MUSIC legend Stevie Wonder has backed a campaign to honour the first professional black footballer in the world.
The Motown star stunned a capacity 12,000 audience at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena when he halted his set to unveil a statue of former Darlington FC goalkeeper Arthur Wharton.
Wonder was joined on stage by former Middlesbrough captain George Boateng and Darlington-based campaigner Shaun Campbell, of the Arthur Wharton Foundation.
Mr Campbell said a few words to the crowd about Wharton’s life, before Monday night’s concert continued.
The figure unveiled by Wonder, depicting the Ghanaian sporting pioneer making a save at full stretch, is a scale model of a statue the foundation is hoping to build in Darlington.
Mr Campbell, who runs Drum Furniture, in the town’s Grange Road, said it was an unbelievable experience.
“It was incredible,” he said.
“We just weren’t expecting it – to be on stage with Stevie Wonder. It means everything to the campaign to have Stevie Wonder, the biggest icon for black achievement in America, behind us. He remembered everything I told him about Arthur Wharton.
It was very emotional.”
George Boateng, who is patron of the foundation, said: “To be on the same stage as Stevie Wonder, celebrating the Arthur Wharton campaign, is testament to how far the campaign has come.”
Wharton played for the Quakers for three years from 1885. During this time, he also set a world record for the 100 yard sprint.
Despite playing for a handful of clubs around the country, he died destitute and an alcoholic in 1930.
He is buried at Edlington, in South Yorkshire.
Mr Campbell said Wonder had given the campaign a timely boost, with Black History Month taking place throughout next month.
“It’s not just about Arthur Wharton as a person, but about Arthur Wharton as a symbol of black achievement,”
“I would like to say a big thank you to Ray Williams, the man who discovered Elton John, and Keith Harris, former chairman of Motown Records, without whom none of this could have been possible.”