Rotherham United hope to host Manchester United in a special match as part of the Arthur Wharton Tribute project which was launched at the New York Stadium yesterday.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of Arthur Wharton becoming the world’s first black professional footballer when he signed for Rotherham Town (one of United’s forerunners) in 1889 and his legacy continues to impact on the game.
Among those at the launch and supporting the project were Cyrille Regis, former England international striker and Alex Stepney representing Manchester United who, as Newton Heath, provided the final opposition for Wharton.
Businessman Jim Cadman, from the Arthur Wharton Guild, outlined some of the plans for the project including a tribute dinner and the 125 Challenge Match involving the Millers and Manchester United with plans for special shirts for the occasion and a special commemorative badge.
Regis, whose West Brom debut was against Rotherham United in a League Cup-tie in 1977 when he scored twice, unveiled a model of the bronze statue which will commemorate Wharton’s achievements and stand outside the New York Stadium.
Regis, who noted how he and two Albion colleagues Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham, were subjected to racist abuse in their playing days of the late 70s and 80s
Cadman said internationally renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson, from Barnsley, has designed it as a work of art.
“Something that happened in Rotherham all those years ago has reverberated around the world and what he did then led the way for others years later and it is a truly important part of football history,” he said.
Millers chairman Tony Stewart said he was “totally engaged” with the project.
“We are against racism and people will see this, even when passing the stadium on a train, and ask what it’s about and we will be delighted and honoured to have it,” he said. “Arthur’s is a truly remarkable story.”
Rotherham Council are supporting it along with footballers and administrators across the country with the PFA set to give their backing.