Monday, June 7, 2010
Haiti's position as tournament outsiders was underlined by the fact that they, along with fellow World Cup debutants Australia and Zaire, were only allocated a single page in the 1974 World Cup Panini sticker album!
Haiti's coach and 'Mr Football,' Antoine Tassy, was cautiously optimistic before the tournament began. "Our problem is lack of experience, particularly playing against European teams, but we are versatile," he said. "We can vary from 4-3-3 to 4-2-4 and are prepared to attack with seven and defend with eight." Tassy also served as the team's trainer as well as being the country's Director of Sport. Legend has it that Tassy, upset at his team's seemingly complacent attitude in a training session prior to their first World Cup match in West Germany, fired shots from a starting pistol into the ceiling, causing debris to fall on his players' heads!
Haiti's goalkeeper, Henri Francillon, was the only player in the squad from Port-au-Prince's Victory club, the majority of the other players being evenly split between the capital's three main sides: Racing Club, Aigle Noir and Violette Athletic Club. His fantastic performances in West Germany, particularly against Italy in the opening game, earned him a contract with Bundesliga club TSV 1860 Munich, but he left after just one season having played only five league games. He later served in the Haitian parliament for five years before seeking asylum in Florida where he worked as a delivery driver. In 1999 it was reported that he had been shot dead during civil unrest in Haiti, but he is alive and well today, living in Boston, Massachusetts.
Haiti vs Italy 1974 World Cup (match highlights)
Arsene Auguste was an accomplished defender who played in Haiti's first two games in West Germany, suffering an unlucky deflection for Italy's second goal in the opening match. After the World Cup he played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL, scoring with a fantastic 30-yard shot in the 1975 Soccer Bowl as the Rowdies beat Portland Timbers 2-0. He was also in their Soccer Bowl runners-up teams of 1978 and '79 and made it an unfortunate treble when losing the 1980 final with the Strikers. Auguste played in both of Haiti's unsuccessful 1978 and 1982 World Cup qualifying campaigns. In the former, they finished second behind Mexico in the final group, this being the last occasion that only one nation qualified from the CONCACAF region. The opening game of the group ultimately proved decisive, Mexico beating the Haitians 4-1 at the Azteca Stadium, with Auguste scoring his country's consolation goal. In 1982, Haiti again reached the final group stages but disappointingly finished last, without winning a single game. Auguste played indoor soccer in the US until 1987, before his tragic death from a heart attack whilst mowing the lawn of his Miami home in 1993, aged just 42.
Arsene Auguste scores a brilliant goal in the 1975 Soccer Bowl
Philippe Vorbe was the only white man in the team and known to opponents as the 'White Devil.' He played professionally in the US during the late '60s for the New York Generals, returning to his homeland to play for Violette, whom he now coaches. He had previously been Haitian captain, but resigned following his father's appointment as the nation's FA President. He played in all three World Cup Finals games, providing the inch-perfect pass for Emmanuel Sanon's memorable goal against Italy. As captain, he was the player who was summoned to receive a call from Ernst Jean-Joseph, Haiti's red-haired, mulatto centre-half who had failed a drugs test after the Italy match and was subsequently beaten up by Haitian officials, thrown into a car and kept in isolation at a Munich hotel close to the team's training camp. Jean-Joseph protested that he took the pills for asthma, a claim denied by the team's French doctor who said that the player was "not intelligent enough to know what he was doing." The disgraced player was flown back to Haiti after reassuring his captain and teammates that he was still alive. Amidst all this controversy it was no surprise that the Haitians lost their second match 0-7 to Poland, as defender Fritz Plantin recalls: "We had a sleepless night before the game against Poland and, to be honest, I was only thinking about Ernst, not the game. We were 5-0 down at half-time and to be honest, they were kind to us in the second half because they only scored twice more. If they'd run up double figures it wouldn't have flattered them." After serving a one year FIFA-imposed ban, Jean-Joseph returned to the national team, playing in the 1978 and 1982 World Cup qualifiers.
