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Fullname: Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron
aka: Gilbert Heron, Gillie, the "Black Arrow", the "Black Flash"
Born: 9 Apr 1922
Died: 27 Nov 2008
Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica
Signed: 4 Aug 1951 (from Detroit Corinthians)
Left: 17 May 1952 (free); Third Lanark (1 July 1952)
Position: Centre-forward
Celtic 2-0 Morton, Aug 18 1951, League cup
Internationals: Jamaica


  • Generally regarded as the first black footballer to play for Celtic, but note there were possibly other black players to have played for Celtic far earlier in friendly matches (poor record keeping in early days, and they likely only played in reserves or the like).
  • Father of Gil Scott Heron, legendary American musician famous for his work in pioneering Jazz, soul, rap and other African American styles of music in the sixties, his most famous composition being the seminal "The Revolution will not be televised"! Gil Scott-Heron is commonly referred to as the "Godfather of Hip Hop"!
  • His last game was the one before Jock Stein's debut for Celtic. If they'd played together, maybe things would have been different.
  • His son said that through his life after leaving he'd always still check for the Celtic scores.
  • Robert King one of the feted Angola Three became a Celtic fan, it is believed possibly via the influence of Gil Scott Heron (see link).

BiogGiles Heron - Kerrydale Street

One of the first black players to play in Britain, Gil Heron became the first Afro-Caribbean player to play first team football for Celtic.

Heron scored on his début, a 2-1 win against Morton during the 1951-52 season and was quickly bestowed the nicknames "Black Flash" and "Black Arrow".

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1922, Heron played as centre forward for the Jamaican national team as well as playing for the American club side Detroit Corinthians. On a North American tour he was spotted by a Celtic scout and later signed for the Glasgow club in 1951.

His debut was in the 2-0 win over Morton, in which he scored the second goal and was said to be a 'box-office' hit in a promising debut.

At a time when Scottish football was notable for its physical nature, Heron soon struggled - as one local newspaper put it: "lacking resource when challenged."

The writer Phil Vasili noted that Heron was criticised in Glasgow for "being unable to transfer his pugilistic tenacity" (Heron had previously been both an athlete and a boxer). He was released barely a year later and signed for Third Lanark in May 1952.

Heron also played for Kidderminster Harriers before returning to play for his original club, the Detroit Corinthians, where his son, the acclaimed jazz musician and poet Gil Scott Heron, was born in 1949, although sadly Heron and his wife had split on his departure to Scotland and he did not see his lauded son until he was 26.

Shortly before Gil Heron's son (Gil Scott-Heron) once visited Scotland to promote his new book "The Last Holiday," a local journalist asked about his father's experiences of playing football in Glasgow:

"My father still keeps up with what Celtic are doing. You Scottish folk always mention that my Dad played for Celtic, it's a blessing from the spirits! Like that's two things that Scottish folks love the most; music and football and they got one representative from each of those from my family!"

Despite Heron's relatively brief spell at Celtic, it is apparent that Gil Heron Sr still retained fond memories of his time in Scotland.

It became a tradition of studious Gil Scott-Heron fans to show up at his Glasgow shows in the green and white hooped shirt of Celtic. Gil Scott-Heron joked at one concert:
"There you go again - once again overshadowed by a parent. I'm going to wear my Celtic scarf and Rangers hat when I come over!"

A good sense of humour and a firm favourite of the Celtic diaspora, sadly now passed away but along with his father is much remembered.

Playing Career

1951-52 1 0 4 0 5
Goals: 0 0 2 0 2

Matches played

18 Aug 1951, 2-0 win v Morton (LC),
- Gil Heron's debut before a crowd of 40,000. Scored Celtic's second goal in 35 minutes with a shot from outside the penalty box.
25 Aug 1951, 1-0 win v Airdrie (LC)
1 Sep 1952, 0-1 loss v Morton (LC)
1 Dec 1952, 2-1 win v Partick (Lge)

Honours with Celtic





Death of former Celt Gil Heron

From CelticFC.Net
Newsroom Staff

FORMER Celtic player Gil Heron has died at the age of 87. He passed away in a nursing home in Detroit on Thursday, November 27.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Gil had been playing in the United States and was invited to Scotland and took part in a public trial at Celtic Park on August 4, 1951, scoring twice in the game.

