at St George's Park, the FA's national football centre, which was unveiled in 2014.

He is one of the early pioneers and trailblazers in sport, and his legacy lives on.


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