Honouring a pioneer
© Foto-net

One of football’s “forgotten heroes” moved another step closer to global recognition on 6 June when representatives of the Arthur Wharton Foundation travelled to FIFA’s Zurich headquarters to hand over a statue depicting the Africa-born goalkeeper in action.

Produced thanks to a charitable donation made by world football’s governing body, the statue is one of a special series honouring Wharton, with a similar hand-over having already taken place at the Wembley Stadium headquarters of The FA andanother one due to occur at UEFA’s base in Nyon, Switzerland, in the coming weeks.

Highly-regarded in the North of England as one of the leading sportsmen of his day, Wharton achieved many “firsts”, including setting the first world sprint record over 100 yards in 1886. When it came to football, he was the sport’s first black professional as well as the first black man to play in England’s top division.

Following his death in poverty in 1930, Wharton’s story slipped into obscurity for decades and it was only in 1997 that money was raised to mark his unmarked pauper’s grave with a headstone. Since then, the Arthur Wharton Foundation has been working to further raise awareness of the player and his story, while also promoting the continuing need for tolerance and racial equality in the modern day.

“I’m really proud to receive this statue of Arthur Wharton,” said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter at the June presentation. “It will undoubtedly have a very special place at the Home of FIFA and I see it as recognition for FIFA’s work against discrimination all over the world.

“Things have changed over the years, but things still need to move on. Football has to bring everybody together and I congratulate the foundation for the tremendous work they’re doing.”

The statue was formally handed over to the FIFA President by Dentaa, an award-winning Ghanaian entrepreneur and founder of the Ghana UK Based Achievement Awards, with Arthur Wharton Foundation founder Shaun Campbell also presenting a plaque portraying Wharton and a list of the clubs he played for.

“It’s a historic day for us and for football,” Campbell said. “This statue is a testimony of the work being done by FIFA for diversity and against any type of discrimination. To see Arthur Wharton being recognised, honoured, and celebrated at the highest echelon in football is wonderful news, both poignant and appropriate as a lasting tribute to his legacy as the world’s first black professional footballer. The pioneering legacy that Arthur has bequeathed is far-reaching and should never be forgotten.”