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#4589: Haitian-American Soccer Hero : Who was he? Corbett replies (fwd)
From: Les Tab <Ylselo@netzero.net>
What about a name for that haitian American soccer player?
Bob Corbett replies:
Oh my do I know that one well! Joe Gaetgens. My dad, one of the
very best American players to ever play in the U.S. was at the
end of his career. He was one of the coaches of the American team.
The team had 8 of the starting 11 from here in St. Louis, all
very good friends of mine, though they were 12-20 years older than me. In
the years of dad's final seasons (he retired in 1949) I used to get to go
to practice with him. All the guys liked me since they simply loved
dad. Thus they took me under their wing and gave me special attention.
My soccer skills zoomed; my dad assumed I would follow his footstep (they
would have been much slower footsteps, my father was so fast and me, I
played with my head more than my legs :) ). I know he was disappointed when
after what seemed a promising couple of years in semi-pro ball I became
a philosopher instead of an inside-left (for those who still remember
the positions in the old spread system).
At any rate, Gaetgens was living in Philadephia and they didn't have
that strict rule they now have about plahing for the nation of your
birth. Since Haiti was out and, for the first time every, the U.S.
in, Gaetgens played center forward for them. Gino Pariani, tiny little
inside forward from the Italian community here, took a brilliant pass
from fellow St. Louis-Italian, Peewee Wallace. Gino broke toward the goal
and took both the keeper and stopper back with him (center half back in
the spread system) at the last second he laid a dream pass on Gaetgen's
foot in the mouth of the goal.
The British utterly dominated the game and Frankie Borghie (another
St. Louis Italian) and Harry Keough, perhaps the best center half back
to every play in the U.S.) were mainstays of that defense. The crowd
stormed onto the field after the fame and chased Borghie and Keough down.
Harry told me he was utterly terrified, expecting to be killed. Instead
the jubilant crowd carried the two players all the way back to them hotel
on their shoulders in a great spontaneous parade.
Lefty Colombo (you guessed it, another St.Louis Italian), who was also
a center half back in St. Louis, but played fullback on that team,
was a notorious, if not downright dirty, at least terribly rough back.
He committed a foul late in the game that really should have been a
penalty, but, as luck with have it, the referee happened to be looking
across the field. The U.S. lucked out on that non-call.
It was a goal that shook the soccer world.
Many years later, 36 I guess it was, Joe Gaetgen's brother contacted me,
knowing both of my involvement in Haiti and my intimate knowledge of that
team. Joe's brother wanted to find out what had happened with Joe in
Papa Doc's Haiti, when he disappeared. I passed word on to some folks
in Haiti who I thought could help, and before long word came down of
some definite evidence that Gaetgens died in one of Papa Doc's prisons.
Joe wasn't really political. HE was humanitarian and rather naive. He
went back to Haiti after some success in the U.S. and wanted to help out
less well-off Haitians. In that work he somehow fell afoul of Papa Doc,
which wasn't very hard to do.
Ironically, after that game, the Italian-Americans formed a team in
St. Louis called the Simpkins. Harry Keough and two of the other world
cup players went with a different team Kutis. It was the utterly golden
days of St. Louis soccer. The games, at least 4 or 5 a season when
Kutis played Simpkins you just couldn't get a ticket. Kutis began
a dynasty that has not been touched since winning the U.S. Amateur Cup 7
consecutive years and the U.S. Open nearly as many. Simpkins with
Colombo, Pariana, Wallace, Borghie from the World Cup team just
couldn't beat the Harry Keough led Kutis.
Oh my, I dream of those games still today. When I got at that level,
even with my Irish back ground and the terribly inter-city rivalry
between the Italians and Irish, at my father's prodding, I went with
the Simpkins team!!
But untimately the next year I went with Aristotle, Plato, Kant,
Hegel, Marx, and settled in with my real team mates, the Existentialists
staring Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simon de
Beauvoir. Ah, that's the team I'm still going strong with after 36 years.
By the way, for any of you who are soccer nuts, I just put up a very
long story -- must be 30-40 pages with many photos, of my father's
soccer career. I've been working on it for years. It may be seen at: