New movie on legendary Ghanaian-born goalkeeper Arthur Wharton

Legendary goalkeeper Arthur Wharton is the subject of a new film, shot in the north east of England. Entitled ‘The Rise of the North Star’ it is a reflection of his time at Darlington, where he first drew attention.

Wharton, born into a wealthy family, arrived in the town in 1882 from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) to train as a missionary. However sport began to dominate his life.

He joined Darlington three years later as an amateur and was in the Cleveland Challenge Cup-winning side before becoming Britain’s first black professional footballer. Now Mike Tweddle, a quarry inspector by profession, has directed a ten-minute film about Wharton’s early career for PER Productions.

The evocative snapshot of his life was shown to the cast and guests for the first time at the weekend and warmly received.

Darlington Railway Museum and Carmel College playing fields were used as the backdrop for the film with Phil Haymer, a council events officer, playing the leading role.

Tweddle plans to release the film in the next few weeks. He said: “It cost only £250 to make and only two days to complete but a lot of hard work went into the project.

“We were going to use a local football club but we had to look elsewhere as they were hosting a wild west convention. We ended up at a school playing field but that, to my mind, made it more authentic. It is an amazing story but also a sad one as he ended up destitute.”

Shaun Campbell, who set up the Arthur Wharton foundation, was thrilled with the result. Campbell, who also organised a small exhibition of Wharton memorabilia, said: “I found the film quite moving. Maybe that was because it involved local people using local resources.

“It was made on an extremely low budget yet the passion and commitment involved was a wonderful testament to Arthur Wharton.

“The mood and the theme of the film was just right. It did feel as if it was set in the correct time frame. They did a very good job in that respect.”

Wharton’s displays at Darlington soon took the eye of Preston North End and he joined them in 1886 – the year he set a world record time of ten seconds in the 100 yards at the AAA Championships at Stamford Bridge.

After helping the club reach The FA Cup semi-final in his first season he left in 1888 when they won the double after deciding to concentrate for a brief spell on his athletic career.

Wharton returned to the game with Rotherham and then had brief spells at Sheffield United, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County.

An accomplished cricketer and cyclist, Wharton spent most of his working life as a colliery haulage hand in South Yorkshire mines after retiring from football but fell on hard times. He was buried in an unmarked grave before the organisation Football United Racism Divides (FURD) provided funds for a headstone.

Wharton’s grandaughter Sheila Leeson was a guest of honour at Wembley in March when England played Ghana and a statue has been commissioned for his adopted home town of Darlington after The FA donated £20,000 to the project.

Campbell, who has persuaded luminaries like Rio Ferdinand and Stevie Wonder to support the Arthur Wharton Foundation, is enthused about the project.

He said: “The FA have been extremely supportive. We are now at the stage where the statue is about to be cast in bronze. So in the coming months we will see the realisation of the full statute. I am very excited about that.”


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