Joe Gaetjens

Joseph Edouard Gaetjens (/ˈɡɛnz/ GAY-jenz;[1] March 19, 1924 – July 10, 1964 [presumed]) was a soccer player who played as a Center forward. Born in Haiti, He also played one match for Haiti in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico before switching to represent the United States national team in the 1950 FIFA World Cup, scoring the winning goal in the 1–0 upset of England.

Joe Gaetjens
Personal information
Full name Joseph Edouard Gaetjens
Date of birth (1924-03-19)March 19, 1924
Place of birth Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Date of death July 10, 1964(1964-07-10) (aged 40)
Place of death Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Position(s) Center forward
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1938–1947 Etoile Haïtienne
1947–1950 Brookhattan 64 (42)
1951–1952 Racing Club de Paris 4 (2)
1952–1953 Olympique Alès 15 (2)
1953–1957 Etoile Haïtienne
National team
1944–1953 Haiti 3 (0)
1950 United States 3 (1)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Gaetjens won his home national championship in 1942 and 1944 with top-level Etoile Haïtienne. He then moved to the American Soccer League (ASL) and led all players with 18 goals in 15 games for New York's Brookhattan during the 1949–50 season. He was posthumously inducted into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.

Gaetjens is among the Les 100 Héros de la Coupe du Monde ("100 Heroes of the World Cup"), which included the top 100 World Cup Players from 1930 to 1990, a list drawn up in 1994 by the France Football magazine based exclusively on their performances at World Cup level.

Early lifeEdit

Joe Gaetjens was born in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, to Edmond and Antonine Defay, a well-to-do Haitian family who lived in an upscale neighborhood of Port-au-Prince called Bois Verna. His great-grandfather Thomas, was a native of Bremen, in northern Germany, who supposedly had been sent to Haiti by Frederick William III, the King of Prussia, as a business emissary arriving shortly after 1825; although the validity for this claim is uncertain by family members.[2][3] He married Leonie Déjoie, whose father was a general in a time where Haiti's independence was officially recognized by France. The family was quite prosperous, and although by the time of Joe's birth their wealth had decreased significantly after the United States occupation of Haiti (1915–34), in which the economic isolation of Germany due to World War I and conflicts over family assets between sons took its toll on the family's business interests, they were still living among the Haitian elite. When Gaetjens was born, his father registered his birth certificate with the German embassy, in case he ever wanted to gain German citizenship.[3]

Club careerEdit

Etoile HaïtienneEdit

Gaetjens joined Etoile Haïtienne at the age of fourteen and won two Ligue Haïtienne championships in 1942 and 1944. In his first championship appearance, at the age of eighteen, came against longer established Racing Club Haïtien, another club in Port-au-Prince.[note 1] Down 3–0 at halftime and a heckling goalkeeper directed at Gaetjens after each goal scored, "Ti-Joe" urged his teammates to hold its defense to allow no more goals. Less than ten minutes after Racing's last goal, Gaetjens rebounded and scored to break the shutout. At the 53rd minute, Fritz Joseph scored. With seven minutes remaining, Frérot Rouzier scored the tying goal equalizing the match at 3–3. At the final minutes of regulation, a defiant Gaetjens kept on the offense, breaking the tie at 3–4, which ended up being the game-winner.[2][5] To this day, Racing Club Haïtien refuses to play matches on the "Jeudi Saint" (Holy Thursday); the day of washing of the feet.[5] During his tenure with the club, he became known for his goal-scoring headers.[6]


Gaetjens went to New York City in 1947 to study accounting at Columbia University on a scholarship from the Haitian government and concluded that he could not make a living from professional soccer in Haiti. During this time, he played three seasons for Brookhattan of the American Soccer League (ASL). In his first season during 1947–48, he scored the second-most goals in the league with 14.[7][8][9] In his third season, he won the league's scoring title totaling 18 goals in 15 games during 1949–50.[10][11][12] He was making $25 per game, while also working for the Brookhattan owner's restaurant and washing dishes.[6]

Racing Club de Paris and Olympique AlèsEdit

At the end of the World Cup, Gaetjens left for France to play in Division 1, where he briefly played for Racing Club de Paris; scoring twice in four games and then for Division 2 Olympique Alès; scoring twice in fifteen games.[3][13]

Etoile HaïtienneEdit

Gaetjens returned to Haiti in 1954 and remained active in soccer, rejoining Etoile Haïtienne,[3] and also became a spokesman for Colgate-Palmolive. He played a few seasons and then left the game for good in 1957, a few months after the birth of his first son.[2]

International careerEdit


Gaetjens debuted on the international scene on April 2, 1944, for the Haiti national team, losing to Curaçao, 0–5. In the following match on April 5, 1944, against Venezuela, the Haitian team was shut out 0–2. Both matches were friendlies.[14]

