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Arthur Wharton: The world’s first professional black footballer

Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK during October since 1987. Each week this month, The New European is celebrating Black Britons who broke hard ground on the path we are still walking; towards a prejudice-free society.

A mural of Arthur Wharton, the first black footballer who turned out for Darlington, is unveiled to mark his 155th anniversary (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Arthur Wharton, commemorated here in a mural in Darlington, was the first professional black footballer in the world. Born in 1865 in Gold Coast (modern day Ghana), he moved to England aged 19 and took up athletics, claiming the world record of 10 seconds for the 100 yard sprint.

Spotted as a goalkeeping talent for Darlington, he was poached by Preston North End, later playing for Rotherham Town, Sheffield United and ending his football career with Stockport County in 1902.

After football, he fell into alcoholism and worked as a collier in Moorthorpe, Yorkshire. He died in 1930 and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Today, statues of Wharton stand in Darlington, the National Football Centre in Staffordshire, and the FIFA HQ in Zurich.

In 1997, his unmarked grave was graced with a tombstone paid for by anti-racism campaigners. It reads: “The dust of his toil laid traces that will never be covered.”

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