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Customer Review

on 26 September 2010
I have always known of Arthur Wharton's athletic feat of setting the 100 yards world record in 1886 but did not know that he also had been a professional footballer, apparently a remarkable goalkeeper playing for a number of northern clubs, and cricketer in the professional Lancashire League. For years I did not even know that he was black. This book provides a very interesting account of this long-lost career, in the main gleaned from contemporary newspaper accounts. Vasili's thesis is that Wharton had to contend with the casual racism and class divisions of a Britain in its imperial heyday and that he did this by fighting his own corner and becoming a hero in the working class communities of the north despite his middle class Ghanaian (Gold Coast) background.

I do not have any problem with Vasili's overall analysis of the imperial/colonial society that produced the prevalent attitudes of the time which eventually led to a `loss of memory' so that his name became less and less mentioned, absent even from some histories of goalkeeping. But I do think his concern to berate racism in sport rather loses sight of Wharton's life so that it becomes lost in a more general argument. Certainly I, for one, found it difficult to follow the sequence of events in his career. Vasili ranges far and wide with examples of black sportsmen, chiefly from the US, who have faced up to the challenge of operating in a racist society - all well and good but a closer digging around the personal experience of Wharton in his social context would have been more helpful I think. So this perhaps is a polemic more than a biography but interesting for all that, worth a read. I noticed one bad factual error: Malcolm X was never leader of the Black Panthers who were actually founded after his assassination.

Note that the book is actually by Phil Vasili not by Irvine Welsh, as advertised, who merely provides a 3-page foreword.
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