United StatesEdit

His success with Brookhattan attracted the attention of U.S. Soccer, and Gaetjens made the national team for the 1950 World Cup.[15]

Gaetjens played three games at the World Cup, including one of the greatest World Cup upsets in history, in which Gaetjens scored the only goal in a 1–0 victory in which the American soccer team defeated the hugely favored English at Belo Horizonte. Walter Bahr had taken a shot from about 25 yards away and the ball was heading to goalkeeper Bert Williams's right. It appeared to be a relatively easy save, but Gaetjens dove headlong and grazed the ball enough that it went to the goalkeeper's left instead, with his momentum preventing him from stopping the ball. Williams later considered the goal to be a result of a lucky deflection, but this view was disputed by Laurie Hughes, who was defending Gaetjens on the play.[3]

Although Gaetjens was not a United States citizen, he had declared his intention of becoming one, and under the rules of the United States Soccer Football Association at that time was allowed to play. However, Gaetjens never actually did gain American citizenship.[16]

Return to HaitiEdit

On December 27, 1953, Gaetjens played in a World Cup Qualifier for Haiti against Mexico.[14]

Death and legacyEdit

Gaetjens was not interested in politics, but his family was. He was related to Louis Déjoie (his great-grandfather Thomas married Leonie Déjoie), who lost the 1957 Haitian presidential election to François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and although the family also had connections to the new president, Gaetjens's younger brothers Jean-Pierre and Fred, became associated with a group of exiles in the Dominican Republic who wanted to stage a coup.[3]

On July 8, 1964, the morning after Duvalier declared himself "president for life", the rest of the Gaetjens family fled the country in fear of reprisal for the younger Gaetjens brothers' rebellious associations, but Joe stayed, thinking that Duvalier's regime would be uninterested in him since he was only a sports figure. That morning, he was arrested by the nation's Tonton Macoutes secret police and was taken to a prison called Fort Dimanche notorious for its brutally inhumane practices,[3] where it is presumed he was killed some time later that month. His body has never been found.[citation needed]

In 1972, Gaetjens was honored in a benefit game involving the New York Cosmos and a team composed of local Haitians at Yankee Stadium. Joe Gaetjens was posthumously inducted into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.[3]

In 2010, his son Lesly Gaetjens wrote a biography about his father: The Shot Heard Around the World: The Joe Gaetjens Story.[2]

Number searchEdit

As interests in Gaetjens jerseys have spiked, whether it is to honor the man who arguably scored the greatest goal in American soccer history or to taunt opposing English fans during games, there has been a serious discussion about what number he wore during the 1950 World Cup.[17]

Gaetjens' nephew James attempted to figure it out in order to make T-shirts for an England-US party, but ultimately did not know. Gaetjen's son Lesly and his mother believed that he wore number 10, however they could not be certain, saying that number may have been from his club in Haiti. Lesly's uncle, nicknamed "Ti-Jean," believes he wore number 9.[17]

Internet fan forums, in particularly, the BigSoccer forum, had narrowed down his numbers to 9, 17 and 18, while some wondered if there were numbers for the World Cup team. Contrary to the latter belief, it is confirmed through pictures and footage that numbers were used, however, there was no mention of numbers worn during that year at the American Soccer History Archives, nor is it in the official game reports of FIFA. The National Soccer Hall of Fame has recorded the number as 18, from an alleged report from Walter Bahr, a member of that World Cup squad, who does not recall stating such a number. He offers his highest doubts and argues that strikers usually wore number 9, as numbers were given based on position and Gaetjens was a striker. He also attests that only two substitutes would receive numbers, skipping 13, which was considered bad luck, while numbers stopped at 14, before no longer being included. He mentions that it is possible that number 9 was taken, as Gaetjens was a late addition along with two others but ultimately, the squad grew to only 16 players.[17]

According to an unnamed ESPN producer for "Outside the Lines," in a special dedicated to Gaetjens, upon working with footage believes the number was 18 and attests to 98–99 percent certainty.[17]

Gaetjens was seen wearing 15 in the game against Spain, which was not the 18 he supposedly wore in the game against England. The Youtube video footage of the game against Spain was not just of high quality, but also a close up of him hustling back after a failed attack via a left side cross, thus showing the back and the number of his shirt clearly. On the other hand in the England game there was only a photo taken from the other end of the field (goalkeeper's view), so it is not 100% sure if indeed it is 18 or not after magnifying the photo.

