Frank Soo: England and China’s forgotten footballer
margins of British football history, Frank Soo was a household name in the 1930s, captained Stoke City in the First Division, and earned nine caps as an England international during wartime fixtures between 1942 and 1945. Described in an archive copy of the Evening Telegraph as a “brilliant player and the idol of the crowd at Stoke”, Soo was named in former England caretaker manager Joe Mercer’s all-time starting 11.
Why such a prodigious midfielder as Soo — who also captained the Royal Air Force team and led a Swedish side to a league title as manager — is all but forgotten today is a question that still bothers writer Susan Gardiner. The British author spent over a year interviewing family members and sifting through archive newspapers to piece together the biography The Wanderer: The Story of Frank Soo, released on Nov 14.
“During his lifetime he was as famous as all the great footballers like Stanley Matthews, Joe Mercer and Tommy Lawton,” Gardiner told China Daily. “It’s very strange that out of all of them he is the one to have disappeared from the narrative.”
Gardiner told China Daily that Soo was regarded as a working class hero by fans. Born in 1914 in Derbyshire to Chinese immigrant Quan Soo and his English wife Beatrice, Soo worked in his parent’s laundry business and played alleyway football, before impressing on the local scene and joining Stoke as an 18 year old.
At 1.7 meters, Soo was a great talent, with unrivalled ball control and a pinpoint cross. In his national newspaper column, prolific goal scorer and Everton hall-of-famer Dixie Dean picked out Soo as one of the country’s most promising young talents.
Soo was a celebrity in the UK, his wedding made the front page of the Daily Mirror, and he made headlines as a curiosity ( Frank Soo, First Chinese to Play in English League). In his later years he was most commonly referenced as “Soo, the Stoke City, England and RAF player.”
His decision to manage outside the country, in Sweden, Italy, and for the Norwegian national team, may have gone some way to cool the interest in him. However, Soo himself said that his ethnicity may have also held him back from reaching his full potential. He told the Evening Sentinel in 1945 that he thought he “would have had many more (England appearances) but for his Oriental blood.”
“I hope the book helps return him to his rightful place in the history of football,” Gardiner told China Daily.
Frank Soo, seated, third from left, in a Stoke City team portrait from 1939.
The cover of Susan Gardiner’s biography