#00B - The immortal Joe Gaetjens...

Post Reply
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 2152
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2014 7:03 pm

#00B - The immortal Joe Gaetjens...

Post by admin » Sun Jan 23, 2005 9:17 pm

(Palm Beach Post, 12 Feb 00)
By Hal Habib

Their voices are going silent now, one by one. All those decades went by, wasted, and we never bothered to listen to their story. Now we know better, so we ask.

"In another 50 years," their running joke goes, "we'll be famous."

If only we could bring the 10 of them to the coffee table to tell us about their team and its hero, Joe Gaetjens . . .

Joe? Ah, Joe. Everybody loved Joe. You met him, and 15 minutes later you'd swear he'd been your buddy for years. He never bothered anybody, unless he was playing against you.

Like that day in 1950, I'll never forget it. We're playing the British, so we don't have any chance in hell, but Joe somehow sticks the ball in the net - Joe scored the craziest goals - and we win 1-0. The United States beats England in the World Cup 1-0! The British see 1-0 come over the wire and figure it's a mistake, so they broadcast it as 10- 1 for England.

Never been an upset like it, not in soccer, anyway. Funny thing is, Joe scored this huge goal for the United States and he wasn't even an American. He was Haitian.

Why they let him play, I'll never know. That's how it was with Joe, see. There's a lot nobody knows about the guy.

Ah, Joe. How could anybody kill little Joe?

Tonight, the national teams of the United States and Haiti will begin play in the Gold Cup tournament. In a perfect world, Joe Gaetjens would kick out the ceremonial first ball, putting a golden anniversary brush to the Orange Bowl on the outskirts of Little Haiti.

It was said his goal made him a legend - or should have - but it did not. It's said it made him immortal, but it could not. England did its best to forget the whole thing happened, and the United States never pretended to care. Gaetjens played a few more years, then returned to Haiti and opened a dry cleaning business.

One morning in 1964 he was opening up shop, and suddenly, he was gone. The Haitian government never issued a death certificate for him, but his relatives and former teammates now know better. After years of wondering, digging and cajoling, they determined Gaetjens was arrested by the Tontons Macoute - Haiti's notorious secret police - then taken to dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's Fort Dimanche prison, and, within a few days, executed.

Decades later, a voice on the telephone struggles for words. It's Lyliane Gaetjens, Joe's widow who quickly fled Haiti with their three children.

"Even though he passed away some time ago," she says from her home in Fort Lauderdale, "it was under tragic conditions. It's still a very painful subject for me. This is why I don't like to give interviews."

What Lyliane cannot say, others will.

"It's one of the greatest sports stories of all time - greatest in a sinister sense," Clive Toye says. Toye, who brought Pele to the United States, was recruited by Gaetjens' family to assert international pressure on the Haitian government for an explanation.

"The man scored the goal heard 'round the world then disappeared from the face of the world," Toye said. "It's a tragic story."

Joseph Eduard Gaetjens was born in Port-au-Prince on March 19, 1924, to a Haitian mother and Belgian father, from whom he inherited his light skin. He came to New York to study accounting at Columbia University but ended up working as a dishwasher at a German restaurant in New York, where one day
he told the owner he loved to play soccer.

"If you play soccer the way you wash dishes, forget about it," the owner said.

Nevertheless, the man arranged for Gaetjens to try out for the local team. Gaetjens had his quirks, like wearing his socks down around his ankles, but his speed and knack for scoring earned him local acclaim, then a spot on the U.S. team that would compete in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Never mind that Gaetjens wasn't a citizen - back then if you declared your "intent" to become one, that apparently was enough.

"Joe was a free spirit, and that's how he scored goals," said Walter Bahr, 72, a midfielder on that team. "He was always getting goals and you'd say, 'How the heck did he get to that ball?' He would go around people, through people, over people, all the time."

The U.S. team was a motley crew of semipros: a truck driver, a mechanic and a hearse driver united for $5 a day in meal and laundry money. Narrow losses to England's 'B' team in a tune-up and to Spain in the first match of the World Cup raised hopes that against England, maybe, just maybe, they would get trounced rather than humiliated.

June 29, 1950:

We've played 37 minutes and they still hadn't scored on us. So Bahr takes this throw-in from Ed McIlveney and he's 25 yards from the goal, going from his right to his left, and he takes this shot, see.

Their goalkeeper was Bert Williams, and he dives to his right, but somehow Joe dives through all this traffic - I swear he flew 14 feet - and heads the ball to Williams' left.

Joe scores the goal of his life, and you know what? He doesn't even see it! He was face-down on the grass. That's Joe for you.

Nobody knows exactly what to make of this, especially with 53 minutes left to play.

"We thought it was just a matter of time before they put a couple in our net," Bahr said.

The English almost did, if not for a debatable call here or there and a football-style tackle that abruptly ended a breakaway. The Brazilian crowd of 10,151 went crazy, figuring the home country now had a clear path to the World Cup (Brazil ended up runner-up to Uruguay).

"They carried some of us off on their shoulders," said forward John Souza, 79, who now lives in Port St. Lucie. "There was a big moat with a big, high fence. They came right over that onto the field and picked us up."

The U.S. players were stunned.

