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

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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.