From Clarence Park to Padova. The story of an international pioneer.

Supporters may have seen yesterday that the search engine ‘Google’ dedicated the animated title sequence on their homepage to Frank Soo on the anniversary of his first appearance for England. Soo remains the first and only England player of mixed Chinese and English heritage to represent the national team. 

Club historian David Tavener helps track the path of this remarkable story.

Frank Soo had two spells with St Albans City, the first while he was still playing for Luton Town in Division Two of the Football League.

Frank initially joined St Albans City purely as a part-time coach early in the 1947-48 season, his second season with Luton. His task was to take the players for training once a week, on Wednesday evenings, the first session was on the 22nd October 1947 and ran for the rest of the season. He would oversee tactics and the wonderfully titled Blackboard Demonstrations.

Frank left City at the end of the season, he also left Luton at the same time to join Chelmsford City where he ended his playing days. He returned to St Albans at the end of May 1950 when it was announced that he would be a full-time coach at Clarence Park, the first time that the club had appointed anyone in such a capacity.

City’s hon. secretary Harvey Dockerill spoke of the appointment at the A.G.M., “We know from past experience that Mr Soo has a unique knowledge of the game and possesses the ability to pass that knowledge on to others. It is our hope that he will, in the course of time, be able to build up a side which will put this club back in the forefront of amateur football; but we realise that this may take some considerable time to achieve.”

His training sessions were said to be hard but Frank stressed that he never expected the players to do anything that he could not do himself. A month into the season he said, “I do not ask the players to do anything that I cannot do myself. I have gradually made the training harder and have now reached the peak.”

Early in his reign at the Park he was invited by Walter Winterbottom, Director of Coaching to the Football Association, to assist with the coaching and physical training of selected students and professional players at Birmingham University between 16th-28th July 1950. City’s training for the new season began on the 25th July.

By employing Frank in a full-time capacity City had made their intentions for the future clear. The club looked to strengthen its ties with local youth football by entering an Under-18 side in the St Albans & District Minor League.

City ended the 1949-50 season in sixth place in the Isthmian League, our highest placing since finishing fifth in 1931. But the new season got off to a disappointing start with league champions Leytonstone winning 2-0 at Clarence Park on the opening day of the campaign. City won the next league game, 2-0 at Clapton, but lost the third and the tone for the season had been struck. The side managed only one good run, four straight wins between 11th November and 9th December, but failed to win two consecutive league games at any other time during the season. The side came to rest in ninth position in the 14-club Isthmian League.

The FA Cup provided City with one of their most impressive displays of the season, a 5-1 win away to Athenian League side Wealdstone with Fred Fuller scoring a hat-trick at Lower Mead. But the run was terminated in the 2nd Qualifying Round by another Athenian League side, Enfield. Enfield’s opening goal came from the penalty spot, the awarding of which Soo described as ‘harsh.’ The game attracted a gate of over 3,500 with the City Supporters Club running 17 coaches.

Having reached the quarter-final of the Amateur Cup in 1949-50, hope ran high of another good run but City fell at the first hurdle, 1-0 to county rivals Hitchin Town at Top Field in front of a crowd of 2,692.

City, though, did enjoy cup success during the season. The club lifted the Herts Senior Cup with victory over Hitchin Town at Underhill and reached the final of the Herts Charity, which was held over until the following season, and also the last four of the A.F.A. Invitation Cup. Frank Soo, however, was not present at any of these following the termination, at his request, of his ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the club on the 31st March.

Frank had accepted an offer to take on the role of manager of Italian side Padova for the 1951-52 season. He spent one season in charge of Padova, a club that City visited for a friendly in June 1965.

This amazing story not only epitomises the beautiful game but also how our club has helped contribute to football history. 

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