Joe Gaetjens scored one of the most famous goals in UFWC history, in the USA’s 1950 World Cup finals win over England.
Born in Haiti in 1924, he moved to the US to study at New York’s Columbia University, and worked as a restaurant dishwasher to pay his way. He played his club football in the US for Brookhatten, in the American Soccer League. (Despite its name, the club played in neither Brooklyn nor Manhattan, but the Bronx.)
Renowned for his speed and style on the football pitch, he cut a distinctive figure with his socks around his ankles. He emerged as Brookhatten’s best player and top scorer, and was selected to represent the USA at the 1950 World Cup.
The US played only three group games at the World Cup before being eliminated, and won only the match against England. Gaejtens was 26 years old when he scored ‘the shot heard around the world’. It was the winner in a 1-0 victory, with Gaetjens diving full-length to deflect a long-range Walter Bahr shot past English keeper Bert Williams. At the full-time whistle, home fans carried the goalscorer from the field on their shoulders.
Gaetjens never played for the US after 1950, but turned out for Haiti in a World Cup qualifier in 1953. He had a brief spell at Troyes in France, then returned to Haiti to open a dry cleaning business.
In 1964 the apolitical Gaetjens was arrested by the Tonton Macoutes, the Haitian secret police, and was never seen again.
15 years later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a report that concluded: ‘The fact that Mr Gaetjens, a football player of international standing, has not been seen since his detention in 1964 leads to the conclusion that he is dead.’
Tragically, witnesses later claimed that, within days of his arrest, Gaetjens was lined up against a wall and shot.
Joe Gaetjens, UFWC career 1950, 2 games, 1 goal.