How Voodoo And Gangsters Took Haiti To The World Cup, Part 2

Of all the World Cup underdog stories, the Haitian side of 1974 goes criminally unreported. Somewhere between government corruption and sinister black magic, there was born a team who fought for everything and even gave the Italians a bloody nose.
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Of all the World Cup underdog stories, the Haitian side of 1974 goes criminally unreported. Somewhere between government corruption and sinister black magic, there was born a team who fought for everything and even gave the Italians a bloody nose.

In 1974, the vast majority of Haitian players continued to live in their homeland, but they didn’t fail to notice the impact of the Ton Ton Macoutes in rural areas. Papa Doc’s heavies seized much of the good quality peasant land, forcing huge numbers to flee to the increasingly dangerous and disease ridden capital city. One member of the team, who still lives in Port au Prince, running a small electrical business there, explains: “I hated the Duvaliers with a passion. It was fairly easy to see what was happening if you used your eyes, and members of my family disappeared at the time, and my cousins lost their farmland which they’d worked so hard to build up over the years. Yet as a footballer who wanted to do well, I knew that my destiny lay with him. We were helpless, but at that time, you kidded yourself that what people were saying wasn’t true. The propaganda claimed that the Duvaliers’ enemies were responsible for the glut of disappearances – not Papa Doc. If you closed your mind, your eyes, and your ears, you could just about believe it. Some days.”

In April 1971, Papa Doc died, and his only son Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier became the world’s youngest President at 20 years of age. Notorious for showing a complete lack of interest in domestic affairs, and intent on pursuing a playboy lifestyle, Baby Doc nonetheless realised that unless he reduced the excesses of his father’s autocratic approach, he would be toppled quickly, most probably by a CIA led plot. In response to US pressure, he blunted the harsher edges of his father’s regime, by releasing political prisoners, easing press censorship, and initiating judicial reforms. As an act of good faith, the US Government restored its aid programme late in 1971. Through this injection of cash, Haiti was able to achieve its economic miracle – such as it was. Historian Jean Antoine explains: “Of course, much was still wrong with the country in the early days of Baby Doc, but many Haitian look back on the era with nostalgic pride. The numbers of lootings, murders, and outbreaks of disease were significantly reduced, and the Government made more of a concerted effort to ensure that children went to school. And the football team benefited enormously.”

Baby Doc opened up his coffers, and set up a special bank account for the Haitian Football Federation. Joe Namphy explains: “He financed the whole show, including the national Sylvio Cator Stadium, which was totally refurbished for the 1973 CONCACAF at the cost of a million dollars. He also built the Olympic Track and Centre Sportif de Carrefour, and the Gymnasium Vincent for basketball. He was almost like Berlusconi at AC Milan. He was in complete control of things.” Manno Sanon explained: “He made it clear that it was his team, and his money which got us to where we were. He was much more accessible than his father, and he’d show up to training, and regularly ‘phoned me and several of the other players to check that we were ok. Some of the guys felt it was dangerous to have Jean Claude too close to the team. Although he was young, he was still like an old fashioned father, who gave us life, but could also punish us if he wished.”

That wasn’t all. There were also witch doctors in the crowd conjuring spirits and casting spells on the opposition. It was unbelievable.

The 1973 CONCACAF tournament doubled as a World Cup qualification, and all games were played at the intimidating 30,000 capacity Sylvio Cator ground in Port au Prince, famed for its bear pit atmosphere during big matches. Manno Sanon admitted that home advantage helped Haiti massively. “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 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.” Somewhat predictably, Baby Doc stands accused of malpractice, especially before the crunch match with Trinidad and Tobago, which Haiti won 2-1. Trinidad striker Steve David, who finished as the tournament’s top scorer, alleged that “Dark arts enabled Haiti to get through that. You can’t tell me that that game was fair and above board.” David’s misgivings about the match, which saw the Salvadorian referee Enriquez rule out four decent looking Trinidad goals, seemed to be confirmed when Enriquez was banned from officiating a year later after accepting bribes.