It was enough to impress the club who signed him and he made his debut on August 18, 1951 in a League Cup tie against Morton at Celtic Park. He scored once in a 2-0 victory.

He stayed a year at Celtic, making five appearances and scoring two goals before joining Third Lanark.

He eventually returned to the United States, settling in Detroit. He was also the father of famous jazz musician, Gil Scott-Heron.

The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic are with Gil Heron’s family and friends at this sad time.

'Black Arrow' Gil Heron a trailblazer at Celtic - Father of famous jazz musician dies aged 87

(Scotsman) Click on thumbnail to view image
Click on thumbnail to view image

Published Date: 02 December 2008

GIL Heron, who has died at the age of 87, was a Jamaican-born striker who enjoyed a short spell in Scottish football with Celtic and Third Lanark.

He played in the United States both before and after his stay in Scotland, and was the father of the famous jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron.
Born in Kingston in 1921, Gilbert Heron moved to Canada as a boy, and is believed to have first shown evidence of his footballing prowess during a spell in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He moved to the USA after the Second World War and joined the Detroit Wolverines. The Wolverines were founder members of the newly established North American Professional Soccer League, an organisation which had been set up by Fred Weiszmann, the owner of the Chicago Maroons club, after his application to join the American Soccer League for season 1946-47 had been turned down.

The ASL had wanted Weiszmann to found a Midwest Division of their organisation, but he decided to go his own way instead. The Wolverines were one of five teams in the league, and they were inaugural league champions in 1946 thanks largely to Heron's goals. They were unable to retain their title the following year, after which the NAPSL folded. The striker then joined Detroit Corinthians, and it was while playing for this team that he was spotted by a Celtic scout who was on tour with the club. Invited to come over to Glasgow, he was signed after scoring twice in a trial match at Celtic Park in August 1951, and quickly acquired the nickname "the Black Arrow."

He made his debut later that same month in a League Cup tie against Morton, and scored one of his team's goals in a 2-0 victory. But such an auspicious start to his career did not lead to long-term success at Parkhead, and after a year he was allowed to join Third Lanark. After another short spell there he moved to Kidderminster in England, and then returned to Detroit where he played out the rest of his career with the Corinthians.

He is widely believed to have been the first black footballer to play for Celtic, but it is hard to say for sure given the lack of thorough documentation during the early decades of the professional game in Scotland. The obituary on the Celtic website, www.celticfc.net, does not claim he was. It is known for certain that there were black players at other clubs long before Heron crossed the Atlantic.

After his brief period of celebrity in the 1950s he appeared destined to fade into obscurity, but memories of him were revived in the 1970s by the growing fame of his son. Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago in 1949, and stayed behind in America while his father migrated temporarily to the UK. Scott-Heron's earlier recorded compositions, the most well-known of which was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," were forerunners of rap and hip hop in both their spoken-word delivery and political content. In the 1980s he became a fierce critic of the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan, and also supported the anti-nuclear movement.

Later, disillusioned with the direction in which many rap artists were going, he released the track "Message To The Messengers" in which he called for an end to egotistic posturing and a return to political commitment within the genre. He has served two drugs-related prison terms this decade, and has announced that he is HIV positive.

Little is known about the later years of Gil Heron. After his retirement from football he appears to have stayed on in Detroit. He died in a nursing home in the city last Thursday, 27 November.


