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TV tribute to football pioneer Arthur

Latest news from the Lancashire Evening Post

Latest news from the Lancashire Evening Post

A documentary about the life of Britain’s first professional black footballer – who played for Preston North End – is being broadcast tonight.

Arthur Wharton played for now-defunct amateur clubs Stalybridge Rovers and Ashton North End. The goalkeeper made history when he signed for Darlington in 1885.

He went on to play for the era’s top team, Preston North End, and a host of other league clubs.

His time in Tameside was remembered last year when a blue plaque was unveiled at Curzon Ashton’s Richmond Street ground. His legendary skill on the pitch was overshadowed for over a century by racism, but he has now become a figurehead for equality in the game - with a statue of him taking pride of place at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Tonight’s film follows his grandaughter, Sheila Leeson, 81, and her journey to Ghana after discovering Arthur was her grandfather.

He was born in Ghana to a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother in 1865. The family sent him to England to study to become a Methodist minister - but instead he excelled on the sport field, notching up the world record for the hundred yard sprint.

Arthur’s biographer, Phil Vasili, said: “If we look at Arthur’s achievements in the context of today, it would be like Usain Bolt turning out for Manchester United on a Saturday.

“If Usain Bolt was doing that, we would think him the greatest athlete that ever lived.”

Arthur’s career was blighted by racial abuse from football writers and even his fellow sportsmen. His fortunes continued to fade when he moved into running pubs, and started to drink. The once gifted sportsman ended up living in poverty.

He died destitute in 1930, and lies buried in an unmarked grave. Arthur’s legacy lives on through the Arthur Wharton Foundation after he was inducted into the FA’s Hall of Fame in 2003.

∂ Inside Out Arthur Wharton will be shown on BBC One at 7.30pm

 
 
 

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