Baby Doc also planted “conductors” in the crowd to whip fans into a ferment. Bar owner Pierre Dierdiste, a well known face at Haiti games in the 70s, claims to have been approached by a Government official and told to “turn up the noise” at games. “I was given a megaphone, surrounded by drummers, and told to whip everybody up. There were several of us around the ground, and it definitely worked out for us. That wasn’t all. There were also witch doctors in the crowd conjuring spirits and casting spells on the opposition. It was unbelievable.” Famous Haitian musician Bob Lemoine, now a New York DJ, penned “Toup Pou Yo” (“Kick For Goal”) which was played prior to matches, and remains the most famous football song to emerge from the country. Former Haiti midfielder Jean Herbert Austin recalls: “Those three weeks were the most incredible I can remember in Port Au Prince. After every victory in the tournament, there were carnivals in the streets, and the whole place came to a virtual standstill. The crunch game was against Guatemala, and before the game Duvalier was in the dressing room urging us to “Win, win, win for Haiti. And we did just that.” When the final whistle went at the end of the 2-1 victory, signifying Haiti’s qualification for the 1974 World Cup Finals, Manno Sanon “…sank to my knees and thanked God for the opportunity. Others were crying, or screaming like lunatics. The whole country was in uproar. When the players finally got away from the stadium after police finally dispersed the thronging crowd, they went to party with Baby Doc. “You’re heroes, every one of you,” beamed their benefactor. Controversially, he’d fulfilled his late father’s dream.

The team flew to Germany two weeks before the tournament started, and stayed at the Grunwald Sports Complex in Munich, where they would play their matches in a tough group which also included Italy, Poland and Argentina. For many of the players, it was their first time in Europe, and Jean Herbert Austin recalls that “some of the players felt very isolated, away from what they knew. We simply weren’t seasoned campaigners at this level.” Despite coach Tassy’s attempts to keep the team calm, their feelings of detachment grew during the tournament, although as Austin admits: “We were all looking forward to playing Italy. They hadn’t conceded a goal for 1100 minutes – a world record at that time – but we felt they were an ageing team, and we knew they were fighting between themselves. We knew there were some problems with Chinaglia.” Before the tournament, Tassy sensed that his players were getting a little blase, and according to legend, fired several shots from a starter pistol into the ceiling after a training session, causing masonry to fall on the players’ heads. Austin and Sanon claim it never happened, although others explain it was “a wake up call with a hint of menace behind it before the Italy game.”

Italy’s catenaccio defence, with its resolutely negative sweeper and with goalkeeper Dino Zoff in superlative form still made them formidable opponents, and Manno Sanon claimed: “They justified their spot as one of the favourites, and there was always Riva to snap up the goals, and Rivera and Mazzola to help construct them.” It was Sanon who stunned the Italians shortly after half time, when from an inch perfect Philippe Vorbe pass, he galloped through the defence, rounded Zoff, and slammed the ball into the net. “I can remember it like it was yesterday,” he claimed. “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.”

Painfully, the Italians pulled themselves back to win 3-1, but their press made clear it’s disgust that little Haiti had broken the 1147 minute record. Sanon and his team mates were the heroes of the moment and next morning in glorious sunshine, they strolled around Munich Zoo lapping up the attention of the press. Back home, Baby Doc, who rarely ventured outside Haiti, conveyed his congratulations, but then Haiti’s world collapsed, and the team’s previously benign benefactor would turn decidedly nasty. A routine dope test on Ernst Jean Joseph, their red haired, mulatto centre half had proved positive. Jean – Joseph protested that he had to take the pills for his asthma, only for the team doctor to inform the press conference that this was nonsense – that the player was “not intelligent enough to know what he was doing.” For the next day, the world’s press showed Jean- Joseph hanging around wretchedly in the lobby of the nearby Penta Hotel. Then Haitian officials dragged the screaming player out of the Grunwald Sports Centre, beat him up in full view of the world’s press, shoved him into a car, and, in unhappy echoes of the Gaetjens affair drove him to the airport and flew him back to Haiti.

"As successful footballers, we’d been protected from that side of the regime, but now we saw the dark side. We had a sleepless night before the game against Poland, and to be honest, I was only thinking about Ernst, not the game.”

Jean – Joseph’s team mates were horrified. “I remember the look of venom in one official who’d always been all smiles previously,” explains Miami based Fritz Plantin, a former central defender. As successful footballers, we’d been protected from that side of the regime, but now we saw the dark side. We had a sleepless night before the game against Poland, and to be honest, I was only thinking about Ernst, not the game.” The same could probably be said for Plantin’s team mates, as they were thrashed 7-0 by the rampant Poles, who were inspired by Lato. “We were 5-0 down at half time,” recalls Plantin, “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.” Jean Joseph was later instructed by Baby Doc to ‘phone the team’s head quarters to inform skipper Philippe Vorbe that he was still alive. That had a calming effect on the team, and in their final game, Haiti acquitted themselves well against Argentina, losing 3-1 with Sanon once again on the score sheet.

