Gil Heron

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Gil Heron
Gil Heron in Ebony Magazine, 1947 (cropped).jpg
Gil Heron in Ebony Magazine, 1947
Personal information
Full name Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron[1][2]
Date of birth (1922-04-09)9 April 1922
Place of birth Kingston, Jamaica
Date of death 27 November 2008(2008-11-27) (aged 86)
Place of death Detroit, Michigan, United States
Position(s) Centre forward
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
Detroit Venetia[1] ? (?)
1946 Detroit Wolverines ? (?)
1947 Chicago Maroons ? (?)
1949 Chicago Sparta ? (?)
Detroit Corinthians ? (?)
1951–1952 Celtic 1 (0)
1952–1953 Third Lanark 0 (0)
1953–1954 Kidderminster Harriers ? (10)
Detroit Corinthians ? (?)
Windsor Corinthians ? (?)
Total ? (?)
International career
*Club domestic league appearances and goals

Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron (9 April 1922 – 27 November 2008) was a Jamaican professional footballer. He was the first black player to play for Scottish club Celtic and was the father of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron.


Born Gilbert Heron in Kingston, Jamaica[5] to Walter Gilbert Heron and Lucille Gentles, he came from a family of means.[6] He played for St Georges College, a prominent Jamaican high school, and won the Manning Cup and Oliver Shield in 1937 – a statement of island-wide, schoolboy football supremacy. He went on to represent a Caribbean all-star football team and beat Jamaican Olympian Herb McKenley as a schoolboy.[citation needed]

He moved to Canada as a youth and was later enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. As well as being a track athlete and a boxer, he played football and broke through during his stay there. A centre forward, he signed for Detroit Corinthians and the champion Detroit Wolverines, where he was top goalscorer in the 1946 season of the North American Soccer Football League.[7] He then played for the Chicago Maroons in 1947.[1]

After playing for Chicago Sparta in 1949, he played for Windsor Corinthians in 1950 and was twice selected to all-star teams against the touring England national team. After missing the first match with the Ontario All-Stars on May 24 (on account of a league suspension in Detroit), he recorded an assist for the Essex All-Stars in the June 17 match (albeit a 9-2 loss to England). Both Gil and his brother Lee played for the Essex All-Stars.

He was spotted by a scout from Glasgow Celtic while the club was on tour in North America and he was signed by the Scottish club in 1951 after being invited over for a trial. Becoming the first black player for Celtic,[5] and one of the first to play professionally in Scotland,[3][8] Heron went on to score on his debut on 18 August 1951 in a League Cup tie against Morton that Celtic won 2–0. Heron only played five first-team matches in all, scoring twice.[9] He was released by the club the next year after making one appearance in the Scottish Football League[10] (having been unable to displace the established John McPhail)[4] and joined Third Lanark where he played in seven League Cup matches, scoring five goals but did not appear in the League.[11]

Next he went to English club Kidderminster Harriers before moving back to North America.

In 1957, he played for Windsor Corinthians and was again selected to Ontario's Essex All-Stars to face a touring English team, Tottenham Hotspur, on 22 May.

Personal life[edit]

While in Chicago, Heron met Bobbie Scott, a singer, with whom he had a son in 1949, Gil Scott-Heron, who became a famed poet and musician. They separated when Heron left for Scotland[4][12] and did not meet again until Scott-Heron was 26.[13] Heron had three more children with his wife Margaret Frize (deceased), whom he met while in Glasgow, Scotland: Gayle, Denis[5] and his youngest child Kenneth, who was killed in Detroit.[13] His older brother, Roy Trevor Gilbert Heron, served with the Norwegian Merchant Navy during World War II and then joined the Canadian army,[14] later moving to Canada, where he became active in black Canadian politics.[13]

At Celtic he earned the nicknames "The Black Arrow"[4][9] and "The Black Flash". While living in Glasgow, he played cricket with leading local clubs such as Poloc.[3][4] He later became a published poet,[13] with one of his works, "The Great Ones", describing leading players from his time playing football in Scotland.

Heron died in Detroit of a heart attack on 27 November 2008, aged 86.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Brian Bunk (8 June 2016). "Gil Heron: Soccer's Jackie Robinson". We're History. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  2. ^ "Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron". Geni. 24 May 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Ben Carrington; Ian McDonald (2001). 'Race', Sport, and British Society. Psychology Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780415246293. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Wilson, Brian (19 December 2008). "Obituary: Gil Heron". The Guardian. London.
  5. ^ a b c Frank Dell'Apa, "Giles Heron: Played for Celtic, father of musician" Boston Globe (4 December 2008). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  6. ^ "Heroes Remember: Roy Heron"[permanent dead link] Veterans Affairs Canada. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  7. ^ David A. Litterer, "The Year in Soccer: 1946" Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine North America Soccer List (29 March 2005). 2 June 2011
  8. ^ "The Gillie Heron story". BBC Caribbean. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  9. ^ a b Roddy Forsyth, "Celtic's first black player, Gil Heron, dies", The Telegraph (30 November 2008). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Profile". Post War English & Scottish Football League A – Z Player's Database.
  11. ^ Gil Heron, Scottish League (5 July 2005). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  12. ^ Alec Wilkinson, "New York is Killing Me", The New Yorker (9 August 2010). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d Norman Otis Richmond, "Gil Heron, 81, father of Gil Scott-Heron, joins the ancestors" Celtic graves (Republished 19 January 2011). Retrieved 2 June 2011
  14. ^ Roy Trevor Gilbert Heron Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Memory Project. Retrieved 2 June 2011.

External links[edit]