Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Mystery of Mr. Gaetjens' Number

Remember the #18 Joe Gaetjens USA jersey I bought a few weeks ago and showed you the other day? Well, ESPN sportswriter Leander Schaerlaekens wrote a piece on the mystery of the number Gaetjens wore for the USA in 1950. In it, Schaerlaekens claims it may not be 18 after all.

There are several photos showing the front of the Gaetjens jersey, but frustratingly none that show the back and the number he wore.

Well, I wanted to know before I shelled out close to $100 for the sparkling duds. So, I contacted the only man in the world who would know, if anyone does, US Soccer Historian Colin Jose. Mr. Jose was tremendously gracious when I contacted him and through our correspondence over email he wrote,

"This is the situation with numbers. There is NO official list of numbers. Most of the one's we know have come from photographs, where we can identify the players. The only other source is a small piece of film that lasts about 10 seconds. I think that is where we figured out that Gaetjens wore number 18.

We might well be wrong, but if someone has another number they must have got it from a photograph.

The numbers do not follow the regular pattern of 1 being the goalkeeper and 2 the right back and so on. For example Ed McIlvenny was #14 and as right half he would normally be #4. But Charlie Colombo was #4 and as centre half he would normally be #5. So there is no rhyme or reason to the numbers.

So I am sorry I can't help and confirm. We may never know for sure all the numbers."
So, there you have it. Mr. Jose says he got the number form a piece of film and an ESPN producer says he is "98 or 99 percent sure" that the number was 18. His source is likely the same "grainy footage" that Mr. Jose saw. That's enough for me.

Proud to don the number 18.

Like Schaerlaekens says in his piece, "mystery unsolved", but I was confident enough to drop my hard earned green on the jersey.

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