A stunning mural of the world’s first black professional footballer Arthur Wharton – who was also remarkably a record-breaking sprinter – was today unveiled in Darlington, the first club he played for.
Wharton, who was born in Ghana in 1865 before moving to England and becoming a sporting icon, has now had his extraordinary achievements celebrated in the town where it all began after a Darlington resident campaigned for 12 years.
Shaun Campbell finally fulfilled his mission to commemorate the life of Wharton as a mural of the pioneering sportsman, whose Ghanaian name, Kwame, comes from the day of the week he was born on, was unveiled on the side of a Darlington building that has been named ‘The Arthur Wharton Foundation’.
The momentous occasion marked the end of Campbell’s 12-year crusade to honour Wharton – and he believes the mural will help to bring the community together and teach local people about black history, diversity and equality.
‘I know how much this means – for Darlington to finally have a meaningful testament to the icon that is Arthur Wharton,’ he told the Northern Echo.
‘Black lives will only matter when black history is embedded in the fabric of our education system and culture.
‘Having an inspirational figure like Arthur to look up to will help us to do that.’
Wharton immigrated to Darlington as a 19-year-old to train as a missionary but soon abandoned those plans to pursue a career as an athlete.
He was a keen cyclist and played rugby and cricket but picked football and began his career as an amateur at Darlington in 1885.
Wharton was mainly used as a goalkeeper and was part of the team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in his second season before going on to represent Rotherham, Preston North End, Sheffield United, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End, and Stockport County during a career which spanned 17 years.
As well as his exploits in football, Wharton was well known for equalling the amateur world record of 10 seconds for the 100-yard sprint in the AAA championship at Stamford Bridge in 1886.
Wharton was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the impact he made on the game in 2003 while a statue in tribute to his contributions to the sport was also erected at St George’s Park National Football Centre in 2014.
The mural of him revealed today in Darlington was created by celebrated graffiti artist Jay Kaes and commissioned by BT Sport.
The town’s Mayor Chris McEwan was presented with a traditional ‘kente cloth’ from Ghana as he presented the artwork and said: ‘It is right and proper that Darlington recognizes Arthur Wharton in this way, particularly during Black History Month.
‘But in paying tribute to Arthur Wharton, we must also recognize the incredible work of Shaun Campbell.’
Campbell now plans to create a football pitch and running track on the historic Denes, the green areas directly outside the Arthur Wharton centre.