Frank Soo: Eng­land and China’s for­got­ten foot­baller

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

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

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