A CONTROVERSIAL housing development should be replaced with a sports academy honouring the world’s first black professional footballer, it has been urged.

Campaigner Shaun Campbell told planners that a scheme to build 82 homes at Feethams - the former home of Darlington Football Club - should be scrapped in favour of a lasting tribute to Arthur Wharton.

Mr Wharton - who died in 1930 – began his career playing as a goalkeeper for the Quakers, going on to achieve success with a number of high ranking teams.

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A statue of Mr Wharton stands at the headquarters of FIFA and campaigners are now urging Darlington Borough Council to pay tribute to the pioneering sportsman in the town where he made his name.

The issue was raised at a council planning meeting held to discuss slight alterations to the Feethams development by applicants Persimmon Homes, which has already cleared the site in preparation for work getting underway.

Mr Campbell – whose campaign to Save Feethams has attracted high profile support from the likes of Stan Collymore, Irvine Welsh and Fabrice Muamba - told councillors: “If you miss this opportunity, you are going to miss the most wonderful opportunity the town has had.

“You have a platform to do something wonderful and I would propose what we do is build a sports academy on the site.”

He asked planners to suspend their decisions to give him the opportunity to present proposals for an academy that would honour Wharton’s legacy by giving young people the chance to fulfil their potential through sport.

He added: “There are statues to Arthur Wharton around the world and there is about to be one 16-feet high unveiled at the home of the Football Association.

“To our great embarrassment, we do not have one in Darlington and I find that humbling.”

In response, the chair of the planning committee, Councillor Paul Baldwin, advised Mr Campbell that they would be unable to halt any building on the site as permission for the housing development had been granted in 2011.

When asked why he had not challenged the original proposals, Mr Campbell replied: “I really wish I had but I wasn’t really aware of them because I was so wrapped up in trying to celebrate a sporting icon.”

However, the planning committee agreed to ask developers to include markers reflecting Feetham’s heritage within the site.

For details of Arthur Wharton and his legacy, visit arthurwharton.com.