The Football Association is being urged to award wartime international Frank Soo an honorary cap after the East Asian trailblazer was appointed to the Stoke-on-Trent Sporting Hall of Fame.
Soo, whose father was Chinese, became the first player of Asian heritage to represent England when he appeared in a wartime international against Wales in 1942. Soo, who was raised in Liverpool and turned out for Prescott Cables as a teenager, played in nine England wartime matches between 1942 and 1945.
A Stoke City legend, Soo was also the first person of East or South East Asian (ESEA) heritage to appear in the Football League, making more than 250 appearances for the Potters where he was a former team-mate and captain of Sir Stanley Matthews.
Matthews even lined up for England in wartmine matches alongside Soo, who would later go on to play for Leicester City, Luton Town and Chelmsford City.
Soo died in 1991 at the age of 76, but has just been celebrated by the City of Stoke-on-Trent to coincide with the 90th anniversary of his Potters debut, with Sky Sports News exclusively revealing he would join the likes of former team-mate Matthews, 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks and darts legend Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor in the city’s Sporting Hall of Fame.
The FA told Sky Sports News: “A significant number of players who represented England during wartime did not receive caps due to the fixtures not being recognised as official internationals”.
But earlier this year, a posthumous honorary cap was presented to the family of former Plymouth Argyle footballer Jack Leslie by the FA, despite the fact Leslie did not get the chance to actually play for England.
Leslie, who scored 137 goals for Argyle, was the first Black footballer to be selected by England, back in 1925 – but was denied the opportunity to play for the country because of the colour of his skin.
Recognition came after widespread efforts – particularly from The Jack Leslie Campaign, who campaigned vociferously for a statue to be built in tribute to the former Plymouth Argyle captain. Leslie played more than 400 matches for the club.
A Jack Leslie statue in his honour was unveiled outside Argyle’s Home Park stadium last year. The honorary cap presented to Leslie’s family was last month given to Plymouth Argyle where it has gone on display inside the stadium’s Jack Leslie boardroom.
‘Time to recognise pioneers like Frank Soo’
Jack Leslie Campaign co-founder Matt Tiller told Sky Sports News:
“Just as Jack Leslie’s illustrious club career was coming to a premature end after an eye injury in the winter of 1933, Frank Soo burst onto the scene at Stoke City.
“Both trailblazers, Jack was denied the chance to play for his country due to the colour of his skin, while Frank did represent England several times.
“Their stories are, however, similar in one striking manner. Both were largely forgotten for decades.
“Frank’s talent won him appearances for England through the Second World War, which meant his international career was ‘unofficial.’
“But his achievements are remarkable and deserve to be known far and wide. It is time to recognise pioneers like Frank Soo, particularly when players of Asian heritage remain under-represented in our national game.”
‘We’re not just around now – we’ve been around for years’
Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari to Sky Sports News:
“It’s really important to celebrate these icons from our history and Frank Soo is one of those icons.
“The barriers that someone like that must have overcome to be succesful in the game. That in itself is huge and should be celebrated.
“It’s part of a broader trend we’re seeing of players who have played many, many years ago now being celebrated. We’ve seen it with Plymouth Argyle and Jack Leslie, and it sends a really important message to people today that we’re not just around now – we’ve been around for years.
“It would be fantastic [for Frank Soo to be awarded an honorary England cap]. I happened to be at Wembley for the Ukraine game where Jack Leslie’s honorary England cap was given, and it means an enormous amount to the family and also to the clubs as a recognition for them as well.”
‘Let’s start the recognition of Asian players’
Frank Soo’s great niece, Jacqui Soo, told Sky Sports News:
“Frank Soo should be recognised with an England cap. But I am not surprised that it hasn’t already happened – you only need to look at women’s football and what it has taken [after it was banned in England for 50 years until the early 1970s] to get it where it is.
“My great uncle Frank played nine times for England and he still hasn’t got a cap. He also made guest appearances for other teams during the war and he played in front of enormous crowds.
“Race has become such a big issue in the last few years. Representation of minorities in this country is so important. We are a multi-racial country with men and women who play sports, so let’s try and get Frank Soo his cap.
“If you have got an Asian and someone from a Chinese background, who has played for England and can now get an England cap, imagine what that would do for kids growing up?
“A cap for Frank Soo could be an inspiration for so many kids. Let’s start the recognition of Asian players with Frank Soo. He’s played for England. Let him be the first and let us move on from there. He was an absolute trailblazer.”
‘A stalwart for diverse ethnic communities in football’
Frank Soo Foundation co-founder and chair Alan Lau speaking to Sky Sports News:
“Frank Soo is a trailblazer and an iconic figure in the game as the first Asian to represent an England side – and recognition of his achievements is long overdue.
“Frank was a stalwart for diverse ethnic communities in football. Other players have been recognised, but we have not yet seen national recognition for any player from an Asian background.
“It’s time for Frank Soo’s family to receive his England cap.”
Stoke City celebrated Soo’s career at the bet365 Stadium last week, with the visit of Cardiff arriving exactly 90 years on from his Potters debut, which came against Middlesbrough on November 4, 1933.
The club’s chief operating officer Simon King was also joined by club legends George Berry, Dennis Smith and John Ruggiero at the civic ceremony to appoint Soo to the city’s Sporting Hall of Fame a day earlier.
Stoke City: A fitting tribute to Frank Soo
Stoke City chief operating officer Simon King told Sky Sports News:
“The addition of Frank Soo to the Hall of Fame is a fitting tribute and a great way to ensure that his story lives on.
“Stoke City is seeking to be as inclusive to people from all backgrounds as we can possibly be, celebrating and welcoming diversity within our fanbase, our community and our club.
“Even all these years on from his debut and resulting career, Frank’s achievements remain inspirational in that regard and his legacy is something to be cherished and preserved.”
Cardiff had in-form full-back Perry Ng playing for them, who spoke excluisvely to Sky Sports News about the occasion before the game.
Ng: I’m proud to follow in his footsteps
Cardiff City footballer Perry Ng told Sky Sports News:
“It’s a pleasure to be playing for Cardiff City this weekend with our opponents, Stoke City, having been Frank’s club for the best part of his playing career.
“I’d like to take the opportunity of congratulating the Frank Soo Foundation for their work and especially on this milestone weekend for East and South East Asian communities that marks 90 years since Frank made his Football League debut for Stoke.
“As we know, Frank was the first player of Chinese or East Asian heritage to play in the Football League and I’m proud to follow in his footsteps, being of Singaporean descent myself.”
Soo would go on to enjoy a successful managerial career, taking charge of Italian side Padova, coaching Norway at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, and winning the Swedish Allsvenskan title as Djurgardens IF manager. Soo also managed in England at Scunthorpe United and St Albans City.
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