Baseball has Jackie Robinson, boxing has Jack Johnson and football has Arthur Wharton.

All of those men are icons and not just in their chosen sports.

The massive difference between them is when you say the name “Arthur Wharton” most people will say “Arthur who”.

Arthur Wharton is the world’s first black professional footballer, signed by Rotherham in 1889.

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This man is a pivotal reason football is seen how it is today, a game where black players and other races play as equals.

But unlike the Jackie Robinson or the Jack Johnson story, the Arthur Wharton story is virtually unheard and definitely untold.

It should be known to everyone, not just to those on a day trip to St George’s Park National Football Centre at Burton where a statue of him was unveiled on Thursday.

I’m not trying to suggest that Hollywood should turn his life into a movie, but I do think that his story should be given more airtime.

Wharton was born in Ghana.

His father, Henry Wharton, was half-Grenadian and half-Scottish, while his mother, Annie Florence Grant Egyriba, was a member of the Fante Akan royalty.

Wharton moved to England in 1882 and started off as an athlete.

He was the first sprinter to run 100 yards in ten seconds in authentic championship conditions, and he was also the first black Amateur Athletic Association champion.

But it is football for which Wharton is best known.

He was a keeper and started off playing as an amateur for Darlington.

His next move was to Preston North End where he was part of the team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1886-87.

In 1889, Wharton signed for Rotherham Town to become the world’s first black professional footballer.

He then moved to Sheffield United, even though he was understudy to legendary Blades keeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke.

During the 1894-95 season, Wharton became the first black footballer to play in the top flight in a first division game between Sheffield United and Sunderland.

Just like Jackie Robinson and Jack Johnson, Wharton had to fight for acceptance in his own sport and suffered racial abuse.

When Wharton retired he was hit by hard times and in 1930 he tragically passed away and was buried in an unmarked grave in Darlington.

But for the efforts of a Darlington businessman and Rotherham grandmother, the Arthur Wharton story would have been buried along with him.

Businessmen Shaun Campbell and grandmother Sheila Leeson have put a lot of time and effort to ensure that Wharton is not forgotten, but remembered and celebrated by all.

It wasn’t until the England v Ghana international in 2011 that I was aware of the Arthur Wharton story.

He is such an important figure to sport, let alone football, that it should be part of sporting education for all kids.

With enough media outlets, I feel it will be a shame if the Arthur Wharton story only gets told to visitors at St George’s Park.

I never knew about Wharton until late in my career, which is a crying shame.

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