02 December 2008
Provided by: Mirror

Tributes for Celtic's slick Jamaican ace
THE first black player to appear for Celtic, Gil Heron, has died in Detroit, aged 87.
Bhoys fans paid tribute to him on club forums. One, from Tim Park, on TalkCeltic said: "Rip Mr Heron - Celtic FC bringing down barriers even then."
Known as the Black Arrow, Jamaican-born Heron, the father of jazz legend Gil Scott-Heron, became known for his slick style off the pitch as well as on.
He used to wear a Zoot suit, snap-brimmed Trilby and in the words of Celtic hero Charlie Tully, "a pair of yalla shoes", when out in Glasgow.
Heron was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1922, before moving to Canada as a youth where he joined the Canadian Air Force and played for a military team.
He turned out for Detroit Corinthians, then Detroit Wolverines, where he became the top scorer in the North American Pro Soccer League in the 1946 season.
He was spotted by a scout from Celtic when the team were touring the US that year.
Heron also made appearances in the Jamaican national team. But he signed for Celtic in 1951, a time when the game was dominated by physical players and despite having been a boxer, Heron struggled at the club.
He played five times before moving to Third Lanark, then Kidderminster Harriers, after which he rejoined Corinthians.
Son Gil Scott-Heron, described as the "Godfather of Hip Hop", got global acclaim for The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
At a book launch in Glasgow, Scott-Heron, said: "My father still keeps up with what Celtic are doing. You Scots always mention my Dad played for Celtic.
"It's a blessing from the spirits. That's two things Scots love the most - music and football - and they got one representative from each from my family."
Celtic FC said: "The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic are with Gil's family."


(c) 2008 Mirror Group Ltd

Gil Heron, 81, father of Gil Scott-Heron, joins the ancestors

By Norman (Otis) Richmond

Gil Heron, who was known as the Black Arrow has joined the ancestors.

Heron was 87 years old, a poet and professional soccer player.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1921, he was the father of the revolutionary author/poet/singer and musician Gil Scott-Heron, who received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known songs,” The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

Gil Heron passed away in a nursing home in Detroit on Nov.27.

Heron is survived by three children: Gil, Gail and Dennis. Another son, Kenny, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Detroit. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

One of Heron’s surviving brothers, Roy Heron, was featured in a 2008 article,” At 85, Roy Heron’s a leader”, in Share newspaper by Dr. Lorne Foster.

Dr. Foster wrote then: “Heron has been a stalwart in African Canadian life and politics for over 60 years, fiercely dedicated to the principles of self-determination and consciousness-raising. He has single-mindedly maintained the same impassioned commitment to social justice that he possessed when he arrived in Canada in 1941.”

After Scott-Heron’s last performance in Toronto at the El Mocambo, he introduced “Uncle Roy”.

Roy Heron, remembered his younger brother with the following statement. “He was a brilliant person who showed people of color what they can achieve.” The older Heron attended his brother’s funeral in Detroit.

Gil Heron moved to Canada as a boy, and is believed to have first shown evidence of football skills during a spell in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He moved to the USA after World II and joined the Detroit Wolverines. Heron played in the United States and was invited to Scotland for a public trail at Celtic Park on Aug 4, 1951, scoring twice in the game.

According to press reports from Scottish newspapers: “The club signed him and he made his debut on August 18, 1951 in a League Cup tie against Morton at Celtic Park. He scored once in a 2-0 victory.

Heron was a published poet. One of his books was entitled, “I Shall Wish For You”. He was featured in a 1947 Ebony magazine article which referred to him as the “Black Babe Ruth.“ I spent many hours in the library at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) looking for that article, to no avail.

I met Gil Scott-Heron in the summer of 1976 when he made his first Canadian appearance at the world-famous El Mocambo. I interviewed him at a downtown hotel and asked him about his father. Arista records publicity campaign had gone to great lengths to point out that Scott-Heron’s father, Gil Heron, had been a professional soccer player for Scotland. Scott-Heron appeared to be taken aback. “The Scotts raised me” was his acid reply.

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, but spent his early childhood in the home of his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother, Bobbie Scott-Heron, sang with the New York Oratorial Society.

At the time of my first meeting with Scott-Heron he had not met his father. It was at that time I met his Jamaican-born uncle, Roy Heron, Aunt Noreen and cousins Melissa and Kathleen.

