At midday today, a ceremony in Darlington will mark an emotional milestone for a man who made it his life's mission to celebrate the life of the world's first black professional footballer...PETER BARRON reports

WITH a statue already erected, and Marcus Rashford, Stevie Wonder, and Usain Bolt among the long list of celebrities on his team, Shaun Campbell could be forgiven for believing he’d reached his goal.

But 12 years after he set out on his mission to commemorate the life of the world’s first black professional footballer, Shaun considers today to be “just the beginning”.

Today is nevertheless a special day in an extraordinary story about one man’s determination to tell the world about Arthur Wharton, the Ghanaian immigrant who made history as Darlington Football Club’s goalkeeper.

At midday, a stunning mural of the pioneering sportsman will be unveiled on the side of a Darlington building that has beeen named “The Arthur Wharton Foundation”.

For Shaun, it will signal the beginning of the latest chapter of his campaign to use the spirit of Arthur to bring the community together in a way that teaches the people of Darlington about black history, diversity, and equality.

“Black lives will only matter when black history is embedded in the fabric of our education system and culture,” says Shaun. “Having an inspirational figure like Arthur to look up to will help us to do that.”

Shaun came to Darlington 38 years ago to visit his brother, Neville, who was a dancer at the town’s Arts Centre. “I only intended to stay for a week,” he laughs.

Their father, Neville, was from Barbados – part of the Windrush generation – and their mother, Mary, from Leeds, where they grew up with two other brothers.

Having built a life for himself as an artist, composer, and businessman, Shaun vividly remembers the first time he stumbled across Arthur Wharton’s name.

He’d been asked to speak during Black History Month, at Middlesbrough Town Hall, in October 2007, with a brief to enlighten the audience about the influence of black people on music. While he was there, he saw a brochure featuring Arthur’s epic life story.

Arthur was born in Ghana on Saturday, October 28, 1865 – the year slavery was abolished in America – and he moved to Darlington when he was 19 to train as a Methodist preacher at Cleveland College.

Instead, he embarked on a glittering sporting career, which included becoming the world's fastest man when he won a race over 100 yards at Stamford Bridge, in London, in 1886.

His athleticism caught the eye of Darlington Football Club, where he was made goalkeeper, and became the world’s first professional black footballer. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also a record-breaking cyclist, cricketer and rugby player.

“I couldn’t believe I’d never come across Arthur’s story, and if I hadn’t heard it, I realised that there was a need to campaign to celebrate his life,” recalls Shaun.

Since then, Shaun’s life has been devoted to cementing Arthur’s legacy. Middlesbrough footballer George Boateng, also born in Ghana, became campaign patron, t-shirts were distributed, and word began to spread.

Somehow, Shaun assembled an extraordinary collection of celebrities to publicly declare their support for the campaign. They include black footballers Marcus Rashford, Rio Ferdinand, Viv Anderson, Les Ferdinand, Chris Hughton, Emile Heskey, Luther Blissett, Chris Powell, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs.

Away from football, other supporters of The Arthur Wharton Foundation include the unlikely combination of Usain Bolt, Stevie Wonder, Jay Leno, and Booker T and the MGs' guitarist Steve Cropper.

The campaign might easily have reached a natural end in 2014 when a 16-feet bronze statue of Arthur was unveiled at the FA’s national football centre, at Burton, with the support of a £17,500 UEFA grant.

But that was never going to be the end for Shaun, and today – on the 155th anniversary of Arthur’s birth – the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Chris McEwan, will unveil the striking mural on the wall of the Arthur Wharton Foundation, in Widdowfield Street.

The building is a goal-kick away from the Head of Steam museum, housing another world first: Locomotion No 1, which hauled the first passenger train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.

The work of art, created by renowned graffiti painter Jay Kaes, was commissioned by BT Sport after Danny Howes, a Darlington-born employee of BT, brought the story to the company's attention.

The mural will also feature Arthur's Ghanaian name, Kwame – meaning “born on Saturday” – and the unveiling will be accompanied by the release of 155 videos clips by prominent figures, each declaring: “Arthur Wharton – number one.”

The bigger picture is for the Foundation building to become a community hub, and it is already being used by the Probation Service, as well as for fitness classes. There are also plans for a football pitch and running track on The Denes outside, for local schools to use.

“It will be a community focal point, where people can mix, and learn about Arthur Wharton and all he represented,” he says.

And then comes the next stage in Shaun's vision: another statue of Arthur – this time on the roundabout outside the Feethams sports ground, where the first black professional footballer made history.

“The unveiling of the mural will be a momentous day but, honestly, it’s just the kick-off,” he says.

There will be those who say it’s all too far-fetched, and that Shaun Campbell is a dreamer.

But, to be fair, they said that when he set out on his glorious obsession, promising to recruit Marcus Rashford, Usain Bolt, Stevie Wonder and all the others as supporters.

IT was Shaun Campbell, of course, who played a starring role in efforts to save Darlington FC from administration in 2012.

As administrator Harvey Madden prepared to consign the club to history, I was among the press pack, standing outside The Northern Echo Arena.

Suddenly, a car screeched up and Shaun jumped out, waving a briefcase, and shouting: "Don't do it, Harvey. We've got the money – we've got the £50,000."

It was enough to persuade Harvey to drive to Blackwell Grange Hotel for a private meeting with campaigners, aimed at securing a stay of execution.

Having been discreetly invited by Shaun to follow, I was smuggled into the meeting, with the administrator unaware that I was actually the editor of The Northern Echo, and secretly Tweeting live updates from under the table.

Since that day, there's been a question in my mind and I finally got round to asking Shaun it last week: "Did you really have £50,000 in that briefcase?"

"No," he smiled. "Just a load of old documents about the Arthur Wharton campaign."