What Kind of Player was Gil Heron?

Gil Heron kicking soccer ball
Heron shows of his skills for Ebony Magazine, July 1947. Image: Ebony Magazine

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.

Gil Heron with ball
Image: Ebony Magazine

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.

Gil Heron heading ball
Heron in his Detroit Wolverines kit. Image: Ebony Magazine
GIl Heron on the pitch
Heron in action. Image: Ebony Magazine

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.

Gil Heron with soccer ball
More tricks from Ebony Magazine. Image: Ebony Magazine
GIl heron with ball at his feet
Heron with the ball at his feet. Image: Ebony Magazine
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


To read a brief biography of Heron click here.

A version of this post was first published at www.SoccerHistoryUSA.org in December 2013.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Gil Heron – Society for American Soccer History

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