Jean – Joseph, who has never previously spoken of the dubious honour of being the first player to be banned from the World Cup for a positive dope test, makes encouraging noises about an interview before I arrive in Haiti, only to vanish as soon as I arrive in Port au Prince, apparently on a fishing trip in the north of Haiti. A family friend agrees to speak with me (after my fixer claims to have seen Jean – Joseph in a down town bar that afternoon), denying allegations that Jean – Joseph had both arms broken by the Ton Ton Macoutes, before returning to football a year later after his FIFA ban. “He was lucky that he was one of Baby Doc’s favourites, and he knows it,” explains Joseph’s friend. “One of the reasons he hates speaking about what happened is the shame he feels he brought to Haiti. He still has to live with it, but of course, they roughed him up. His psychological scars are deep rooted. He prefers to forget it ever happened.” Thirty six years later, several of his team mates clearly feel the same way. Many leads go dead as soon as the Jean – Joseph affair is mentioned, and Haitian historian Jean Antoine explains: “Culturally, that generation of Haitian men were encouraged to remain coy in conversation. To commit anything controversial in conversation, or to print, was a dangerous thing. Many have remained that way. It’s more than simply saying it’s down to the Caribbean nature.” For Manno Sanon, did Jean – Joseph’s punishment take the shine of Haiti’s brief World Cup adventure? “Perhaps to a slight degree,” admitted Sanon, “but Ernst returned to the national team and resumed his career eventually. So there isn’t a tragic ending, or anything like that. 1974 was our moment, our time, when Haiti was more stable than it had been for a long time.” On the face of it, the passage of time appears to have washed away any lingering bad taste left by Jean – Joseph’s treatment at the hands of Baby Doc, and in these parts, Haiti’s tangerine shirts continue to glow brightly in the memory – unblemished and unsullied. The 74 World Cup wasn’t all about Holland’s brand of brilliant orange.

In Port au Prince, Sanon in particular has enjoyed a deification similar to that of Diego Maradona in Naples and Gigi Riva on Sardinia. Pictures of him adorn assorted cafes and bars, and on the rickety buses – the tap taps – Bob Lemoine’s song still blares out at regular intervals. “That was the time, my friend, that was the time this place was alive,” the bus driver claims. Unlike the sad plight of many Zaire players in the wake of their solitary appearance at the World Cup in 1974, many Haitian stars subsequently prospered in their football careers. Joseph Namphy recalls: “The exposure many players received in Germany enabled them to land contracts abroad. Sanon played in Antwerp, the goal keeper Francillon played for Munich 1860, and players like Joseph, Matthieu and Antoine played in the NASL for Chicago Sting. As a promoter, I brought the Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies, as well as European sides like Borussia Moenchengladbach to Haiti as well. Most of the team remained together for the 1978 qualification tournament, where we finished second in the days before two sides qualified from our region.”

Although several Haiti players from the era are now back in their native country, a significant number have drifted abroad. For the last twenty years of his life, Manno Sanon lived in Orlando, and from his American base, often expressed his despair about his native country’s ongoing economic upheaval, and occasionally attracted faint criticism from team mates who returned to Haiti, and reckoned he’d taken the easy option by living in the States. The class of 1974 rarely keep in touch. A notable exception came after Sanon succumbed to prostate cancer early in 2008, and all surviving members of the squad acted as pall bearers at the funeral in Port au Prince. Haiti ground to a halt, all TV channels ran coverage of the event and the solemn ceremonies which followed, and the squad was awarded a lifetime pension by the Government; good news for many who eek out a living these days.

One significant absentee from the funeral was Baby Doc. Now exiled somewhere in Paris (he changes address at least three times a year due to continued fear of assassination) he struggles to make ends meet after squandering his fortune. After losing much of his loot during a costly divorce, he occasionally makes noises about returning home, although the fear of arrest for crimes against his countrymen prevents him from actually doing so. Ousted during a military coup in 1986, there are still ardent Duvalierists who claim, despite the economic hardship, the tales of torture, and Baby Doc’s appalling waste of public funds, that the 70s was a golden age for many Haitians. There are several footballers who wouldn’t disagree.

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