Emmanuel 'Manno' Sanon was Haiti's goalscoring hero and greatest ever sportsman. Having easily beaten Puerto Rico by an aggregate score of 12-0 in the qualifying round (Sanon scoring a hat-trick in each game) Haiti staged the 1973 CONCACAF Championship, which for the first time doubled as World Cup qualification. All games were staged at Port-au-Prince's revamped 30,000-capacity Sylvio Cator stadium, which created a very intimidating atmosphere for teams facing the hosts. It has been suggested that Haiti's military regime may have strongly influenced their eventual qualification, particularly in the ultimately decisive 2-1 victory over Trinidad and Tobago, during which the visitors had four goals disallowed by the Salvadorian referee, Enriquez (Enriquez was banned by FIFA a year later for taking bribes in relation to games he subsequently officiated). However, it is the partisan home crowd that Sanon remembers as helping him and his teammates the most. Speaking in 2006 he said, "The crowd made a huge noise and intimidated the opposition. Games in Central America and the Caribbean can always be vocal, but this got fairly toxic at times, with objects thrown onto the pitch and at rival players, and there were stories of opposition players getting hassled in car parks. It wasn't something any of us would condone, but it happened and I can't deny that it helped us." Sanon scored five goals in as many games during the tournament, including both in the 2-1 defeat of Guatemala which sealed qualification. "Those three weeks were the most incredible I can remember in Port-au-Prince," recalls midfielder Jean Herbert Austin. "After every victory in the tournament there were carnivals in the streets and the whole place came to a virtual standstill." The Haitian musician Bob Lemoine wrote a song especially for the tournament called Toup Pou Yo ('Kick for Goal) which was played before every game and is still popular today. The bond between the team and the nation's people was strong, as then Radio Metropole commentator, Robert Fatton, recalls: "You would see them (the players) literally in the streets of Port-au-Prince running, because we had very few places where they could run. They would go up the road to Petion-ville, which is a very tough, long kind of a ride. You would see them several times a week running for four or five kilometers on that very painful road. It was extremely hot. They knew they were representing their country."
After qualification the team were kept in a closely-guarded army camp in mountainous country, 30 miles outside of the capital, their public only getting to see them from time to time in open training sessions at the national stadium. Drawn in Group 4 alongside Italy, Poland and Argentina, Haiti arrived in West Germany two weeks before the World Cup Finals started, staying at the Grunwald Sports Centre in Munich. In the opening game against Italy, Sanon famously gave Haiti the lead, ending Dino Zoff's record of 1142 minutes without conceding an international goal in the process. The goal also prompted one of the best substitutes' bench celebrations ever seen! Haitian joy was short-lived as the Italians fought back to win 3-1, but 'Manno' was again on target in the final game against Argentina with a fantastic long-range strike in his team's 1-4 defeat. "I can remember it like it was yesterday," recalled Sanon about his famous goal against the Italians. "I always knew that with my speed, I could get at the Italian defence and that goal put Haiti on the map, whatever came afterwards. Psychologically, I don't think we were ready for it, and we got caught up in the goal and lost our concentration. But that moment was my greatest in football. Zoff's face - he was absolutely furious with his defence, and I was joyful too because I knew that back home everyone would be going wild." The Haitian team celebrated their fine performance against the Italians with a trip to Munich Zoo the following day! The official film of the 1974 World Cup, Heading for Glory, includes brief footage of Sanon's famous goal. The film's narrator, the British actor Joss Ackland, describes Haiti as, "A team with a dream from a tropical, Caribbean setting."
After the World Cup, Sanon played in Europe with Beerschot VAC of Belgium and in the US with the NASL's San Diego Sockers, alongside Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez, until a knee injury ended his career in 1983. Sadly, the great man died of cancer in February 2008, aged 56, and was mourned by Haitians and football lovers worldwide.
Haiti's captain, Wilner Nazaire, was the only player in the squad to be playing professionally outside of the country, with French second division club, Valenciennes. The defender started all three games in West Germany and also played in the 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign. In the March 9th 1974 edition of Shoot magazine, Nazaire gave an interesting and forthright interview as part of 'The Captains' series, in which all skippers of the sixteen competing nations at the forthcoming World Cup were questioned.
