Archive for October 2012

Derbyshire’s first “black” England International   Leave a comment

The Kick-it-out campaign celebrates the contribution ethnic minorities have made to the national game, whilst continuing the call for equality.  As such it is a celebration of diversity in our national game.

While what has happened in Serbia and in recent court cases highlights that there is still work to be done it seems right to celebrate how far we have come and how much non-white players have brought to the British game.

However I am aware that the first non-white player to turn out for our national team lacks any real recognition.  Most will immediately think of Viv Anderson in 1978 as the first of many England players with an Afro-Caribbean heritage.  I want to go back further than that to teams that featured Stanley Matthews, Denis Compton, Frank Swift, Joe Mercer, Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney and Matt Busby.  The only problem was that the nine games played by Hong Y Soo were war time internationals and so not recognised as full internationals.

Frank Soo was born in Buxton in 1914 of Chinese and English parentage.  His Father was a sailor based in Liverpool.  He made his name as an inside forward with Stoke City.  When the war came, as was the custom, he guested firstly for Everton and then Chelsea before being selected for the England team in 1923 when he played against Wales at Ninian Park.  He played seven more times against the home nations including a 6-1 win against Scotland at Hampden Park in front of 133,000.  He also played against Switzaland in a 50th anniversary match staged in 1945 in Berne that was at the time regarded as a full international.

His last match was a war time international some months after hostilities had ended.  After this point Soo was not selected again as he moved the Leicester City and then Luton.  When he retired he went into management with Padova in Italy as well as several teams in Scandinavia.  He did have a spell in charge Scunthorpe United in 1959.  In the early sixties Soo became an international coach when he managed the Israeli National team.

It took a further thirty years for a non-white player to represent his country but no East Asian player or footballer from the Indian sub-continent has come close to repeating Soo’s achievement.  Before Anderson officially became the first black England player there were black players turning out for Chesterfield.  One of those was of Asian decent in Ricky Heppolette who turned out more than fifty times in the early seventies.

The Spireites’ first black player was Peter Foley who joined Chesterfield on trial having made his name at Workington, then a league side.  He played two games for us in the 1969-70 Championship season.  He later returned to the Cumbrian club as their manager.  It is somewhat fitting that Foley is involved with the Kick it Out campaign and in 2003 was awarded an MBE for his services to race relations.  The first black player to come through our ranks was Jim Kabia.  Kabia was an apprentice at the club and in two senior seasons made eleven appearances, scoring at Hereford in 1974.

Now we can put out a Spireite eleven with more than half the players being non-white while seven black players have played together for England.  While this is representative of the mass immigration from the commonwealth in the fifties and sixties our football now benefits from an influx of players from all over the world.  Recently we have seen many Africans and more recently a number of players of East Asian heritage like Frank Soo was.

Less than two decades ago I remember black players being accepted for their flair but the view prevailing that they were not suited to central roles; it being suggested that black players would not make good keepers or central defenders.  It was also thought that blacks would not make coaches, managers or administrators.  This now seems like a view from the dark ages.  No one I know comments on race when England picks a squad.  The days of Anderson’s first cap, Blisset’s first goal or Ince skippering the national side are now part of not only black history but also British history.

Brendan Batson is now a big player with the PFA while Anderson, Keith Alexander and Chris Kamara have all managed league teams.  When Ruud Gullit was appointed Chelsea manager much was made of him being from abroad and his supposed lifestyle, no one mentioned that he was the first black manager in the top flight.  Of course the England and Great Britain women’s manger, Hope Powell, is black.

It is right that we still make a stand against racism in football and in all of our society.  However it would be nice if we could reach the point where rather than fighting intolerance we can celebrate diversity and recognise the part played by the likes of Frank Soo and Peter Foley in football and society.


The photograph heading this article is, for once, not one of mine.  In 2006 there was a collection of unwanted football shirts by Chesterfield FC to be sent to Tsumeb in northern Namibia.  This season the collection is being repeated.  Any shirts, Chesterfield or otherwise, will be collected and if suitable sent to benefit potential players in Africa.  Any shirts can be taken into, or sent, to the Chesterfield FC Superstore at the Proact Stadium.