Arthur Wharton

Week 56 (11 - 17 October 2014)

In football, sometimes it takes a goalkeeper to move the goalposts. That was the case in England at the end of the 19th century when Arthur Wharton, a young Methodist missionary from Ghana, signed for Rotherham football club, and in doing so became the world's first black professional footballer.

And it was the case this week as well, as England's Football Association unveiled a statue to Wharton – diving backwards to tip the ball over the bar in heroic fashion – in recognition of his grounbreaking achievements in sport.

Those achievements include a 17-year professional career in football – playing for sides such as Preston, Rotherham, Darlington and Sheffield United; and, away from the football field, becoming the Amateur Athletics Association's national 100-yard running champion in 1886.

Yet despite his success, Wharton was never fully accepted and ended his days in a workhouse hospital in Doncaster, penniless, and buried in an unmarked grave.

But his life's ups and downs speak louder than ever in the modern day – and also serve to highlight just how far equality in sport has come in the last century.

Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England in a full international, was at the ceremony marking the erection of Wharton's statue and said simply: "Wharton's story has to be told."

David Sheepshanks, the Chairman of St. George's Park – England's National Football Centre – where the statue has been placed, elaborated on Anderson's words in his speech, saying:

"When you look at what this man achieved it's simply extraordinary. Imagine the courage he had to display to achieve what he did in those days.

"We often talk how hard it is for young people from black and Asian minority backgrounds to get into top jobs today, so imagine what it was like then.

"Certainly not enough people know about his story and we're going to embrace it in the tour programmes of all the young people and schools that come here.

"We are here to embrace talent from wherever it comes. Hopefully today will be a moment in time that everyone will look back and say 'you know from that day onwards opportunities grew – no matter what background you came from'."

Photo: BBC