Heron was at Celtic for a year, making five appearances and scoring two goals before joining Third Lanark.

He eventually returned to the United States and settled in Detroit. He was also the father of jazz musician and composer, Gil Scott-Heron, who received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known songs: "The Revolution Will Not be Televised.”

After the show with Scott-Heron and the Midnight Band, people hung out on that warm summer night at College and Spadina. Many of us watched Scott-Heron get into a taxi cab with three women. An African-Canadian sister confronted me outside the club and said, “I just saw your boy, Gil Scott-Heron, get into a cab with three White women.”

I replied, “I saw him too and the three women were his aunt and two cousins.”

Scott-Heron finally met his father when he was 26. The meeting is immortalized on the “Bridges” album on the song “Hello Sunday! Hello Road!”

Says Scott-Heron:
”Manager we had just couldn't manage
So midnight managed right along
And it's got me out here with my brothers
And that's the thing that keeps me strong
Say Hello Sunday, Hello Road
Seems like Midnights' coming up on a town
The children on their way to Sunday school
I'm tippin' my hat to Miss Chocolate Brown
And it was on a Sunday that I met my old man
I was twenty-six years old
Naw but it was much too late to speculate
Say Hello Sunday, Hello Road
Hello Sunday, Hello Road“

When Bob Marley became too ill to perform, Stevie Wonder invited Scott-Heron to replace Marley on that tour. The Toronto Star assigned me to cover the concert and interview the 'Eighth Wonder of the World,' Stevie.

I ventured to Montreal only to discover that my soon-to-be friend, Dick Griffey, a concert promoter, president of the Black Music Association and head of Solar records-- was the promoter of this concert.

I was reunited with Scott-Heron in Montreal and he introduced me to his wife at the time, the Shreveport, Louisiana born actress Brenda Sykes.

When I was introduced to Ms. Sykes I joked: “My Uncle Printis married Rose who I believed was a Sykes and she was also born in Louisiana. We may be cousins by marriage.”

In a telephone conversion with my aunt she confirmed that Brenda is indeed her cousin.

It was in Montreal that I first met Scott-Heron’s brother, Dennis. Besides being a bit lighter in complexion than his brother, there was no doubt about it they were blood brothers. Dennis went on to manage his brother for a time.

Scott-Heron spoke about his father on one of his last tours of Scotland. Said Scott-Heron, “You Scottish folk always mention that my dad played for Celtic. It’s a blessing from the spirits”.

It has become a tradition among Scott-Heron fans to show up at his Glasgow shows in Celtic tops.

At one concert, he joked: “There you go again – once again overshadowed by a parent.”

Norman Richmond is a Toronto-based writer/broadcaster/human rights activist. Richmond can be reached Norman@ckln.fm


Michael Marra, the singer-songwriter who hails from Lochee in Dundee, recently wrote this song in tribute to Gil Heron and his time at Celtic. An excerpt from the song can be heard on his official site: http://www.musical1.com/Michael_Marra/#

(The site also contains a Marra song about another Celtic player, Hamish McAlpine, and the visit of Princess Grace of Monaco to Tannadice when he kept goal there).


Perhaps taking a leaf from his well-known son's book, in 1992 Gil had his first collection of poetry published at the grand old age of 70.

Gil Heron book cover

Gil Heron book  back cover

Included in the collection of poems is one about his playing days in Scotland some four decades earlier entitled 'The Great Ones':

The Great Ones
I'll remember all the great ones
Those that I have seen,
Those who I have played with
Who wore the white and green.

There was Tully and Bobby Evans
No greater ones you'd see,
And Celtic Park was our haven
To win was our destiny.

There was Sammy Cox and Thornton
Woodburn was there too,
Waddell and the great George Young
Who wore the white and blue.

There was Reilly and Turnbull for the Hibs
Billy Steele the great Dundee,
I'll remember all the great ones
Wherever I may be.

