Gyan out to make history as first overseas winner
Sunday 16 January 2011
Asamoah Gyan is not the first man from Accra to etch his name into the history books as an adopted sporting son of north-east England. Not that a winner from Sunderland's Ghanaian striker in the Tyne-Wear derby at the Stadium of Light today will rank alongside the trailblazing feats Arthur Wharton achieved after he arrived from the capital of what was then known as the Gold Coast to study at Cleveland College in Darlington in 1884.
Wharton had been sent by his father to study to become a Wesleyan minister. Instead, he became the first black athlete to win a title at the Amateur Athletic Association Championships and the first sprinter to run 10.0sec for 100 yards in authentic conditions at Stamford Bridge in 1886. He also became the first black professional footballer – despite his fleetness of foot, being deployed as a goalkeeper by Darlington, Preston North End and Sheffield United.
He enjoyed a degree of celebrity – "Darkie Wharton" the newspapers of the day called him – but died in anonymity in 1930, laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Edlington, a mining village near Rotherham. Only when "The Northern Echo" scratched the surface of his long-forgotten story in 1993 did he receive the recognition he merited. An Arthur Wharton Foundation was formed and funds have been raised for a statue in Darlington. Gyan, as it happens, was a record breaking 100m and 200m runner in his school days at Accra Academy.
Like Wharton, he has also made his mark at Stamford Bridge, scoring Sunderland's second goal in the 3-0 win over Chelsea in November. If the 25-year-old star of Ghana's advance to the World Cup quarter-finals can bring his goalscoring touch to bear with the winner against Newcastle today, there will be 46,000 Wearsiders willing to erect a monument in his honour.
Sunderland have a score to settle: the 5-1 horror they endured on Halloween at St James' Park. It was their heaviest defeat against Newcastle since Jackie Milburn scored twice in a 6-1 Newcastle win at Roker Park on Boxing Day 1955.
Even in the days of "Wor Jackie", Newcastle had a derby match-winning hero from foreign parts. The Chilean George Robledo scored goals that beat Sunderland in 1949, 1951 and 1952. He has been followed by the Greek Nikos Dabizas (2002), the Peruvian Nolberto Solano (2003) and the Turk Emre Belozoglu (2005). No overseas player has ever struck the winning blow for Sunderland against Newcastle.
Might Gyan – the man from Arthur Wharton's home town, 3,900 miles from the Stadium of Light – be the first? At least one Geordie hopes so. "The bigger the game, the bigger the occasion, the better Asa usually does," Steve Bruce, born on Tyneside and a boyhood Newcastle fan, said. "So let's hope it's his day."
On 31 October at St James', where Bruce used to idolise Tony Green and Malcolm Macdonald in the early 1970s, the Sunderland manager was still drip-feeding his £13m club-record signing from Rennes into the swing of Premier League action. Sunderland were 2-0 down when Gyan was released from bench duty. He was given his first League start the following week against Stoke, scoring the goals in a 2-0 win that launched Bruce's Black Cats on the run that has taken them into the upper reaches of the top flight.
"The game at Newcastle was effectively over at half-time," Gyan said. "We started the game very slowly. We will make sure that we don't make the same mistake this time. It's not a case of getting revenge by taking risks and trying to beat Newcastle 5-0. We just want to focus on winning.
"I've played in derby games before, in France and Italy, but this is by far the biggest. The rivalry is so intense. The Premier League is the best in the world. It is watched all over the world. Certainly everybody in Ghana will be watching to see what happens."
Gyan was back in Ghana at the start of last week, Bruce having taken pity on him when the BBC African Footballer of the Year stared at Sunderland's fixture list and saw five games in 13 days when he was expecting a festive-time break.
"I thought I would be seeing my family at Christmas but I was on my own on Christmas Day," Gyan said. "I think the manager could see in my face that I was missing my family. I really want to thank him for giving me some time to see them." A tap-in winner today would probably suffice.
Sunderland v Newcastle Utd is today, kick-off 12pm
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