Friday, November 7, 2014

News: Arthur Wharton statue project gathers momentum

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Businesses are being given the unique opportunity to support a project that recognises the achievements and legacy of footballing pioneer, Arthur Wharton in Rotherham, the town where he made history 125 years ago.

Born in Ghana in 1865, Wharton moved to the UK in 1882 and was signed by Darlington at the age of 19. He had moved to Darlington with the intention of training as a Methodist missionary but opted instead to become a full-time athlete.

And during a career that spanned 17 years, he went on to play as a goalkeeper for Preston North End, Rotherham Town, Sheffield United and Stockport County.

Not just skilled with a ball, Wharton was a true all-round athlete. In 1886 he became the Amateur Athletics Association's national 100-yard running champion – and become the first man to run 100 yards in ten seconds flat.

Last month, a statue honouring Arthur Wharton was unveiled at St. George's Park, the FA's multimillion pound National Football Centre in Burton. But it is his connection to Rotherham that sees seasoned fund-raiser, Jim Cadman spearhead a campaign for a statue at Rotherham United's New York Stadium.

It was at Rotherham Town in 1889 that Arthur Wharton became the world's first black professional footballer.

125 years on, a statue has been created by renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson, whose previous public art projects include Don Revie, William Webb-Ellis, Dickie Bird, Les Dawson and Eric Morecombe. The latest statue captures Wharton leaping for the ball with three figures used to capture the movement of him in full flight. At five metres high, it will be sited in a prime position in front of the £20m New York Stadium.

Cadman and Ibbeson were joined by Rotherham United's chairman, Tony Stewart, and manager, Steve Evans, at the recent meeting of the Rotherham United Business Club, organised by Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber, to launch the statue project to the business community.

Cadman discussed Arthur's story, which has been brought to prominence by the work of Sheffield charity, Football Unites, Racism Divides, and how the local business community will play an important role in the project, which is a private initiative.

Cadman said: "Our fundraising strategy will be to involve the local community in Rotherham, business and commerce in the area, Millers fans throughout the country and football supporters all over world."

One of the opportunities involves joining the "Arthur Wharton Guild" which sees just 25 exclusive members pledging funding in return for a maquette of the statue, invites to VIP events, a golf day and a plaque at the foot of the finished statue.

Members of the guild include Tony Stewart, pioneering footballer Cyrille Regis, legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King III, who has taken a keen interest in including Arthur's story in the National Center for Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta.

Set to create a positive focus on Rotherham, a business conference is also planned for 2015.
Another local football pioneer, Howard Webb MBE has recently donated his fee from hosting the recent Barnsley and Rotherham Business Awards for Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber. The former police sergeant, who refereed the FIFA World Cup Final, UEFA Champions League Final and the FA Cup Final, split his fee between Rotherham Hospice and Barnsley Hospice.

Arthur Wharton Tribute website
Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber website

Images: Graham Ibbeson / Rotherham Hospice

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