'Arthur Wharton's story will educate and inspire'

Friday 17 Oct 2014
The Arthur Wharton statue was unveiled at St. George's Park on 16 October

Arthur Wharton, the pioneer who became the game's first black professional, was remembered this week as the world of football came together at St. George's Park. 

A 16-foot bronze statue was unveiled on Thursday in front of a host of distinguished guests including former players, politicians - and even Wharton's great-granddaughter.

Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England, spoke of his joy at seeing Wharton's momentous achievements immortalised in bronze.

Arthur Wharton's statue unveiled

"It’s an unbelievable story," he told TheFA.com. "I spent half-an-hour with my mouth open thinking ‘he did what?’ 

"Both forms of rugby, cricket for Yorkshire, 100-yard world record in ten seconds, goalkeeper and winger.

"We talk about Ronaldo in this day and age, can you imagine him now? It’s an incredible story and the more people that know about him the better. 

"A lot of people will be coming for a lot of different reasons and they’ll walk past it and wonder what is that all about. They’ll look at it, look at the name, and they might do like I did and go on the internet and hopefully be inspired by him."

Anderson added: "You can’t really relate to what he must have gone through. In the 1800s, a goalkeeper as well. To relate to him in those days is very difficult. 

"The only way I can relate is that he was the first black player to have a professional contract and I happened to be the first black player that played for England. 

"So in those parallels you can, but generally no, I wouldn’t like to imagine what he must have gone through."

Les Ferdinand and Dave Regis were among the attendees at the unveiling of the statue

Meanwhile, St. George's Park chairman David Sheepshanks, who conducted the ceremony, added his own words of admiration.

"When you look at what this man achieved it’s simply extraordinary," he said.

"Imagine the courage he had to display to achieve what he did in those days. 

"We often talk how hard it is for young people from black and Asian minority backgrounds to get into top jobs today, so imagine what it was like then."

Former Arsenal midfielder and now the PFA’s head of coach development, Paul Davis, was also in attendance. 

He believes the statue will do more than just commemorate a great man - but in fact educate an entire generation.

"People have to know about what Arthur Wharton did in his time, and the statue is a wonderful way of commemorating what he achieved. 

The ceremony was conducted by St. George's Park chairman David Sheepshanks

"He’s inspired us all. I only heard about his career and his life about ten years ago, and the more you read about him, it just puts everything into perspective with where we are now and the issues that we’ve got going on.

"The publicity this statue will generate will definitely help. 

"The people that pass through this fantastic centre will read about Arthur. It’s a fantastic story. It’s inspiring, it’s enjoyable – it’s got everything there."

By Jamie Reid Senior Writer St. George's Park