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Who Was the First Black Football Player in England?


England prides itself on being the home of soccer. How befitting is it that Arthur Wharton, the first black professional soccer player in the world, first played in England? Things might not have been rosy for him, but he certainly paved the way for many others after him. Without further ado, this is the life and times of the first black soccer player in England.

Arthur Wharton’s Life and Career

Arthur Kwame Wharton was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1865. His father, Henry Wharton, was a missionary of Scottish descent. His mother, Annie Florence Egyriba, was part of the royal family in Ghana. 

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At 19, Arthur travelled to England to become a missionary. However, things changed when he ditched missionary for sport.

Arthur joined Cleveland College in Darlington, where his sports career started. He competed in multiple disciplines – cricket, athletics, soccer, rugby, and cycling. He broke records in cycling when he became the fastest man to cycle between Preston and Blackburn

In athletics, he ran the fastest 100 yards in Stamford Bridge. That said, Arthur Wharton is best remembered for his soccer career.

Arthur started playing soccer at Darlington. This made him the first black professional soccer player in England. He was a goalkeeper and an excellent one at that. During this period, the championship didn’t exist, so he played in the FA Cup and district football.

It didn’t take long before Arthur was spotted by other teams, one of which was Preston North End. He signed for them and, in 1888, played in the FA Cup.  In the same year, he left soccer for running but returned after one year. This time, he joined Rotherham and played for the club for six years before he moved to Sheffield United.

After a season, Arthur joined Stalybridge. After one year, he went down the pecking order and couldn’t stand it. He signed for Stalybridge’s nemesis Ashton-under-Lyme. Unfortunately, in 1899, the club declared bankruptcy, leaving him without a club.

Two years later, he returned to the football league with Stockport County. After a year, he called it a day.  

Living in the Victorian Era

When Arthur Wharton began his career, there weren’t as many black people in England as now. Due to this, his presence in sports negatively attracted people’s attention. He and others like him weren’t welcomed. They missed out on opportunities that would make them national heroes.

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Did Arthur Wharton Play for England?

Unfortunately, Arthur Wharton never represented England in international tournaments. He reportedly was considered, but it never led to anything. The first black player to play for the national team was Viv Anderson

Life After Football

Post-retirement, Arthur Wharton worked in a coal mine and went to World War I. After his return, he struggled with alcoholism and went broke. He died in 1930 and was buried in Yorkshire, England.

Arthur Wharton never got international recognition. Nonetheless, he was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2014, Arthur’s stature was erected at St. Georges Park.

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