Arthur Wharton: Usain Bolt Jay Leno and Marcus Rashford join a campaign to celebrate Preston North End ace and Britain's first black footballer

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Celebrities from around the globe are backing an appeal to get trailblazing Preston North End footballer Arthur Wharton a blue plaque.

Jay Leno, Usain Bolt, Marcus Rashford, Viv Anderson, Trevor Nelson and Les Ferdinard are just some of the high-profile names from the world of sport and entertainment who have leant their name to the Arthur Wharton Foundation Appeal. Regarded as the first black professional footballer in the world, he made his name as a goalkeeper for Preston North End in 1886-7, as well as excelling in athletics.

Despite his achievements, on his death in 1930 he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave, and it is only in recent years that his achievement has been recognised fully. Now Prestonians are being urged to look in their archives and in their basements for information on Arthur that could help get a blue plaque in his memory in the right place.

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"Do Arthur proud in Preston”

Shaun Campbell, of the Arthur Wharton Foundation, said: “When you think of the history of Preston and Arthur Wharton playing for the club in 1886/7, it’s literally the beginning of the black presence in football and in sport, arguably not just in this country but across the globe. We are really excited and I would ask anybody in the Lancashire area, can you search your archives, and if you have pictures of your great-great-grandfathers playing sport and football, you may have a picture of Arthur.

"That would be tremendous, we’d love that. And of course we would love to come to Preston as a Foundation and do Arthur proud in Preston, but we want the people of Preston to want it. So come on board with us and help us get this blue plaque and put it in the right place. Literally go into your lofts, your bedrooms and your basements and see if there’s any old photographs or any old reference, because the holy grail of course would be to be able to hear Arthur speak or to see him moving on old cinefilm.”

Who was Arthur Wharton?

Arthur “Kwame” Wharton was born in Jamestown, Ghana in 1865. In 1883, he moved to England to train as a Methodist missionary, but soon abandoned this in favour of becoming a full-time athlete. He was an all-round sportsman – in 1886, he equalled the amateur world record of 10 seconds for the 100-yard sprint and was also a keen cyclist and cricketer.

Arthur Wharton was the game's first professional black player. Arthur Wharton was the game's first professional black player.
Arthur Wharton was the game's first professional black player.

But he was to make his name in football – and is widely considered to be the first black professional footballer in the world. He started as an amateur playing as a goalkeeper for Darlington, where he was spotted by Preston North End. He joined PNE and was part of the team that reached FA Cup semi-finals in 1886–87.

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During the third round victory against Renton, Wharton's clean sheet was described by Athletic News as "one of the best exhibitions of goalkeeping I have seen for a long time”. Though he was part of "The Invincibles" of the 1880s, he left Preston in 1888 to concentrate on his running. He later became a cycling champion, professional cricketer and a rugby player. In May 1997, Arthur’s grave was given a headstone after a campaign by anti-racism organisation Football Unites Racism Divides for recognition of his achievements.