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Documentary to chart the life of football pioneer
A DOCUMENTARY charting the life of the world's first black professional footballer, who started his career in the North-East, will be screened tonight. (Monday, January 7)
Arthur Wharton played in goal as an amateur for Darlington FC in 1885, before becoming a professional when he turned out for Preston North End.
The BBC series Inside Out is on BBC1 at 7.30pm. It will explore his legacy and why it has taken more than a century for him to be recognised as a pioneering sportsman.
The film follows his granddaughter Sheila Leeson, 81, as she travels to Ghana where she discovered that the man she thought was a distant relative was actually her own grandfather.
She described a meeting with family members she never knew she had as “the greatest day of my life”. The film also looks at Wharton’s early life in Ghana, where he was born to a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother and his prowess on the sports field.
At one time Wharton held the world record for the 100 yard sprint and competed at high levels in cycling, cricket and rugby, before settling on football.
Despite his talent, Wharton was the target of racial abuse for much of his career and eventually abandoned the football pitch to a run a pub, where he took to drink.
He died destitute in 1930 at the age of 65 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
A long-running campaign to give Arthur Wharton the recognition he deserves is led by Shaun Campbell, of Darlington, who runs the Arthur Wharton Foundation.
There are also plans to build statues commemorating his status as the world’s first professional black footballer at Wembley Stadium and at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich.
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