Frank Soo (Photo: Wikipedia).
Frank Soo (Photo: Wikipedia).

Frank Soo

A forgotten Icon

A Man from the Peaks  

Frank Soo, son of an English mother and Chinese father, was born in the beautiful Peak District town of Buxton in the United Kingdom in 1914. Growing up in the North West Soo worked as an office clerk and started his footballing career playing for Norwood and West Derby. As he grew older, Frank signed for Prescot Cables in 1932 and a year later joined the historic club, Stoke City. Playing for the Potters until 1945, Frank later played for Leicester City, Luton Town and Chelmsford City. His career was not purely limited to playing, Frank had a fruitful managerial career at clubs in England and Scandinavia.

During his time at Stoke City, Frank Soo was breaking norms for the England national team. In May 1942, during a wartime match against Wales at Ninian Park, Frank Soo became the first non-white person to play for the men’s English national football team. He remains the only player of an Asian background to achieve this. Playing for England a further eight times and captained the RAF team during the Second World War. 

The Forgotten man of English football

Unlike Viv Anderson, the first Black man to play for the English national team, Frank Soo is relatively unknown in football folklore and history. As the first and only player with East Asian heritage to represent England, the lack of recognition of his legacy is forlorn. Soo broke through into the England team during a time when Racism was at its brazen peak. Openly hostile racist language and physical attacks were far more common and, additionally, how players were protected from this during the 1940s is incomparable. Racial rhetoric is constantly abundant in football, however, it is hard to consider the level of racism Soo would have been subject to back then. Today, Frank Soo Foundation, founded in 2016 is proactive on educating people on Soo’s achievements as a player and manager. Furthermore, the foundation aims to use Frank’s legacy to support local East and South East Asian communities and facilitate their aspirations in football.

Soo had the nickname ‘the Smiler’ and it is clear to see why, from the few photos and videos of him that survived. Soo followed his playing career as a football manager, mainly in Scandinavia. This included a spell at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, as the coach of the Norwegian national football team. Frank passed away in January 1991 aged 76. 

Campaign for medals & Google recognition

As part of the awareness-raising campaign, the Frank Soo Foundation is leading a campaign for Soo to receive the medals and caps he earned but never received during his playing days. His England appearances occurred during the War and were never counted as caps, as these games were all unofficial matches. As part of the campaign effort, Google featured Soo as one of its daily animations in May 2020, which is indeed a measure of how significant Soo’s achievements were. They used a clever animation of the ‘g’ in Google to represent the number 6 that he wore in an England shirt, as well as for some of his clubs.  

Thinking points 

Educators working with young people could use this story to explore a number of questions:

  • Why is it that Soo has not received the prominence and recognition that for example Black players have received?
  • Is this possibly because the overt opposition to a single Asian player is less visible than the now dozens of Black players that have played for England?
  • How is it that Soo is still the only East Asian player to play for England, 80 years after Soo made his England debut?
  • What can Soo’s experience and legacy teach us about the importance of inclusion in football and football history?
  • In a diversifying Britain, and a diversifying landscape for grassroots football, recognition for players like Frank Soo is crucial. What can educators and institutions do to reflect this growing diversification? 

Find out more

The Wanderer – The Story of Frank Soo by Susan Gardiner was published in 2016 and gives the most in-depth insight into Soo’s life and legacy to date. Gardiner wrote a supplement on Medium. You can discover more about Frank Soo, his life, legacy and the campaign for him to posthumously receive his unofficial England caps on the website of the Frank Soo Foundation. There is a documentary on YouTube and a special feature article on BBC.

A forgotten British pioneer and an inspiration for British Asian communities.

Life Story 136

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Frank Soo (Photo: Wikipedia).
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