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Ghanaian-born and world’s first black pro-footballer Arthur Wharton gets £117,000 honour

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The first black professional footballer in the world, Arthur Wharton, who was born in Ghana and left the shores of Jamestown, a suburb in Accra in1882 to Britain, has been honored by the Heritage Lottery Fund in England.

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave a sum of £117,000 to the Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) which has been campaigning for Arthur Wharton to be honoured.

The Northern Echo in UK reports that the money will be spent on activities including a proposed film, drama workshops, a travelling exhibition, a Victorian sports day, teaching packs and an interactive website.

It is said to be the first time Arthur Wharton will be honoured publicly and in full glare.

The story of Arthur Wharton, believed to have been the world’s first black professional footballer when he played in England more than a century ago, is to be captured in full for the first time, the AFP reports today June 30, 2011.

Howard Holmes, the Director of FURD, based in Sheffield is quoted by the Northern Echo as saying “FURD has championed the incredible sporting life of Arthur Wharton for many years, but there is still so much that remains hidden.”

“There are many gaps in the knowledge we have about Arthur Wharton, and the material is currently scattered across several archives”, Fiona Spiers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for Yorkshire and the Humber said.

The Head of Arthur Wharton Foundation, Shaun Campbell said he is really pleased that the story and the campaign has elevated the name of Arthur Wharton.

“This little campaign in Darlington has significantly raised the awareness and his profile”, he said.

Wharton’s granddaughter, Sheila Leeson, was honoured by the English Football Association (FA) before the commencement of the Ghana-England game at Wembley on Tuesday March 29, 2011.

Ms Leeson received a plaque depicting her grandfather Arthur Wharton.

The man Arthur Wharton was born in the then Gold Coast, at James Town in Accra in 1865 to a mixed race parents. His father was half-Grenadian and half-Scottish, and his mother was from Ghanaian royalty.

Arthur moved to England to train as a Methodist missionary at a school in Cannock, Staffordshire. Available literature says he got bored with academic work and religious life and so he quit school to find expression in his sporting talents. He moved to the Durham area where he competed in an athletics competitions.

There he set a new world record of 10 seconds for the 100 yards dash at Stamford Bridge in July 1886. This achievement led to invitations to compete in professional athletics tournaments from which he could earn an income and make a living from sports.

During his athletics career, he drew attention to himself from football clubs.

He subsequently began his first professional career as a footballer with Preston North End. He joined the team in 1886 as a semi-professional player. He turned fully professional when he signed for Rotherham United in 1889 as a goalkeeper.

Arthur was noted for his exceptional skills as a goalkeeper in an era when forwards could legitimately charge onto a goalkeeper whether he has the ball or not. One commentator reportedly described an incident when Arthur grabbed on to the crossbar, hauling himself out of the way of three oncoming forwards, and caught the ball between his legs!

The high point of his career came in 1887 when he played for Preston in the FA Cup semi-final in which they lost 3-1 to West Bromwich Albion.

After this feat, there was speculations that he would be called up to play for England, but due to the racial prejudices of the time he never was called into the England squad.

By Ekow Quandzie with additional files from Emmanuel K. Dogbevi’s article.

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