So let there be a Hall of Fame
The fans will all be there,
The stars will all be remembered
By loved ones everywhere.

Meeting Gill Scott Heron (son of Gil Heron)

(From the Guardian website 1 June 2011)

It probably makes sense to tell you of the only time that I met Mr Heron.

This would be about six years ago, possibly more.

(I confess to having been In The Bottle up until this year and my memory is sadly somewhat decimated)

I learned that he would be present at the now defunct Fopp record shop on Edinburgh's Cockburn Street, signing books, records and suchlike.

I was happy that my friend Pat was free to make the trip uptown from Leith as he shared with me, well many things, but most of all we shared an appreciation for this man and his various works.

We got to the record shop and by the ground floor counter and tills sat Mr Heron and his publisher and friend Mr Jamie Byng of Canongate Publishing, known to us from his Soul/Funk club-night Chocolate City, perched on stools and seeming to enjoy the interaction. Good humour was plain to see.

There was a fair queue and GSH took time to gently and courteously put people at ease, asking how they fared and what was going on. It's not overstating matters to say that he was radiating benevolence after some very trying times.

I saw several years later a similar maturity and calm in Love's Arthur Lee after not dissimilar trials and tribulations.

Anyhow, I was pretty rigid with apprehension and my friend laughed at a pretty evident case of starstruck on my part. Spellbound I was.
He encouraged me to wait in line and talk to the man.

And so I did. Eventually it was my turn.

I took a book from my courier satchel and found the page I wanted.

Mr Heron turned to me and smiled. Slowly.

"Would you mind signing this, Mr Heron? Just if it's okay. I can get something else if it's not?"

He had an almighty great red, black and green leather bonnet on. Open-necked Moroccan kind of cotton shirt. An Egyptian Ankh around his neck on a thong. What a face. What character writ large across it. Such eyes. Like pools.

He looked down at my book, entitled Hampden Babylon (a book of scandals in Scottish football) and the black and white picture of his father Giles dashing in the green and white hoops of Glasgow Celtic Football Club at Celtic Park.

I worried then that this was perhaps an inappropriate thing to present to him.

And then slowly he began to laugh. A full-bodied, head-back, arms-shaking, whole- bodied guffaw of a laugh.

I relaxed considerably. He was really laughing. It was... magic.

I can't tell you just how magic it was.

He was tired out and hadn't realised what I was handing him and then it dawned on him.

"Oh, I'll sign THIS alright! You bet. You have a name?", he said.

I handed him a pen and told him yes, I did, Dominic, but just his name would be beautiful.

He signed this marvellous flowing signature on the image, still composing himself as he did so and then gave the open book and pen back to me with a broad smile.
"Thank-you very much Mr Heron", I said.

"You're most welcome Dominic", he replied.

I left the shop and found my friend outside.

"I told you he'd sign it", my friend said.

After some confusion on my part, the book now resides with that friend in New York City and I am happy that this is so. He appreciates such things.

He appreciated

Heron, Gil - Pic

Ottawa Journal, 18 August 1951
Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki

The Story of Gil Heron: The First Black Professional Footballer in Scotland

Lee McKeown, BSSH Scotland Webmaster


Gilbert Heron (1922-2008) is best known for becoming the first black professional soccer player in America and as the first black professional footballer to play in Scotland for Celtic Football Club in 1951. He is also known as being the father of the jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron. Born in Jamaica, Heron would move to Canada as a child and would eventually play football in America for the Detroit Corinthians and later the Detroit Wolverines. Heron would prove to be a successful striker and became top scorer of the 1946 North American Soccer Football League. In 1947, Ebony magazine even described Heron as the ”Babe Ruth of soccer”.

Heron was no ordinary sportsman. He took part in a variety of different sports with Dimeo & Finn (2001) stating that Heron ”was an all-round sports man who ran and boxed and, while in Glasgow, played for leading Scottish cricket clubs too”. In 1940 Heron was even the 1940 boxing Golden Gloves champion of Michigan. BBC Caribbean describes Heron as a ”sporting renaissance man” due to his success in a wide variety of sports. While Heron enjoyed success in a variety of sports, it is his time in Scotland that he is arguably most famous for.

