The first to know

Arthur Wharton, pioneer
Sought fame
Within a game
Not fear

That may have come later
Down in the deep dark bowels
Midst shouts and howls
Of a coal pit’s narrow crater

Possibly escaping there
Among the blacked up faces
In such confined spaces
Was a release, from the constant racist stare

First, he was a champion sprinter
Officially the fastest man on earth
So why then, was he given the berth
Between the posts, in danger of splinter?

Was it because he was black?
Was it the old Victorian way
Of letting him play
But making sure he came under attack?

For sure, it couldn’t have been easy
It never is, being the first
Lighting the way, with a burst
But suffering prejudice, bad enough to make you queasy

But he set the ball rolling
For society to accept
People just as adept
And to tackle bigotry, with more than a little cajoling


© Clik the mouse, 30.10.2002

Inspired by Crispin’s wonderful poem about the first black professional footballer, Arthur Wharton.
See Crispin’s A Burning Black Star – Arthur Wharton (1865-1930).
The following notes borrowed from Crispin’s addendum.

Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer, was born in the Gold Coast (now called Ghana) in 1865. Twenty one years later he became the first man in the world to run the 100 yards in 10 seconds at a national championship at Stamford Bridge.This has been accepted as the first world record in the event.
In 1884 he made his debut in first class football for Darlington, moving on to Preston North End, Rotherham, Sheffield United, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County. He died in 1930 a forgotten and penniless coal miner. His grave in Edlington, near Doncaster, lay unmarked until 1997 when Football Unites – Racism Divides raised more than £1000 to erect a headstone.

Source: https://footballpoets.org/news/2002/11/06/the-first-to-know/