Film honours Britain’s first black footballer Arthur Wharton

A FILM about Britain’s first black footballer which was shot in the region has gone on show.

A FILM about Britain’s first black footballer which was shot in the region has gone on show.

The Rise of the North Star – a 10-minute film – is a reflection of Arthur Wharton’s time in the North East and has been seen by Football Association guests and students from Durham Johnston School this week.

In 1884, aged 19, Arthur moved from Ghana to the North East to train as a Methodist preacher at Cleveland College, Darlington.

His sporting prowess was spotted at Darlington Football Club, where he was selected to play as goalkeeper.

Arthur became the first black professional footballer in Britain.

In 1885/86 season, while still a Darlington player, Arthur was selected for the prestigious Newcastle and District team. At that time it was the best in the city and far superior to the West End and East End sides which later combined to form Newcastle United. He later played for Preston North End, Sheffield United and Rotherham United.

But he excelled at any sport he tried, even setting a record time for cycling between Preston and Blackburn in 1887.

In 1886 Arthur became the fastest man in Britain winning the Amateur Athletics Association national 100 yards champion at Stamford Bridge, London – the first time the trophy was won by a Northerner.

Mike Tweddle, a quarry inspector from Darlington, has directed the film about Wharton’s early career for PER Productions.

Darlington Railway Museum and Carmel College playing fields were used as the backdrop for the film with Phil Haymer, a Darlington Borough Council events officer, playing the leading role.

Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer in Britain at Darlington.

Mr Tweddle said: “It cost only £250 to make and only two days to complete but a lot of hard work went into the project. We were going to use a local football club but we had to look elsewhere as they were hosting a wild west convention.

“We ended up at a school playing field but that, to my mind, made it more authentic. It is an amazing story but also a sad one as he ended up destitute.”

Shaun Campbell, who set up the Arthur Wharton foundation, was thrilled with the result. He said: “I found the film quite moving. Maybe that was because it involved local people using local resources.

“It was made on an extremely low budget yet the passion and commitment involved was a wonderful testament to Arthur Wharton. The mood and the theme of the film was just right. It did feel as if it was set in the correct time frame. They did a very good job in that respect.”

Arthur Wharton was buried in an unmarked grave before the organisation Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) provided funds for a headstone.

His granddaughter Sheila Leeson was a guest of honour at Wembley in March when England played Ghana and a statue has been commissioned for his adopted home town of Darlington after The FA donated £20,000 to the project.

In 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the impact he made on the game. The film with its anti-racism theme will be distributed to schools, community groups and football clubs.


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