Frank Soo

Frank Soo: The Forgotten Genius

Club Historian & Archivist John Hutchinson tells the story of a Leicester City player who, despite his immense achievements in football, has been largely forgotten by Leicester City fans.
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This player was the first of Chinese heritage to play in the Football League, for England and for Leicester City and had the reputation of being one of the most elegant and skilful players of his day.

A pioneering coach abroad, he managed two national sides. In addition, he coached in Serie A and won the Allsvenskan (top flight) title in Sweden.

He also managed several other clubs in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and England. His name was Frank Soo.

Soo was signed for Leicester City in September 1945 for a fee of £4,600. He was a prestigious signing.

Fans anticipated him playing an important part in the Club’s post-war era as he had the reputation of being one of the most gifted players in the country.

Despite his achievements as a player, coach and manager being largely forgotten, he was certainly appreciated by the City fans who saw him play.

The inside-forward, who had started his career as a winger, was a wonderfully clever and skilful ball player, widely respected by players and fans alike, who appreciated his intelligent, polished football.

He made his name playing for Stoke City in the old First Division before the Second World War.

Born in Buxton, he grew up with his five brothers and one sister in the West Derby area of Liverpool, where his Chinese father Quan and his Lancashire-born mother Beatrice, ran a laundry.

He played football for Liverpool Boys and then for Prescot Cables in the Lancashire Combination.

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Frank Soo
Frank Soo

Frank pictured during his time as a Stoke City player.

In January 1933, future Leicester City manager Tom Mather signed the 19-year-old Frank for his Stoke side, which won the Second Division title at the end of that season. The fee was £400.

Frank made his Stoke debut in November 1933 and was a regular in the Potters’ side in the four seasons leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War.

A team-mate of Stanley Matthews, Soo began as a winger, but when Mather moved to manage Newcastle United in May 1935, Frank played as an inside-left rather than as an out-and-out winger.

He became the club’s captain and was on the verge of an England selection when the Second World War broke out in September 1939.

An ever-present in the last two seasons before war, he was renowned, like Matthews, for his fitness and his focus on health and nutrition in an era when this was not the norm.

Frank was only 25 when the war broke out. There was to be no league football for another seven seasons, so he lost the best years of his playing life, but he nonetheless played and captained the RAF side.

Soo also played as a guest in the wartime leagues for Everton, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Millwall, Chelsea, Brentford, Reading, Shrewsbury Town, Port Vale, Crewe Alexandra and Burnley. 

Between 1942 and 1945, he appeared for England on nine occasions in wartime internationals. He played against Scotland four times, Ireland once, France once and Wales three times.

The war finally ended in August 1945. Leicester City manager Mather, who had taken over at Filbert Street in June 1945, paid £4,600 to bring his former star to Leicester in September 1945.

League football did not resume until August 1946, but the FA Cup returned in 1945/46. Soon after he became a Leicester player, Frank played his last game for England.

This was a 1-0 defeat by Wales in front of a crowd of over 54,000 at The Hawthorns. His England team-mates in that match included his old Stoke City colleagues Neil Franklin and Matthews.

Frank’s other England team-mates throughout the war had included Tommy Lawton, Stan Cullis, Raich Carter, Denis Compton, George Hardwick, Jimmy Hagan, Frank Swift and Stan Mortensen.

These were the big stars of the day and it was a real coup for Leicester, due to play in the Second Division when the Football League resumed a year later, to sign a player who was at home in such company.

Frank quickly impressed the Filbert Street crowd with his incisive passing and cultured football.

Playing alongside the veteran England international Sep Smith, and future Three Lions star Don Revie, Frank played 14 games for Leicester in the Wartime Football League South.

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LCFC teamsheet
LCFC teamsheet

Soo's name is visible on this Leicester City teamsheet for a fixture against West Ham United.

He also starred in the Club’s first post-war FA Cup games. These were in a two-legged FA Cup Third Round tie against Chelsea, played in front of an aggregate crowd of over 65,000.

In this cup tie, he was pitted against his England team-mate Tommy Lawton, who had himself played for Leicester City as a guest player in 1939. City lost the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

In the first leg at Chelsea, the pitch, which was churned up 'as if tanks had driven across it', was not conducive to Soo’s elegant and stylish play, but his performance was praised in the return match.

'Soo, a great player, kept the ball on the ground and always used it to good advantage' was the view of the Leicester Mail reporter in attendance that day.

Unfortunately, Soo was injured just before half-time. He returned with a heavily-bandaged knee, 'but much of his effectiveness had gone'.

That injury, together with RAF commitments, meant that Frank only played two more games for Leicester that season, once in February and once in April.

The key factor in City being able to sign Frank was Mather, but he resigned in March 1946. He was frustrated that he was not able to build the stylish side that he wanted to for the post-war era.

Once his manager had departed, it was no surprise that Frank left the Club soon afterwards.

He signed for Luton Town for £3,000 in July 1946, only 10 months after arriving at Filbert Street. The fans were very sorry to see him go.

Two years later, he moved to Southern League Chelmsford City. In 1949, he spent the summer in the Finnish capital Helsinki, coaching Helsingin Palloseura (HPS) before returning to Chelmsford in 1949/50.

Frank retired as a player in 1950 and then embarked upon a coaching and managerial career which was so nomadic that a recent biography of Frank by Susan Gardiner is called The Wanderer.

In May 1950 he became the manager of Isthmian League side St Albans City.

A year later, Frank went to Italy to manage the Serie A side Padova, but he left in April 1952 following the tragic and sudden death of his wife, Beryl.

Frank’s next job was to coach the Norway team for the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, where his side was beaten 4-1 by Sweden.

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Frank Soo
Frank Soo

Soo in action for Luton Town, competing for possession with Millwall's Ronald Mansfield.

In 1952/53, meanwhile, Frank managed the Swedish Third Division side Eskilstruna to promotion.

After a spell coaching at Örebro in the Swedish Second Division, he then achieved the remarkable feat of leading Swedish side Djurgarden IF to the Allsvenskan title in 1955.

The following campaign, this side became the first ever Swedish side to enter the European Cup.

They lost to Hibernian in the quarter-finals, but Frank had already left the club to manage Oddevold, securing promotion for them from the Swedish Third Division in 1955/56.

Two years later, he was back in Stockholm managing Allsvenskan side AIK Stockholm, the Swedish giants who were his old side Djurgarden’s biggest rivals.

In June 1959, on the other side, Frank made the unlikely move from Stockholm to Second Division outfit Scunthorpe United, who had a young Graham Taylor on their books.

After only a year in the steel town, Frank then embarked on a series of jobs in Scandinavia.

Between 1960 and 1972, he coached and managed in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in a succession of jobs which rarely lasted longer than a year.

In 1963, he was even interim manager of the Israeli national team. By all accounts, Frank, throughout his career, was a hugely likeable man, and he had a reputation for being ruthlessly ambitious.

When he retired, Frank returned to England, living in Staffordshire and in Liverpool.

Sadly, in his last years, he was afflicted by Alzheimer’s Disease. He died in a cottage hospital in Cheadle, North Staffordshire, in 1991.

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