SHOOT: Wilner Nazaire, you're the captain of just about the most unlikely team ever to qualify for the World Cup Finals, if you don't mind us saying so! As we don't specialise in geography, perhaps you'd tell us first, where exactly is
NAZAIRE: Haiti is in the left hand half of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean which we share with the Dominican Republic. It's some distance south-east of Cuba and east of Jamaica. Does that give you some idea where you can locate us?
SHOOT: Just about. Is it a very big country, Wilner?
NAZAIRE: Not really, there are only some five million people altogether and the main town, Port-au-Prince, has a population of just over 300,000.
SHOOT: We must ask you this. In one of the qualifying matches for the tournament, you beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 after the opposition had had four goals disallowed.
NAZAIRE: The referee was perfectly correct to disallow the goals, they were all offside. A linesman said so.
SHOOT: It was said in some circles that this linesman in particular arrived home with many more gifts than one might expect!
NAZAIRE: It's a Haitian custom to give presents to visitors at every opportunity, and everyone who came collected a great many souvenirs. I went down to the Hotel Coconut on the day the Trinidadians left, and you'd have thought an army of merchants had been staying there on their way to Asia. I certainly hope you are not suggesting for a moment that we bribed our way to the World Cup Finals?
SHOOT: Not at all, Wilner. We're intrigued, that's all...
NAZAIRE: I can't understand why the soccer world seems so surprised when we qualified. Even three years ago, in the Central American Championship, we came second to Mexico only on goal average. So with home advantage it was quite reasonable to expect us to win our way to West Germany.
SHOOT: Well, you've convinced us that Haiti's success wasn't that astonishing, Wilner, but for any team from the Caribbean to qualify is still rather surprising. We always thought baseball was the popular game in all the islands that don't play cricket?
NAZAIRE: That's quite correct on the whole. The Dominican Republic, our better half, you might say, are mad keen on baseball. But our island has French origins - it was once a French colony, hundreds of years ago, and somehow soccer has become the number one sport. In fact, it's pretty well the only game that's played here!
SHOOT: But some of your team played soccer in the United States, didn't they?
NAZAIRE: That's right. Three of our forwards, Desir, Bayonne and St. Vill have all played in the U.S. Soccer League.
SHOOT: Who is the star of the team?
NAZAIRE: Not much doubt about that....Emmanuel Sanon, our centre-forward. He's only 22, but he's a brilliant ball player, and his shooting is really something.
SHOOT: And who is the most experienced - yourself?
NAZAIRE: No. I've played 30 times for the national side at full-back, but our goalkeeper, Henri Francillon, has 56 caps, and Guy St. Vill has been selected nearly 75 times. He's the veteran of the side, at 33 years of age.
SHOOT: And what about your Manager, Antoine Tassy - he must have played a big part in your success?
NAZAIRE: He certainly has. Monsieur Tassy gave us such a detailed run-down of our opponents that we felt we were going to beat them from the very first kick of the ball.
SHOOT: And the Finals. Can you really beat teams like Argentina and Italy?
NAZAIRE: Of course! On paper we have no real chance, but football is unpredictable, and anything can happen in the World Cup.
Jean Claude Desir, nicknamed 'Tom Thumb,' was a veteran of Haiti's 1970 World Cup squad who were extremely unlucky not to qualify for those Finals. After losing 1-2 to El Salvador in Port-au-Prince, Les Grenadiers won the return match 3-0, but because the aggregate score didn't count, a deciding game was held in Kingston, Jamaica. El Salvador won 1-0 after extra time and qualified for Mexico. "That was heartbreaking," reflects former Haitian Secretary General of the Haitian Football Federation, Joe Namphy, "because that vintage was easily as good as the one four years later. We really should have been in two consecutive finals." Like Nazaire, Desir played in all three Finals games in 1974 as well as in the '78 qualifiers.
Radio Times World Cup Special, BBC, 1974
Shoot, 9th March 1974, p32-33
Spurling, Jon. Death or Glory: The Dark Side of the World Cup, Vision Sports Publishing, 2010
Turnbull, John. A big day for Haiti, a big day for little Haitians.
www.theglobalgame.com 31st May 2008
World Cup - Panini Collections (1970-94) Franco Cosimo editore, 1998