Rotherham salutes Arthur Wharton, the ground-breaking black footballer

THE world's first black professional footballer has been honoured with a blue plaque at the ground where he made history more than a century ago.
Arthur WhartonArthur Wharton
Arthur Wharton

Arthur Wharton made his debut for Rotherham Town in 1889, six years after moving to the country from the Gold Coast, now Ghana.

Able to turn his hand to many sports, he was good at cricket rugby, cycling and athletics and in 1886 won the 100 yards dash in the AAA championships in a world record time of 10 seconds, a record that stood for 30 years.

A talented goalkeeper, Wharton signed for Town in 1889 and four years later he made more history in a match against Wallsall by making the first appearance in the Football League by a black footballer.

The plaque at the entrance to Clifton Lane was uneviled by former pro Ken Monkou, ambassador for Show Racism the Red Card, and was organised by Rotherham Civic Society.

Its treasurer Bernard Fletcher said: “Arthur Wharton played for the club at the historic Clifton Lane sports ground during a period of social unrest during the 1890s. There is no doubt that he experienced bigotry and racial spite in those days. However, he was a strong character who managed to overcome these issues and was successful in life.”

Among those in attendance were Arthur's relatives and David Speedie, the former Barnsley and Chelsea player who looks after Arthur’s grave in Edllington. It had laid unmarked until the Arthur Wharton Foundation provided a headstone in 1997. 

Its founder, Shaun Campbell, described Wharton as “the greatest all-round sportsman the world has ever seen" and someone of whom Rotherham should be rightfully proud.

Speeches were also delivered by former Advertiser sports reporter Les Payne and by local councillor Michael Bennett-Sylvester, a long-time Foundation supporter and passionate about raising Arthur’s profile in the town. Local historian Peter Feek also assisted.

Rotherham United were represented at the unveiling at Clifton Lane, the home of Rotherham Rugby Club and Rotherham Town Cricket Club, by chief operating officer Paul Douglas.

The ceremony fell exactly 134 years to the day since Arthur made his first appearance for Town. He also played for Darlington, Preston, Sheffield United and Stockport County.

We’ll have a full feature in next week’s Advertiser.