THE role of Rotherham grandmother Sheila Leeson in discovering the history of the world’s first black professional footballer Arthur Wharton is to be recognised by the FA at tonight’s friendly with Ghana at Wembley.
Sheila is the granddaughter of Arthur whose remarkable sporting feats, including a claim as the world’s fastest man, had been largely forgotten until she played a crucial part in uncovering his incredible story including playing in this area.
The FA will make her a special guest for the match with Ghana, Arthur’s home country then called Gold Coast.
He died in 1930, a couple of years before she was born, but Sheila’s interest was sparked one afternoon when looking through some old family photos. One of the pictures showed a handsome, young, black athlete with a giant trophy presented to him for winning the AAA’s blue riband 100 yards sprint at Stamford Bridge in 1886.
Her interest was fuelled by researcher Phil Vasili, who traced Arthur’s history in the mid-1990s, and she trawled through local public records before eventually locating Arthur’s grave, an anonymous pauper’s plot in Edlington cemetery at Doncaster.
Then, in 1997 Sharrow-based Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) unveiled a headstone on Arthur’s previously unmarked grave, following a public appeal fund.
FURD helped uncover the Wharton story which included playing for Rotherham Town, Sheffield United, Preston and Darlington among others in the late nineteenth century.
He was also the first man recorded to clock 10 seconds for the 100 yards and he was also a professional cricketer and a champion cyclist.
The FA are acknowledging the unique role played by Arthur as an early black pioneer at this first international between the two countries with Sheila joining modern-day black footballing pioneers Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson at Wembley as guests of the FA. FURD co-ordinator, Howard Holmes.
Meanwhile FURD are also taking 50 young people, staff and volunteers from FURD to the game but, unfortunately, they won’t get the chance to see former Sheffield United defender Kyle Walker make his full England debut.
The former Blades defender - the first player that FURD coaches recommended to Sheffield United when he was a youngster on one of their coaching sessions - has had to pull out with a groin injury.
Manager Fabio Capello will make wholesale changes from the side which beat Wales 2-0 with five who played, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Michael Dawson and Ashley Cole all released back to their clubs.