Frank Soo: The Forgotten Footballer

The incredible story of Frank Soo

Drawing of Frank & signatureThe Frank Soo Foundation

You've probably heard of Stanley Matthews, Frank Swift, Joe Mercer, Neil Franklin and Matt Busby. But what about Frank Soo?

Frank Soo was a footballer from Derbyshire. Here is a signed drawing of Frank circa 1948.

The Soo family home & laundromat - large building towards the right (1900)The Frank Soo Foundation

The life of the forgotten footballer

Frank was born in 1914 in Derbyshire to a Chinese father, Quan Soo, and an English mother, Beatrice. Eventually the family relocated to 10 Town Row, Liverpool. It was here, outside his family laundry business, where he honed his footballing skills and his industrious and determined personality. These skills would eventually lead him all the way to the greatest of footballing ambitions, the dreams of many children even to this day... representing your country.

Frank in the 1930s (1930)The Frank Soo Foundation

Described by Alan Chadwick, who later lived next to Frank, as "always immaculate, sleek black hair, he had the Brylcreem look. He never had to shave. He was very softly spoken, a very nice man".

Unfortunately, not many photos of Frank have survived the years but in the ones that have, he is smiling in all of them.

That smile gave him the nickname "The Smiler" at Stoke City.

Frank at the Victoria Ground (1933)The Frank Soo Foundation

Frank joined Stoke City, from Prescot Cables FC, for £400 in January 1933. He was 18 years old and was the first Chinese player to play in English league football.

Frank at the Victoria Ground (1933)The Frank Soo Foundation

It was here where he initially played alongside and, eventually, captained the Wizard of the Dribble, the great Stanley Matthews.

Frank Soo - Churchman's Number 41 (1938)The Frank Soo Foundation

With his penetrating pinpoint passes and dashing good looks, Frank quickly became a fan favourite.

It's no surprise, then, that he was a household name around this time.

Churchmen's Cigerettes - Front of Frank's card (1938)The Frank Soo Foundation

It was also his willingness, and ability, to play in any position and role asked of him that made him stand out.

Neil Franklin, whom he played with during his latter years at Stoke and with the England team, would later write that Frank was "one of the grandest wing-halves and greatest fellows you could wish to meet", while Stan Mortensen picked him out as one of the four finest wing-halves he played with.

Cigerette packet card of FrankThe Frank Soo Foundation

While newspapers described his talents, they would often raise his Chinese heritage, rather than his talent or skills, in articles: "Oriental looking, but handsome" wrote one; while another described his debut as a "cracker".

It also wasn't uncommon to see headlines in newspapers with "Chinaman" or "Chinese player" when referring to him.

Frank and Freda's weddingThe Frank Soo Foundation

In 1938, Frank married Beryl Lunt, affectionately known by her middle name, Freda.

To his left are his parents, Quan and Beatrice. His sister, Phyllis, is the bridesmaid and his youngest brother, Kenneth, can be seen in front.

He would also be made Captain in March of that year, having been Deputy Captain under Arthur Turner.

Being presentend during a Victory International Match (1944-10-14)The Frank Soo Foundation

It wasn't long before fans and newspapers, both local and national, began demanding Frank be called up to the England national team.

He would finally get his opportunity on 9th May 1942 when he played Wales in Cardiff in front of 30,000 spectators (not pictured).

The England team and Frank, who by now was being referred to as an England national player instead of his Chinese heritage in newspapers, waits patiently as they get introduced to a VIP.

The RAF Vs Scotland XI at Hampden Park, Glasgow (1944-04-22)The Frank Soo Foundation

England calls...

Frank achieved what many footballers can only dream of, by being called up to the England national football team. He was the first Chinese player to play for the England. He played 9 times for his country but none were considered official caps because of WWII.

Frank and the England team outside of a plane on tour post WWII (1946)The Frank Soo Foundation

Frank, far left, with the England football team. You can see his team mates names written down.

The England Team shortly before the start of their Portugal tour (1946) by Neil FranklinThe Frank Soo Foundation

From Neil Franklin's personal collection, on view at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

Taken shortly before the RAF team's Lisbon tour in 1946. Frank is in the front row, 3rd from the left.

Frank and his teammatesThe Frank Soo Foundation

Leading Aircraftman Soo (Sevice number 1539029).

The RAF Vs Scotland XI at Hampden Park, Glasgow (1944-04-22)The Frank Soo Foundation

Frank captained the RAF team against Scotland XI. The RAF won 3-2.

Frank being presented to General Koenig at Wembley, in front of 65,000 spectators (1945-05-26)The Frank Soo Foundation

The England team, including Frank on the far right, being presented to General Koenig, who is representing the French government, shortly before Victory International match against France.

Frank and his teammates leaning out of a plane (1946)The Frank Soo Foundation

Frank smiles in his RAF uniform with Stanley Matthews, Joe Mercer, Jack Taylor, Frank Swift and Matt Busby.

Left to right: Joe Mercer, Frank Soo, Jack Taylor (above) Frank Swift, Stanley Matthews, Matt Busby (below)

The signatures of the England team in a Victory International match vs Belgium (1946)The Frank Soo Foundation

The signatures of the England first team against Belgium in 1946 during a Victory International Match.

Frank played in the right half-back position in the "inverted pyramid" formation of 2-3-5. Amongst his team mates are Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Billy Wright.

The England team in Lisbon on tour. (1946) by Neil FranklinThe Frank Soo Foundation

Life for Frank after the war, like many around the world, would not be the same.

He never played for the England team again.

At club level, Frank would jump from club to club. Never settling for long. He was captain at Leicester and was in Luton Town in 1948 (not pictured).

Cartoon of FrankThe Frank Soo Foundation

The Soo family believe that a racist cartoon (not the one pictured) of Frank derailed his England career. It showed him as a Chinese "coolie" and suggested he should not play for England.

It has not been possible to find this cartoon but it would not be a surprise to know that such a cartoon had, indeed, existed at one time or another in history.

However, many great cartoons and drawings of Frank do exist and this is one of him playing in the red and white of Stoke City.

Frank Soo's SignatureThe Frank Soo Foundation

Eventually Frank would go on to manage teams. He was known as a highly disciplined taskmaster, which caused tension between his players and himself. He expected no less than total commitment, the same dedication he gave when he was in their positions.

He mainly managed in Scandinavia, where he toured during his club playing days. It was there where he developed the affection and connections that would allow him to manage here.

Frank Soo at Luton Town (1948)The Frank Soo Foundation

He managed Norway at the 1952 Olympics but lost to local rivals, Sweden, 4-1 in the first round. He also managed Eskilstuna in Sweden, where they finished 3rd in the Division 3.

Frank won the Allsvenskan with Djurgården in the 1954-55 season but resigned shortly after.

If he had stayed in the UK and managed teams here, like Busby and Ramsey, would he be more well known?

Frank at the Victoria Ground (1933)The Frank Soo Foundation

Frank Soo passed away on 25th January 1991.

How Frank's life and career, and admittedly that of many people around the world, would have become had war not broken out is impossible to say. But what can be said is that Frank was a legend in his own right.

The Frank Soo Foundation was set up in his name to carry on his legacy.

A name lost in time and a talent who became football's forgotten man.

Credits: Story

Our thanks go out to:

The Mercer Family;
The Soo Family;
Staffordshire Sentinel News & Media;
Rob Sawyer;
Neville Evans at the National Football Collection;
David Ledsham.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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