"It depended on your point of view," said defender Harry Keough, 72, of St. Louis. "I went up to (forward) Frank Wallace and said, 'Boy, I feel sorry for these poor guys. We never should have beaten them. Then we walked to the dressing room and (midfielder) Charlie Colombo says, 'It's about time we beat these bastards!' "

The English press - when it figured out the actual score - was horrified. Papers published editions with black borders, and The Daily Express said England had been "outplayed by American amateurs and semipros."

"It would be like a bush-league team coming to the Bronx and beating the New York Yankees," said London's Brian Glanville, author of The History of the World Cup. "I think it was the biggest (soccer) upset of all time. I hate being reminded of it."

Mystery surrounds the event: Only one American reporter was in attendance, so it received scant attention, especially with the Korean War breaking out. Even The New York Times, in a wire account, credited the goal to Ed
Souza (no relation to John Souza). The Soccer Hall of Fame, which inducted Gaetjens in 1976, could find only 10 seconds of footage. Despite claims to the contrary, no photograph of Gaetjens scoring the goal is known to exist.

Momentum-wise, "I don't think we got anything from it," Hall of Fame historian Colin Jose said. A 5-2 loss to Chile sent the American team home, never to play together again. Another 40 years would pass before the U.S. qualified for another World Cup, and 43 years went by before the U.S. defeated England again.

"This team never received the credit anywhere for what it did," Jose said. "It was always considered to be a fluke rather than a good performance."

Said Bahr: "I never even did an interview about that game for I bet 25 years."

By the time television lifted the World Cup and its history to new heights, by the time the world realized what Gaetjens had accomplished, it was far too late to let him know.

"His two best friends killed him," Joe's son, Richard, told soccer author Frank Dell'appa in 1991.

Richard, who grew up to become an actor in Los Angeles, said he returned to Port-au-Prince, found his father's killers, and confronted them.

"I talked to the one who pulled the trigger," said Richard, who died of cancer in 1993.

The family also located an old family friend, a senator who was in Fort Dimanche with Gaetjens and other political prisoners. The friend was soon transferred to another jail and recalled a guard telling him, "You're lucky, because last night they killed everybody at Fort Dimanche."

Fort Dimanche, since shut down, had 15-foot-square cinder block cells. At midnight, guards would call out a name, take that prisoner to the courtyard, stand him against the wall, and execute him. Evidence points to Gaetjens being led to that wall on or about July 10, 1964, two days after his arrest.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, responding to Toye, issued a report in December 1979, citing a "serious violation" and concluding, in part:

"Joseph Nicolas Gaetjens was arrested in Port-au-Prince on July 8, 1964, at 10 a.m. by an armed, uniformed police officer, Lt. Edouard Guillot, and by two armed plain-clothesmen in the presence of numerous people.

"No proof has been shown that he was brought before competent authorities. The fact that Mr. Gaetjens, a football player of international standing, has not been seen since his detention in 1964 leads to conclusion that he is dead."

Joe's brother, Jean Pierre, 65, who now calls St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, home, said police were waiting for Joe when he arrived at the store.

"The police station was not far, about four or five blocks away," Jean-Pierre said. "They went to him when he was still in the car and put a gun to his head. One of them moved into the driver's seat, one in the back, and drove to the police station. From there on we never heard of him. His wife was authorized to pick up the car maybe a week later."

Said Toye: "The story is his brothers were politically anti-Duvalier, and Joe himself was a happy-go-lucky soccer player. But he was the one who was still in Haiti, and he owned a dry cleaning store coveted by someone in the Tontons Macoute. Because a major could take over the dry cleaning store, and gain some revenge, it was two very good reasons for them to exercise the authoritarian strength he had."

Jean-Pierre agreed: "It was customary to arrest relatives in Haiti just to stop those outside from doing anything against the government." Three of the brothers, Jean Pierre said, opposed Duvalier while in the Dominican Republic and one even participated in an attempted overthrow.

And thus, Joe Gaetjens, the player who once returned his salary because he felt his performance hadn't been up to standard, the husband who enjoyed planting roses in the family's home in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince, was gone.

"Every time I go to a game, I'm reminded of that," Jean Pierre said, tears beginning to fill his eyes as night fell in Paris, which he frequents on business. "It's a sad story. He could have been with us. When he returned to Haiti he would train young people, going to the poorest section of town to help. Joe was never a rich man, but any money he had, he'd give to anybody he feels needs it . . . "

Friday, three current members of the U.S. National Team were asked what the name Joe Gaetjens meant to them. Their answers were the same: nothing. Then it was explained to them.

"Oh," said one. "I should have known that.

"I'm sorry."


* Palm Beach Post researchers Geni Guseila and Lynne Palombo and Soccer America magazine contributed to this report.

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 2152
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2014 7:03 pm

Post by admin » Sun Jan 23, 2005 9:40 pm

Il y a quelques années, j'ai transmis cet article de presse à l'un des proches de Joe Gaetjens. Je partage avec vous sa réponse:

"Je te remercie sans mesure pour l'article concernant Joe. Destin tragique parmi toutes les tragédies générées par Duvalier et ses sbires. La photo du but existe. Je l'ai vue à l'office de la la fédération de 'US football' à New york durant les anneés 60. Cette photo ornait tout un pan du mur de la salle d'attente."

Cela contredit ce qui est rapporté dans l'article concernant la photo du but. Qui a raison? ? ?

Un Sherlock Holmes nous fera peut-être parvenir une reproduction de la photo en question.

Post Reply