Gil Heron

What kind of player was Gil Heron?

For the most part our only sources for information on his style and skills are newspapers since no film of him has been located. A few comments from some teammates at Celtic can also flesh out the story. One thing that seems clear from nearly all the sources was that Heron’s game was built on speed and technical proficiency. Given his prolific goal scoring, Heron was clearly a ruthless finisher who was able to score from headers as well as from distance.  During his time with English club Kidderminster Harriers in 1953-54, for example, he once tallied eleven goals in a thirteen game stretch including scoring in six straight matches. Other game reports from his time at Third Lanark praised his “good positioning” and “slick passing.” During one match at Wrigley Field against the Maroons the Chicago Tribune admired how Heron “weaved his way through the entire Chicago eleven in a burst of speed” before firing an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.

Man with soccer ball
Heron shows off his skills. Image from Ebony Magazine July 1947.

While at Celtic some of Heron’s teammates criticized his lack of commitment to the game saying he enjoyed wine, music and women too much to ever succeed as a footballer. Family members however disputed these claims and argued that soccer was always the most important thing in his life. He was also accused of not liking physical play or harsh weather. Celtic legend Jimmy McGrory saw potential in Heron but felt he “needed a little brushing up when the heavy ground came.” Scottish football was known for its physical style of play but Heron was certainly no stranger to rough tactics. As the only black professional in Chicago he was often a “marked man” singled out for abuse by other players and fans. After matches, his first wife Bobbie helped rub down his legs with alcohol in order to soothe the muscles and heal marks left by opponents’ studs.

man heading ball
Gil Heron could score with his head and feet. Image from Ebony Magazine July 1947.

Probably Heron’s greatest weakness as a player was his prodigious temper. Gil Scott-Heron wrote in his memoir that his father had “a certain grace and ferocity whether he was kicking goals or kicking ass” and other Heron relations called him “a hot-tempered type of person.” As a player Heron was frequently sent off for a variety of offenses including kicking the ball away in anger and fighting. Any effort to compare him to contemporary players is probably futile but I like to think that Heron had something of the speed, technique and finishing ability of Thierry Henry, along with the unpredictable temper of Luis Suarez.

Listen to the Gil Heron podcast here.

Career Statistics

Please note that the numbers are not complete and in some cases, especially appearances it can be difficult to arrive at an exact number.

Season Club City Appearances Goals
1945 Venetia Detroit 14 44
1946 Wolverines Detroit 8 (?) 14 or 16
1947 Maroons Chicago 10 (?) 4
1948 Sparta Chicago ? 7 (?)
1949 Sparta Chicago ? 12 (?)
1950 Corinthians Detroit ? ?
1951-52 Celtic Glasgow, UK 5 2
1952-53 Third Lanark Glasgow, UK 4 2 (?)
1953-54 Kidderminster Kidderminster, UK ? 16

 

Originally posted December 2013.

 Sources

Afro-American

American Soccer History Archives

Chicago Defender

Chicago Tribune

The Celtic Wiki

Ebony

Leslie Gordon Goffe, Gil Scott-Heron. A Father and Son Story. Kingston: LMH Publishing, 2012.

Kidderminster Harriers

Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Holiday. A Memoir. New York: Grove Press, 2012.

Further Reading

Steve Holroyd, “The North American Soccer Football League”

Gabe Logan, “Lace Up the Boots, Full Tilt Ahead: Recreation, Immigration, and Labor on Chicago’s Soccer Fields, 1890-1939.” Ph.D. thesis, University of Northern Illinois, 2007.

Juan Javier Pescador, “Los Heroes del Domingo. Soccer, Borders, and Social Spaces in Great Lakes Mexican Communities” in Mexican Americans and Sports. A Reader. Jorge Iber and Samuel O. Delgado, eds. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2007.

 

Sound Clips in this episode from www.freesound.org:

bowling alley ambience.wav by Tomlija
Chicago is Next.wav by fonogeno
yells.mp3 by jasinski
Mexican National Anthem on Guitar by bone666138
retro airplane.wav by Inplano
jamaican street musician.wav by rein samba
Warsaw-street-musicians.wav by xserra
Metal Band Jam 5 Thrash.wav by RutgerMuller
football score.wav by winsx87

Author: Brian

Brian D. Bunk is the creator and host of the Soccer History USA podcast. He is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His early research focused on Modern Spanish history and his book Ghosts of Passion: Martyrdom, Gender, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War appeared in 2007. His recent work examines the history of sport in the United States with an emphasis on boxing and soccer. Articles on these topics have been published in the Journal of Sport History, Sport in History and Sport in Society.

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