How late England footballer Cyrille Regis helped world remember pioneering South Yorkshire player
Tributes are being paid this morning following the sudden death of former West Brom and England footballer Cyrille Regis at the age of 59.
The player, who helped pave the way for black footballers in the modern game, died last night from a heart attack.
And Regis, who scored 112 goals in 297 appearances for West Brom, was instrumental in helping to secure a place in football's history books for the game's first professional black player, who made his home and career in South Yorkshire.
The achievements of Arthur Wharton went largely unnoticed during his lifetime - but since his story was uncovered, there have been a number of tributes to him, with Regis among the names championing his contribution to the beautiful game.
Born on October 28, 1865 in Jamestown, Gold Coast, he moved to England in 1882, aged 19, to train as a Methodist missionary, but soon abandoned the idea in favour of becoming a full-time athlete.
He was an all-round sportsman - in 1886, he equalled the amateur world record of ten seconds for the 100-yard sprint and was also a keen cyclist and cricketer, playing for local teams in Yorkshire and Lancashire. However, Wharton is best remembered as a footballer.
He started playing as goalkeeper for Darlington, where he was spotted by Preston North End and was part of the team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1886-87.
He then joined Rotherham Town and later Sheffield United, where he was understudy to first-team goalkeeper William “Fatty” Foulke.
Having developed a drink problem, Wharton retired from football in 1902 and found employment at Yorkshire Main Colliery in Edlington.
On his death in 1930 he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The grave was given a headstone in 1997 after a campaign by anti-racism campaigners Football Unites, Racism Divides.
In 2003 Arthur was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame and in 2012, a small statue of the player was presented to Sepp Blatter at the headquarters of FIFA, where it is now on permanent display.
On 16 October 2014, a statue honouring Wharton was unveiled at St George’s Park National Football Centre in Burton.
Regis and fellow former West Brom star Brendon Batson were instrumental in helping honour Wharton, driving the push for a statue and meeting Mr Wharton's family at Wembley and along with fellow WBA star Laurie Cunningham, helped establish black players in the game.
Nicknamed the Three Degrees by their then-manager Ron Atkinson, the trio were subject to racist abuse from fans during the late 1970 and were honoured with a 10ft statue, called The Celebration, which was unveiled in West Bromwich in 2014.
At the time, Regis said: "We were part of that first generation of black players in this country and I'm sure that if you ask any second generation player they will tell you they were inspired by Laurie. That's why the statue will be so important."
Ironically, Regis also played his last ever football match against Doncaster Rovers, taking to the field with Wycombe Wanderers in February 1996 for a 2–1 win at the age of 38.