As soccer fever grips the globe with the start of the World Cup, it’s the perfect time to remember some long-forgotten soccer greats from the past, such as Frank Soo, the first Asian soccer player in the English football league as well as the first person of color to represent England in international matches.
By all accounts, Frank Soo – who was born in 1914 to Our Quong Soo, a Chinese sailor, and Beatrice Williams, a white English woman – was a spectacular player of his time:
“Anyone reading match reports from the time or interviews with supporters who watched him play can see how highly regarded he was for the elegance and skill of his play,” she says.
“In his time, he was also regarded as one of the best by his fellow players, like Joe Mercer and Stan Mortensen and it wasn’t uncommon for Stoke City fans to say that Frank Soo was ‘better than Matthews’.”
Soo broke into the first team not long after Matthews, and Stoke fostered a reputation for intelligent, skillful football that made them one of the most celebrated sides in the country.
In the sides of Mather and his replacement Bob McGrory, Soo was a star in the Potteries and would later captain the men in Red and White.
Frank Soo’s soccer career spanned the 1930s and 1940s, eras known for overt and aggressively racist behavior against minorities in England. Given that many of today’s nonwhite players must still endure racist treatment on the field, Soo surely had it harder, despite how there are few records of racist incidents against him, beyond slurs (such as “Chinaman”). And did race impact his soccer career? “Soo himself suggested in 1975 that his relatively few appearances for the national team came down to his “oriental blood”,” as reported by Planet Football.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Frank Soo also married a white English woman (Beryl Freda Lunt) in 1938, though their relationship ended in tragedy when she died of a drug overdose in March 1952.
You can learn more about Frank Soo by reading The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo by Susan Gardiner, watching this BBC video and also by visiting The Frank Soo Foundation, an organization that aims to continue Soo’s legacy in the UK by supporting “a player of Chinese or East Asian descent to an official home nation cap.” (Let’s hope the foundation makes it happen!)
What do you think of Frank Soo’s story?