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Remembering Arthur Wharton: The First Black Pro Soccer Player


Arthur Wharton was a soccer player often mentioned the first Black footballer of note—although he started several years after Andrew Watson. From here, the distinction is made that Wharton was the first Black professional player. His career spanned a period of 17 years and eight teams.

Athletic Background

Born October 28, 1865, in Accra, Ghana (then Jamestown, Gold Coast), he arrived in England in 1882. The original intent was to train to become a missionary but opted to pursue sports soon afterward. Like many athletes from the period, he pursued a number of field and team sports such as track and field, cycling, cricket, and eventually football.


He would begin in the amateur leagues for Darlington where he played as a goalkeeper. In playing for Darlington, he would be scouted by Preston North End between 1886 and 1888.


Football Career

At the time, Preston North End was known as “The Invincibles” because it suffered no losses. Wharton would leave the team to focus on running but returned to play football for the Sheffield Wednesday and District club. During one game versus Preston North End, his performance in this game was said to have been responsible for the Wednesday’s loss in the FA Cup.

After washing out with Sheffield Wednesday, he joined Rotherham Town in 1889 as a professional and remained with the team for five years. By 1894 he joined Sheffield United as a backup goalkeeper. The 1890s would see him move through a number of teams after a few years. Arthur Wharton was with Stalybridge Rovers from 1895 to 1897 then moved on to Ashton North End where he remained until 1899 when the club went bankrupt.


He returned to the Stalybridge Rovers until 1901.  In his final year, he played for Stockport County in the Football League’s Second Division until 1902. Here, Wharton also played as a winger.


Later Life

In the 1890s, Arthur Wharton pursued a few business endeavors during his soccer career. Afterward, he developed a drinking habit and found work as a coal miner in Yorkshire. Wharton passed in December 1930 at 65. His grave was initially unmarked until he received a headstone in 1997 as part of the Football Unites, Racism Divides campaign. He was part of the 2003 class of the English Football Hall of Fame.


Written by PH

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