by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 6th 2013)
A Great Idea
“I agree”, the BBCʼs South America football correspondent Tim Vickery says regarding our idea that Brasilʼs World Cup should properly remember and appreciate the football legacy of Joseph Gaetjens at the semi-final of next yearʼs World Cup in Belo Horizionte – the scene of Gaetjensʼ triumph. “I think that would be wonderful. It would be wonderful and itʼs so appropriate as I say given the relationship between Brasil and Haiti. No Iʼm all in favour. I think itʼs a great idea”.
Empower-Sport makes no secret of its belief that more needs to be done by football to remember Gaetjens. He was inducted into the sportʼs Hall of Fame in the USA, but so were the rest of the Miracle Team of 1950. Sixty years after his remarkable achievement in Belo Horizonte his son Lesly accepted a coveted award award on behalf of his murdered father. The National Soccer Coachesʼ Association of America gave its All America Award for 2010 posthumously to Gaetjens.
We believe that this recognition is far too little. Football and FIFA must make sure that Gaetjensʼ legacy is properly honoured. Brasilʼs World Cup is the ideal time and place to do this. At the very least the semi-final in Belo Horizonte on July 8th 2014 should begin with a minuteʼs silence or applause to honour the memory and legacy of Joseph Gaetjens. Vickery agrees.
Gaetjens sent a seismic shock through the world of football by scoring the goal that beat the mighty England – competing in their first World Cup – 64 years ago. A team of part-time footballers humbled a team thought to be one of the best in the world. It was so unbelievable that some refused to believe the score and reported that England had beaten the USA 10-0. In fact the impossible had happened. Gaetjensʼ 38th minute goal had beaten England.
Gaetjens never received US citizenship. He departed for France before eventually returning to his native Haiti where his story reached its tragic and deplorable conclusion. Gaetjens was kidnapped by the Ton Ton Macoutes – the notoriously brutal and venal thugs of Haitian dictator François (Papa Doc) Duvalier – on July 8th 1964. He was taken to the notorious Fort Dimanache Prison and was never seen alive again. There is no doubt that a football icon was murdered by cowardly thugs in order to steal his laundry business.
“I think itʼs such a fabulous story and you might think that it shows the United States at its most positive in the way that he was involved in the team and he had this role in scoring the goal and the fact that he was forgotten afterwards, I think is a shame”, Vickery told us.
Gaetjens was remembered fondly by Brasilians – he was chaired off the pitch in Belo Horizonte by jubilant Brasilian fans who knew they had witnessed something special. Even Brasilʼs greatest player at that tournament remembers him. Gaetjens was playing in Paris at the time.
“I remember talking once to Zizinho who was Brasilʼs star player in that World Cup in 1950 and he told me, ʻI was in Paris once and a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Oh Iʼm Gaetjens”ʼ, Vickery says, “and you know for someone who achieved something so wonderful to be so forgotten after the tragedy of what happened to him back in Haiti, now thatʼs especially pertinent given the fact that Brasil has a responsibility with Haiti because the United Nations Peace-keeping Force which is in Haiti is largely from Brasil”.
The links between Haiti and Brasil are strong but controversial. “There are Haitian immigrants coming into the country – thatʼs another controversial subject because Brasilʼs perhaps not entirely happy about the quantity of them coming in”, Vickery said. “I was at the Italy Haiti game just before this tournament [the Confederationsʼ Cup] started and there were certainly a few Haitians cheering on their team, so given the relationship between Brasil and Haiti, given the fact that the World Cup next year, 64 years afterwards will stage games in the city where Gaetjens scored his goal, I think itʼs entirely appropriate that something be done”.