While digging and doing research on Haitian athletes who have played in the world cup, I came across this interesting yet sad story about Joe Gaetjens, a legendary Haitian futbol player who disappeared and was killed after returning home to Haiti.
One of the biggest shocks in World Cup history happened in 1950, when the US beat England, thanks to a goal scored by Haitian Joe Gaetjens. After Gaetjens returned to Haiti a hero, he later disappeared and was killed, possibly by the president himself. ~ Courtesy of BBCNews.
According to BBCNews:
Joe Gaetjens made his name on 29 June 1950. “Out of nowhere apparently, my father came and went head first and hit the ball hard enough to change its direction – so the goalie from the England team was going one way and the ball went the other way,” says his eldest son Lesly.
The 15,000 football fans in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte stadium went wild – moments earlier they thought the US didn’t have even the slightest chance of beating England. Even the US coach had described his side as sheep ready to be slaughtered.
While the England players were professionals, the Americans were part-timers – one was a teacher, another drove a hearse for a living and Gaetjens was an accountancy student.
Joseph Edouard Gaetjens was born in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in 1924 to a relatively well-off family. He loved football and by the age of 14 was signed up to the Etoile Haitienne team where he became known for his goal-scoring headers.
But his parents felt he couldn’t rely on a football career to make a living, so in 1947 they sent him to New York’s Columbia University.
While he was there, he took a job washing dishes in a restaurant – partly for the money but mostly because the owner also owned the Brookhattan soccer team. Gaetjens was their star striker and he soon came to the attention of the US national coaches.
“During those days, as long as you were willing to sign a paper saying that you will become a citizen of the United States then you will be included on the team,” says Lesly.
Gaetjens was included in the World Cup line-up and was sent to Brazil where the US team faced England. When one of his team-mates took a shot at the goal, Gaetjens was ready to finish it off. There’s no footage of the winning goal – most of the cameras were at the other end of the pitch where they expected the action to take place.
Back home, his family didn’t even know he was in the team until they heard he had scored on the radio. The glory didn’t last though – the US lost their next game and were eliminated.
In the end, Gaetjens decided not to take US citizenship and pursued his football career in France where he spent two relatively unsuccessful seasons. By 1954 he had returned home to Haiti.
“In Haiti everybody was happy and partying – apparently all the players from all the teams gathered at the airport to receive him – it was like a national holiday kind of thing,” says Lesly.
Injury soon brought Gaetjens’ playing career to an end but he became a successful coach, helped young people get involved in soccer and also ran a chain of dry-cleaners. He married Liliane Defay and the couple had three children.
“The thing that I really think a lot about is the fact that he never had money in his pocket because he gave it all away to people that were in need… he loved his family and he really wanted to help Haiti,” says Lesly.
Gaetjens was not politically active but others in his family were agitating for change. Two of his brothers, Jean and Freddie had gone to neighbouring Dominican Republic where they were involved in a scheme to overthrow Duvalier. Gaetjens didn’t realise the danger he was in until it was too late. On 8 July 1964, when Lesly was seven, “they sent two Tontons Macoutes to one of my father’s dry cleaning [shops]… when he approached, the Tontons Macoutes got [him] in the back of the car and put a gun to his head. Then he disappeared.” His wife, Liliane did everything she could to find him but people were too scared to help or ask questions. All she managed to find out was that he had been taken to Fort Dimanche, a prison notorious for torture. – Continue Reading On BBCNews
Watch “Haitian sports history (who was Joe “ti Joe” Gaetjens?)” by Haitian History
Here is excerpt to a link to another very good read about Joe and the US Team from sportsillustrated:
“Joe could score a goal out of nothing,” says Bahr. “You wonder how he got to the ball, let alone put it in the net. I played in a half-dozen games with Joe and against him, and he was that type of center-forward: Not necessarily the best player on the field, but he always got himself in pretty good position if the ball bounced his way. I never saw the shot after I hit it because it was into traffic. Whether Joe’s getting a piece of it was by accident or design I don’t know, but I know he went after it with his head. It’s the mystery goal.”