This Was Reality For The Best Football Player Around
Arthur Wharton’s missionary father, and his mother, who was a royal member of the Fante tribe in Ghana, sent him to England to attend college, away from the distraction of violent uprisings against British rule.
They wanted him to become a preacher, but 19-year-old Arthur had a better idea.
He defied all expectations by excelling in sports like rugby and cricket - even setting sprinting records.
But his athletic career really took off one fateful day in 1885 when Arthur laced up for the legendary Preston North End football (soccer) team.
Fans marveled at the first ever Black professional football player. As the quickest goalkeeper in the league, they called him “magnificent” and “invincible.”
Teams clambered to sign him and he knew exactly how to leverage the appeal his showy field tricks had on crowds when negotiating his contract with team management.
His pro career lasted until age 36. But after retiring from the only profession he had ever known, he struggled to find well-paying work.
This was before lucrative endorsement deals and sports commentator gigs were the norm.
Despite dying penniless, his legacy shines brightly today. Black players have Wharton to thank for integrating England’s most popular professional sport.
Wharton’s biographer Phil Vasili agrees that although he “ended his days sadly… he was not a sad figure, he did things his own way, despite obstacles put in his way."
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