In a series of stories from @AmitKatwala, whose e-book is full of brilliant World Cup stories, talkSPORT.com is look at the shocking and amazing tales from each World Cup. Here, it’s the 1974 tournament.
WEST GERMANY 1974
Illustration: Daniel Mitchell
Their orange shirts matched those of the Dutch in this tournament, but Haiti were a world away from Total Football. Still, the Caribbean island nation managed to give Italy a scare in their opening game. With the great Dino Zoff in goal, the Italians had gone 1,174 minutes without conceding until Manno Sanon rounded Zoff to score. The Italians went on to win 3–1, but that goal remains a high for Haitian football. “That goal put Haiti on the map, whatever came afterwards,” Sanon would later reflect, according to the Sabotage Times.
Haiti’s unlikely journey to the World Cup finals in Germany started in the mid 1960s, when the country’s autocratic leader Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier — who gained his nickname for successfully fighting disease in the country, and who recognised the unifying power football could have — began pumping money into the game. He banned all foreign transfers to keep the emerging team together, their training facilities were improved, and the players were fed well. There was, however, always a threat hanging over the squad — best illustrated by the fate of Joe Gaetjens, the Haitian-born striker who scored the USA’s winner in their famous victory over England in 1950. After retiring from football, he returned to Haiti to run a dry-cleaning business. Gaetjen’s family were involved in politics and openly opposed Papa Doc, who had a fearsome private militia and claimed to be a voodoo priest. One morning in July 1964, Gaetjens disappeared — kidnapped at gunpoint. His body was never found.
There would be echoes of Gaetjens’ harsh treatment at the World Cup in 1974. The qualification tournament doubled as the 1973 regional championship. All the games were played in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, and were funded by Papa Doc’s son, Jean-Claude (or ‘Baby Doc’), who had assumed the presidency after his father’s death in 1971.
“He made it clear that it was his team, and his money had got us to where we were,” said Sanon. “He’d show up to training, and regularly phoned me and other players to check we were okay. Some of the guys felt it was dangerous to have Jean-Claude too close to the team.”
Haiti won the tournament and their place at the World Cup in front of a 30,000-strong crowd whipped into frenzy by conductors planted in the stands by the government. There were allegations, too, that Baby Doc might have meddled with proceedings. One game stands out: a 2–1 win over Trinidad in which the referee disallowed four of the away team’s goals. A year later, he was banned for accepting bribes.
After the Italy game, Haiti’s tournament began to unravel. Centre-half Ernst Jean-Joseph failed a drugs test. The player claimed innocence, blaming pills he took for asthma. The team doctor disagreed. A couple of days later, in echoes of what happened to Gaetjens, Haitan officials dragged him, screaming, out of the school where the team were staying. They beat him and shoved him into a car. He was flown back to Haiti the next morning.
His teammates were terrified. Central defender Fritz Plantin said: “We’d been protected from that side of the regime, but now we saw the dark side. We had a sleepless night before the Poland game. I was only thinking about Ernst, not the game.” Poland thrashed the Haitians 7–0.
After that, Baby Doc ordered John-Joseph to phone the team captain and let them know he was still alive before their final group game against Argentina. They acquitted themselves much better — losing 3–1, with Sanon again on the scoresheet.
Jean-Joseph eventually returned to the national team, too. And, despite the circumstances, Haitians still look back on 1974 as the tournament when the world was momentarily dazzled by a different brand of brilliant orange.
The 1974 World Cup in brief
West Germany were champions on home soil – and as in 1954 when they beat Hungary – their victory came at the expense of a team widely considered best in the world. Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands were favourites before the final but the hosts, beaten earlier in their competition by their East German neighbours, recovered from a first-minute Dutch goal to win. It was also a memorable tournament for Poland whom Gregorz Lato fired to third place.