Unfortunately, our main 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 match reports from his time at Third Lanark praised his “good positioning” and “slick passing.” During one game 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.
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.
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.
Please note that the numbers are not complete and in some cases — especially appearances — it can be difficult to arrive at an exact number.
|14 or 16
To read a brief biography of Heron click here.
A version of this post was first published at www.SoccerHistoryUSA.org in December 2013.