Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Obscure Football Legends: Joe Gaetjens

When people discuss the greatest World Cup games of all time, there is one game that almost invariably comes up - the US defeat of England by a score of 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup. However, not as many people know who it was who scored that goal. Join me after the jump to find out about him.

Joe Gaetjens was born on March 19, 1924 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After his primary schooling in Haiti, he received a scholarship from the Haitian government to study at Columbia University in New York City. While there he began playing with a local team, and was soon spotted by a talent scout for the US Men's National Team. Although Gaetjens was Haitian, he had declared his intent to apply for US citizenship as he was planning on staying in New York after college. Under the rules of the United States Soccer Football Association (USSFA) at the time, he was eligible to play for the US team since he was "in the process" of becoming a US citizen.

In a brief run of success, the United States qualified for the 1950 World Cup, which was being held in Brazil. Already having lost to Spain 3-1 in their first match, the US team was not optimistic about their chances against England in their second match. The teams met at the Estadio Independencia at Belo Horizonte with England tabbed at 3-1 odds to win the World Cup and the US at 500-1 odds.

After surviving 9 shots over the first 36 minutes, lightning struck for the US. Walter Bahr sent in a cross, and as the England goalkeeper came out to make the play Joe Gaetjens dove (some say almost 6 yards) to head the ball into the net. The crowd erupted as the US took a 1-0 lead, which they would hold on to for the rest of the match.

Although the US lost their next match to Chile 5-2, and were subsequently eliminated from the World Cup, the win against England was massive, and came to be known as the Miracle on Grass. Eventually, a book was written about the game, followed by a movie.

After the World Cup, Gaetjens moved to France where he spent some time playing with Troyes and Racing of Paris. He eventually played several matches for the Haitian national team, with his final match being on December 27, 1953 against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. Following this game, Gaetjens moved back to Haiti where he became an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, this was at the beginning of turbulent political times in Haiti, and although Gaetjens kept to himself some of his family members outside of Haiti were ardent supporters of an anti-Duvalier candidate.

On July 8, 1964 Gaetjens was arrested by the feared Tonton Macoutes, Duvalier's secret police, and taken to the notorious prison Fort Dimanche. He is presumed to have been killed along with dozens of other political prisoners held at the prison.

In 1972, Gaetjens was honored at a NY Cosmos game, and he was posthumously inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.

NOTE: Don't worry that this feature will turn into "Obscure Haitian Football Legends" - there were only 2 (Jozy doesn't count since he isn't obscure, and isn't a legend yet), so we'll be moving on to other countries now. I just had to rep my roots first.

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