Sheila Leeson (1931-2021)

Sheila Leeson with the statue of Arthur Wharton – Wembley Stadium, 29 March 2011

Blog post by Shaun Campbell (5 minute read)

A day of celebration and remembrance

Sheila Leeson (1931-2021). A poignant day today as I head to Rotherham for the funeral of our Patron, Sheila Leeson. Remembrance Day, from this day forward, will have an added significance for us all at the Foundation.

I can remember when I first spoke to Sheila, it was by phone and I was simply introducing myself…and of course letting her know what my intentions were regarding the campaign I’d started, to see her relative ‘Arthur Wharton’ appropriately honoured for his achievements as a pioneer & a trailblazer, it was a lovely phone call.

Needless to say, we stayed in touch, and when I set up the Arthur Wharton Foundation in 2010, Sheila became a Patron.

Memories from Wembley

In 2011, the England football team played Ghana in an international friendly match at Wembley and this was the first time that the two teams had played against each at senior level. In partnership with the FA , the Foundation ensured that the game would recognise Arthur and his place in football history. Sheila was so happy that day and at one point, pitch side, Sheila grated my arm and said in a louder than normal voice ‘there’s Michael Essien’ (she was excited to see him, though he wasn’t playing that day)-  I asked if she wanted to speak with him and she said yes…so I called him over and they had a lovely chat pre kick off. I will never forget that look on Sheila’s face when Essien beamed a huge, welcoming smile at her and they talked…about Arthur of course! Watching this video footage of Sheila being interviewed on the pitch at Wembley Stadium brings back some wonderful memories.

On the pitch at Wembley Stadium (England v Ghana) – 23rd March 2011

Meeting family in Ghana

Sheila had always dreamed of going to Ghana one day…to Arthur’s roots (and hers). Ill health in her 70’s and early 80’s looked likely to end that dream as Sheila had a major operation. However, I just had to create an opportunity to try and realise a dream for Sheila and at the same time, introduce and unite Arthur’s UK family with his family in Ghana.  I was determined to get Sheila there…and so we did…we actually went, and oh my, what a journey, what a trip, what memories, and most importantly…a dream realised for Sheila, the matriarch of Arthur’s UK family, and the guardian of Arthur’s story.

Sheila and Dorothy meeting their Ghanaian family

Reunited with the cups

I had spoken with Sheila a number of times about wanting to find the two historic cups, photographed with Arthur.  They were the ‘Cleveland Challenge Cup (1887), & the Prince Hassan Pacha Cup (1886). Eventually, I managed to unearth them both from obscurity (don’t ask!) and had the absolute pleasure, and honour, of presenting them to Sheila (on separate occasions as they were found years apart). It was so special for Sheila to take hold of the very cups that Arthur had held all of those years ago…I know she was deeply moved to be so in touch with Arthur’s past in such a tangible way.

Support for the statue

During the course of the campaign and through the early years of the Foundation, I kept Sheila up to speed with my thinking, and with progress (or not) of my quest to see Arthur recognised in the form of an iconic statue at a then unknown location. She was always supportive…no matter how crazy I must have sounded at times, and she listened when I explained just how tough it was to break down barriers in order to get the right people to do the right thing by Arthur. She knew it was taking its toll on me personally too, but was always there offering encouragement and to reassure me.  

Honoured in colour

Our work at the Arthur Wharton Foundation continues and we very much look forward to honouring Sheila, in our own unique and colourful way. We very much look forward to sharing details about this with you shortly and how you can get involved.

Sheila was a great woman at peace and at rest, we will miss her, but we will forever remember her.

Today our love and thoughts are with Sheila’s family and friends.

Sheila Leeson (1931-2021)