According to Wilson (2013), during the summer of 1951, Celtic would embark on a tour of America following a successful 1950/51 season which saw Celtic win the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1936/37 by beating Motherwell 1-0 in the final with a goal from John McPhail. It was during this tour of America that Heron was spotted by Celtic. There are, however, conflicting reports of how Heron was noticed by Celtic. Some reports suggest that Heron played against Celtic in a match in Detroit while others suggest that he may have been tipped off. Nevertheless, Wilson states that Heron who was discovered in Detroit quickly earned the nicknamed of the ”Black Flash” due to his speed and skill with the ball. While Heron was paraded as the first professional black footballer in Scottish football history, he was not the first non-white to play in Scotland. Andrew Watson played for Queens Park during the 1880’s, winning the Scottish Cup. Additionally, the Indian player Mohammed Salim was given a trial by Celtic in 1936 although he did not accept it and thus never played a first team game. Interestingly, Salim played in the reserve trials bare footed and refused to wear football boots as he had previously played bare footed in India.

Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki
Gil in Wolverines jersey

(Gil Heron in 1947 with the Detroit Wolverines)

Nevertheless, Heron saw the chance to sign for Celtic as a golden opportunity, claiming in a 1951 interview that ”Glasgow Celtic was the greatest name in football to me”. Heron was given a public trial against a selection of Celtic players divided into green and white teams and scored 2 goals. He impressed Celtic chairman Robert Kelly and was offered a 1 year contract which he accepted. However, this public trail was not a one off event to display the skill of Gil Heron. Celtic had a free public trail at the start of each season during the 1950’s and 1960’s to parade potential new signings to the general public. Gil’s son Gil Scott-Heron (2012) described in his autobiography that the contract offer from Celtic was a ”Jackie Robinson-like invitation for him. It was something that had been beyond the reach and outside the dreams of blacks”. Indeed, Jackie Robinson had been the first black to play professional baseball in Major League Baseball when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Previously, black professionals had only played in the segregated Negro Leagues and Heron would follow in the footsteps of Robinson by breaking down racial barriers by becoming the first black professional footballer in Scotland. Heron would make his Celtic debut on August 18th 1951, with The Ottawa Journal of Ottawa, Canada, reporting that day that ”for the first time in Scotland’s soccer history an American star will play for one of Scotland’s most famous clubs, Glasgow Celtic”.

Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki

(The Ottawa Journal, 18th August 1951)

Heron’s debut would be in a League Cup match at Celtic Park against Morton and he would score the second goal in a 2-0 victory in a match with over 40,000 in attendance. The goal he scored was impressive as Heron swiftly struck the ball on the turn inside the penalty area against Scottish internationalist goalkeeper Jimmy Cowan. Heron would again score in a 2-0 win over Airdireonians on 29th August. In a counter-attack Heron ran with the ball from the centre-circle and unleashed a stunning 20 yard strike against Fraser who was also a Scottish internationalist goalkeeper. However, despite showing earlier promise, Heron would have difficulties at Celtic. It has been claimed that a major factor why Heron did not succeed was because was not a physical player and struggled to adapt to the Scottish game.

Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki
Gil playing pool snooker John Glass portrait

(Gil playing pool)

However, Celtic historian Tom Campbell believes that existing players in the Celtic squad did not like Heron. It has been suggested that established stars such as Charlie Tully and John McPhail possessed significant influence in the dressing room, which Celtic manager Jimmy McGrory did not properly control. Campbell (2008) states that ”there were definite cliques within the club. McPhail was a charismatic character, he was the centre forward and he’d won the Cup for Celtic in 1951, but I think the other players kind of played to him, and almost visibly resented any player trying to take his place. There wasn’t quite the professionalism there should have been”. Heron was seen as a threat to the popular John McPhail and often found himself isolated on the pitch. Bobby Collins, though, was not impressed with the treatment of Heron and showed his disapproval by refusing to pass into space for McPhail in a match against Third Lanark. While McPhail and Tully saw Heron as a threat, he did have friends at Celtic, with Sean Fallon in particular befriending the Jamaican. However, it must be pointed out that the treatment towards Heron was not personal or racially motivated. Campbell claims that Leslie Johnson, another striker, was also treated in a similar fashion as he was also considered a threat to McPhail’s place in the team.

