Arthur Wharton: Meet the Gold Coaster who became the world's first black professional footballer

Arthur Wharton: Meet the Gold Coaster who became the world's first black professional footballer

Over 100 years ago, the world saw its first black professional footballer in the person of Arthur Wharton, a man born in Accra to a Grenadine father and a Gold Coaster mother.

Arthur Wharton in 1886 became the world's first black professional footballer after he ditched the hopes of his missionary father to become a missionary too. But not many know that Wharton was a Gold Coaster.

Wharton was born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on October 28, 1865, to Henry Wharton, a very well-known Methodist Missionary from Grenada and Annie Florence Egyriba, a royal of the Fante tribe in Ghana.

As a teenager, Wharton had athletic abilities only few could overlook. The legend of his pace for instance, is immortalised on his tombstone.

"Like an express train with full steam on from first to last", it is written.

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Wharton, who grew up in a rather affluent home, was sent to England at the age of 19 to study to become a missionary but the young man's heart was set on sports.

He began his footballing career as an amateur goalkeeper for Darlington in 1885.

His performances caught the attention of Preston North End who then signed him in 1886 and was part of the squad that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in the 1887/88 season.

Indeed, if he had chosen and if the politics of the day had permitted, Wharton could have excelled on the tracks.

He equalled the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) 100-yard sprint record of 60 seconds in 1886. That was how fast he was.

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Wharton took some time off football and after a year, signed for Rotherham Town F.C. where he remained till 1894.

Sheffield United then came calling for a short stint and then subsequently to Stalybridge Rovers in 1895.

In 1901, Wharton joined Stockport County where he played till his retirement at the age of 36 in 1902.

A number of the football clubs Wharton played for are still in the English football league system and pride themselves on having given a black man the chance to do something he loved when it was not a very popular thing to do.

Wharton died aged 64 in 1930 but was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003 for his impact on the game and culture.

For Ghanaians, Wharton will remain one of the pacesetters in the strife towards recognition and equality.

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