Film controversyEdit

Gaetjens, although light-skinned, was portrayed by a "dark-skinned" Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis in the 2005 film called The Game of Their Lives and was depicted as a practitioner of Voodoo, which outraged his family, leading them to proclaim how ludicrously inaccurate the interpretation was.[3][18] In reality, Gaetjens, like most Haitians, grew up as a Catholic and went to church every Sunday. His sister, Mireille, voiced her displeasure and condemned the notion over a phone interview by saying: "Our family traded rum and coffee and ran schools... No family member was into voodoo. I've never even seen voodoo being practiced. Nobody in the family has ever even set foot in a voodoo church!"[3]

Personal lifeEdit

When Gaetjens first arrived in the US from Haiti, he was mistaken for Belgian of the Flemish-speaking part of the country, due to the sounding of his surname ending in -tjens and the fact that migration in waves were common during the 19th century. However, his great-grandfather was from Bremen of northern Germany and the Gaetjens name is not common in Flanders. Although, a variant does exist over Germany's northern border in Denmark as Gätjens.[3]

Gaetjens was a fluent speaker of French, Spanish and English.[3]



Etoile HaïtienneEdit




Career statisticsEdit

Club Season[note 2] League[23] U.S. Open Cup[24] Lewis Cup[24] Duffy Cup[24] Friendlies[24] Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps*[note 3] Goals
Brookhattan 1947–48 20 14 20 14
1948 6 1 3 3 9 4
1948–49 17 4 17 4
1949 2 0 3 2 1 1 6 3
1949–50 15 18 15 18
1950 6 4 4 2 5 0 1 1 16 7
1950–51[note 4] 12 6 12 6
Total 64 42 14 5 10 7 6 1 1 1 95 56



  1. ^ According to the Rec Sport Soccer Statistics Foundation,, cup matches were played throughout the country, but the national championships were restricted to top-level clubs from Port-au-Prince only, and a few surrounding areas within. It wasn't until 1988, that the national championship was fully integrated in to league format outside of the capital.[4]
  2. ^ According to the American Soccer History Archives, the champion was determined by top-record. If tied, a playoff would be adopted by the ASL to determine the winner.[22]
  3. ^ Total games played unavailable; individual games revealed usually only when goals were scored. This number reflects the total games played by Brookhattan during these seasons. In the 1950–51 season, games are not incurred for 1951 since Gaetjens wasn't with the club.[25]
  4. ^ According to, Gaetjens did not finish the season for Brookhattan and did not play a game in 1951 for the ASL.[8]


  1. ^ "A Goal, A Ghost". ESPNsoccernet. Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Gaetjens, Lesly (2010). The Shot Heard Around the World: The Joe Gaetjens Story. pp. 1, 3–4, 16, 24. ISBN 9780557612314. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Schaerlaeckens, Leander (February 26, 2010). "Chasing Gaetjens". ESPNsoccernet. Archived from the original on April 17, 2016. Retrieved February 26, 2010.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ "Haiti – List of Champions". RSSSF. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  5. ^ a b RSSSF – Haiti 1942/43
  6. ^ a b Gee, Alison (March 22, 2014). "BBC News – Joe Gaetjens – the footballer who disappeared". Retrieved April 22, 2014.
  7. ^ Wolff, Alexander, ed. (March 8, 2010). "The Hero Who Vanished". Vault (Sports Illustrated). Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "1950–1951 American Soccer League (1933–1983) – Joe Gaetjens". SoccerStats. Archived from the original on April 20, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  9. ^ Litterer, David, ed. (May 30, 2008). "The Year in American Soccer – 1948". American Soccer History Archives. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  10. ^ Litterer, David A., ed. (September 2, 2010). "USA – Leading Goalscorers in US Professional Soccer". RSSSF. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  11. ^ Litterer, David, ed. (June 6, 2004). "The Year in American Soccer – 1950". American Soccer History Archives. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ Wahl, Grant, ed. (May 13, 2014). "The 10 Most Significant Goals in U.S. Soccer History". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  13. ^ Stades et Spectateurs – Moyennes d'affluences de Spectateurs France 1952
  14. ^ a b Joseph Gaetjens – International Appearances
  15. ^ "Players Appearing for Two or More Countries". RSSSF. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  16. ^ Longman, Jere (December 10, 2009). "How a 'Band of No-Hopers' Forged U.S. Soccer's Finest Day". The New York Times.
  17. ^ a b c d Schaerlaeckens, Leander, ed. (June 10, 2010). "The search for Joe Gaetjens' number". ESPN. Archived from the original on April 20, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  18. ^ Hall, Michael R., ed. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Haiti. p. 117. ISBN 9780810878105. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  19. ^ France Football's World Cup Top-100 1930–1990 Archived October 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on January 27, 2016
  20. ^ NSCAA – Joe Gaetjens to Receive NSCAA Honorary All-America Award Retrieved on April 25, 2016
  21. ^ – U.S. Open Cup 1950
  22. ^ Holroyd, Steve; Litterer, David, eds. (March 20, 2005). "The Year in American Soccer – 1949". American Soccer History Archives. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  23. ^ – Joe Gaetjens
  24. ^ a b c d SoccerStats – Joe Gaetjens: Games
  25. ^ "Brookhattan: All Games". SoccerStats. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2016.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)

External linksEdit