Sporting history brought to life in film
The story of Britain’s first black professional footballer is to be brought to life in a new film commissioned by anti-racism project Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD).
‘The Arthur Wharton Story’ which has been made possible with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a donation from the Professional Footballers Association, explores Arthur’s remarkable journey from Ghanaian missionary’s son to South Yorkshire sporting legend.
The film premieres at the Void Cinema in the Owen Building of Sheffield Hallam University next Sunday (28 October), Arthur’s 147th birthday.
It is directed by Jenson Grant and stars Johny Pitts of ‘Escape from Scorpion Island’.
Howard Holmes, from FURD, explained: “Arthur Wharton’s story is so important because it shows there was a black presence at the dawn of the professional game. FURD has spent 16 years waiting in vain for someone to make a film about Arthur so, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and PFA, we have one at long last!
“In the light of the recent shocking events involving racist abuse and attacks upon black England players in Serbia it is even more important that we fully recognise the pioneering role that Arthur played and his relevance today.”
The Arthur Wharton Story forms part of a larger project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the PFA which sees FURD work in schools to re-tell Arthur’s story through art, drama and poetry workshops as well as through film.
A dedicated team of volunteer researchers involving school students, youth groups and members of South Yorkshire’s BME community, have also been busy putting together some of the missing fragments of Arthur’s life.
He was the first man to run 100 yards in ‘even time’ (10 seconds flat) and his footballing career included playing for Preston North End, Rotherham United, Darlington, Stockport County and Sheffield United. He also played cricket professionally in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
When Arthur made his league debut for the Blades at Sunderlandon 23rd February 1895 he became the first black footballer to play in the English First Division.
The film also explores Arthur’s later years at Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington, where he worked as a miner. He died in 1930 at the nearby Springwell Lane Workhouse, after a long and painful illness.
Fiona Spears, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund for Yorkshire and The Humber, said: “It is important that young people and community groups have been at the heart of this project to uncover the extraordinary life and achievements of this remarkable sportsman. Their efforts are bringing his story to a much wider audience and have as much relevance today as when Arthur was alive.”
Many of the researchers will attend the film premiere along with The Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor John Campbell.
Kim Grant, a Ghanaian-born relative of Arthur and a former professional footballer with Charlton Athletic, Luton Town and Millwall, will be present. Several former and current players, including Blades hero Brian Deane and Sheffield Wednesday star Jose Semedo, are also expected to attend.
Food and refreshments will be served, with the event running from 6.00pm till 9.00pm.