Rotherham United: Millers honour black footballers’ pioneer

Injury worry Mark Bradley
Injury worry Mark Bradley
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Rotherham United are to have a statue at the New York Stadium to commemorate Arthur Wharton who became the world’s first black professional footballer when he signed for one of the club’s forerunners.

A special event at the stadium today will mark the 125th anniversary of Wharton joining Rotherham Town in 1889, a signing which saw him carve his own niche in football and sporting history.

A goalkeeper, he spent several seasons with the Town club who were to merge with local rivals Rotherham County in 1925 to become United.

Wharton also had spells with Sheffield United, Preston, Darlington and Stockport. He left Rotherham Town in 1894 having been a regular that season.

Renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson, from Barnsley - who has created world famous statues of stars from sport and entertainment - has been commissioned to sculpt the statue which is to be sited at the new ground.

“We will be proud to have this statue at our stadium to mark the achievements of this remarkable man who pioneered the way and created a heritage for black footballers in this country,” said a Millers spokesman.

The project has the support of players and football administrators across the country and those at today’s event will include former West Brom and England striker Cyrille Regis and former Manchester United and England goalkeeper Alex Stepney.

The local council is backing the plan along with the business community.

The Rotherham Sporting Guild has already attracted financial support and other commemorative events are planned.

Wharton, as a footballer, cricketer and record-breaking athlete, was very much a Victorian-age sporting star and Sheffield-based Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) produced their own Arthur Wharton Heritage Project after extensive research on his career.

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) are among those who have donated to FURD’s Wharton project which is used as an educational tool within schools across South Yorkshire.

The Millers have a fitness doubt over defender Mark Bradley for Saturday’s match at Carlisle but midfielder Rob Milsom is expected to return to the squad after a leg complaint.