Eventually, Heron was relegated to the reserves where he would score 15 goals in 15 appearances. Despite his successful reserve scoring record, Heron would not play again until December in a 2-1 victory over Partick Thistle, however, he failed to impress on his return. While Heron was not recalled to the first team, he would be called to the Jamaican national side to play a series of matches against a Caribbean all start side in February 1952. Heron would score 4 goals in 3 games in front of a combined audience of over 70,000.

Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki

(Jamaica v Caribbean All Stars poster 1952)

Another reason why Heron was unsuccessful at Celtic may also have been his poor disciplinary record. Heron was red carded in a reserve match against Stirling Albion on January 2nd 1952 for fighting an opponent. Celtic chairman Robert Kelly did not look favourably towards players with poor discipline and Heron’s days at Celtic appeared to be numbered after this incident. The season would prove to be a failure for Celtic, finishing in lowly 9th place and winning no trophies. As a result, Heron would not be offered a new contract. Following his release from Celtic, Heron would be signed by Third Lanark who were at the time also a respected member of the Scottish top division. Heron would go onto play 7 games in total for the Thirds at the start of the 1952/53 season. All 7 games Heron played where in the League Cup and he scored a total of 5 goals during his time at the club, with 2 goals being scored on his club debut.

It wasn’t just football that Heron played while he was in Scotland. During the summer of 1952, Heron would play for Poloc Cricket Club in the south of Glasgow before signing for Third Lanark. He would also play for Ferguslie in Paisley during the summer of 1953. After leaving Third Lanark, Heron moved to England to play for the Kidderminster Harriers for season 1953/54. It was a bright start for Heron before he was eventually relegated to the reserve team, similarly to his time at Celtic. Heron was forced to leave the club at the end of the season due to the club suffering financial difficulties which forced them to sell a number of their star players. After leaving the Kidderminster Harriers Heron would return to Detroit with his second wife who he had met at Celtic, and they would go onto have 3 children together.

While Heron did break racial barriers by becoming the first black professional footballer in Scotland, his appearance would not lead to a significant change in racial attitudes. According to Onuora, (2015) a black player would not play in the top flight of Scottish football again until Mark Walters played for Rangers against Celtic on 2nd January 1988. While Walters was indeed the first black player to play in the Scottish top flight since Gil Heron, Paul Wilson who played for Celtic in the 1970’s was mixed race. Born in India, Wilson had a Scottish father and a Dutch-Portuguese mother who had ethnic links to Africa. In 1975 in a 1-1 draw against Spain, Wilson became the only non-white player to be capped by the Scottish national team during the 20th century. Wilson was subject to racial abuse, and in a 2011 interview he stated ”I got it right bad but was strong and able to never react, retaliate or gesture because I had grown up with all this racism. I got so much stick at school and beyond.” While the signing of Heron did not lead to a significant change in the public attitude, it was nevertheless a step in the right direction. Heron may not have been a footballing success in Scotland. However, his is warmly remembered as a cult hero and as a pioneer for being the first to cross the professional colour line of Scottish football during a time when blacks were not yet considered equal to whites.

Note – Special thanks to the author of The Shamrock article The Noble Stride – Celtic and the Pioneering Herons for providing a great amount of information as well as the images used in this article. Thanks must also go to the Celtic historian Tom Campbell and Third Lanark historian Bob Laird for helping to provide information about Gil’s playing days in Scotland.

Heron, Gil - The Celtic Wiki

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