Netflix has commissioned Julian Fellowes, the creator of the award-winning historical period drama Downton Abbey, to write a new TV series exploring the early development of modern football and how its creation “reached across the class divide” as Etonians and factory workers came together to create the world’s most popular sport.
The origins and early history of association football is certainly full of prestigious names and colourful characters. People like Charles William Alcock, the Sunderland ship merchant who invented the FA Cup, and William McGregor, who ran a draper’s shop and established the Football League in 1888 with his club Aston Villa. So Fellowes will have no shortage of potential content. But will he look to explore the stories of less renowned figures such as Arthur Wharton, Walter Tull and Frank Soo?
All three were early non-Caucasian pioneers in British football that had to face and overcome racial barriers, both on and off the pitch as “men of colour”. Yet most people will never have heard of them. There is a danger that their stories, along with other less prominent players, will disappear from the collective memory of society, and their accomplishments, achievements and struggles will be forgotten if we don’t give them the credit they deserve by remembering them.
The first professional
Arthur Wharton is widely accepted as the first professional non-Caucasian football player in the world after he appeared for Rotherham United in 1889. Born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now Ghana), he was a talented all round athlete who was renowned for his “prodigious punch” when playing as a goalkeeper and for equalling the amateur world record of ten seconds for the 100-yard sprint. Wharton played for numerous clubs as both an amateur and professional, including Preston North End, Sheffield United and Darlington, prior to retiring in 1902.