Arthur Wharton – A Burning Black Star -(1865-1930)

1 Leave a comment on verse 1 0 the name of Arthur Wharton may be distant as the stars
but once he shone a long long time ago
and you would never guess this at the mention of his name
the bravery audacity the struggle and the pain
the very first black player who ever graced the game
but nowadays I wonder how few know?

2 Leave a comment on verse 2 0 the sixties weren’t so ‘swinging’ when he came into this world
the Iv’ry Coast in eighteen sixty-five
when words like white supremacy
cut deeper than the eye could see
from India and Lipton’s tea to trying to stay alive

3 Leave a comment on verse 3 0 when boardrooms rang with history and power
and being black could set you on a limb
and even if you ran with speed to match some early train
or dared to dream of gracing the so-called People’s Game
you faced an up-hill struggle with your colour not the same
how I wonder what it felt like to be him?

4 Leave a comment on verse 4 0 for way up North in collieries and pit-shafts
where children worked the mines to stay alive
when slavery and servants were still common as the clay
those pompously Victorians with deeply classist ways
you barely want to think about the mood on any day
the things that people did to just survive

5 Leave a comment on verse 5 0 but he defied the cynics and the critics
when he became the fastest in the world
to run a hundred yards that day
at Stamford Bridge where still they play
ten seconds and he cast a ray
a flag of hope unfurled

6 Leave a comment on verse 6 0 then think upon the simple act of playing
for Darlington within a white man’s game
a scapegoat for a nation
all alone above his station
away outside of anything beyond imagination
to be out there though black and without shame

7 Leave a comment on verse 7 0 but stood between the goalposts was he proud to be a part
did they shower him with insults or with praise?
and most may not have noticed when they read out his name
to those behind the nets perhaps he even looked the same
with two strong arms but in his heart he surely felt the strain
and glad for no bananas in those days!

8 Leave a comment on verse 8 0 was he taunted like some monkey or an outcast
was her treated as a team-mate or a friend?
was he upright and undaunted by the colour of his skin
if he let the ball fly past him did the insults soon begin?
we have no way of knowing with the evidence so thin
forgotten and forsaken in the end

9 Leave a comment on verse 9 0 and take a look at this great game around you
am i alone in how i feel today
will we be strong when words are thrown
stay silent while they yell and moan
if there’s one thing i’ve always known
we’re human and we’re one in every way

10 Leave a comment on verse 10 0 while in an unmarked grave now gladly noted
near Doncaster there lies a pioneer
who took more risks than those today
a legend in his silent way
and we must emulate and pray
an end to hate draws near


Arthur Wharton (28 October 1865 – 13 December 1930) is widely considered to be the first black professional footballer in the world to play in the Football League.

He was born in Jamestown on the Gold Coast (now called Ghana). 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/poems/a-burning-black-star-arthur-wharton-1865-1930/