Joey was 'one of the best'

Kern De Freitas
Date Published: 
Trinidad Express

Joseph Gonsalves 1925-2010

Cool, calm, quiet, unassuming, surprising.

That's how most sporting colleagues, friends and family would describe the late Joseph "Joey" Gonsalves, arguably the best goalkeeper Trinidad and Tobago have ever seen, according to his contemporaries.

Gonsalves, who died last Thursday at the age of 84, was laid to rest on Monday.

He was a sportsman of the highest calibre, a national captain--he led T&T on their tour of England in the early 1950s—a mentor, a good friend, a coach and a family man.

Whenever I met him, especially at the annual reunion of Maple Sports Club at the Federation Park home of long-time "Mapleite", Professor Courtney Bartholomew, Gonsalves was quiet, laid back behind those dark shades, his hearing aid barely noticeable.

Despite sitting quietly at a secluded table where he would have a good vantage point of proceedings, Gonsalves would draw much of the attention from his old friends and football rivals, few of whom could boast of beating the renowned custodian in his heyday.

Lincoln "Tiger" Phillips, the man who replaced Gonsalves between the uprights for T&T, was clearly upset at having unavoidably missed Gonsalves' funeral at the Church of the Assumption in Maraval on Monday.

He described Gonsalves as "the best (goalkeeper) I have ever seen". And Phillips has seen many a goalkeeper, having coached in the United States for many years before returning to Trinidad, where he is now technical director of the national men's teams.

Phillips said Gonsalves was one of his "mentors", a man he would even consult after succeeding him as the national goalkeeper.

"Even when I was on top of my game," Phillips told the Express, "I would know that some goals were scored that I should have saved. I would go to him, he was coaching St Mary's at the time, and he was so pleased to see me coming to him, and I was even more honoured to go to him."

Phillips related that Gonsalves gave him a piece of advice he would never forget, even after his footballing career was over.

"I was starting to give up a couple (of) goals and when I came by he said 'Linc', what is happening man, he say how the goals are scoring, I saw two score at the first post.

"He said 'you can't let that happen'. I said 'I looking for the cross'. He said 'don't do that'. He said 'if it scores in the last post it's a good goal. If it scores from the cross it's a defender's fault. If it scores at the first post, it's your fault'."

Phillips said he even passed on that advice to former United States keeper Tony Meola, who was on the American team that infamous day in November 1989 when they beat the T&T Strike Squad, who only needed a draw to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, and was also the first-call custodian when the US hosted the 1994 World Cup.

But despite his command of the 18-metre box, Gonsalves was not as near as "flamboyant" as Phillips, the man everyone called "Tiger" for his athletic prowess as a goalkeeper. But, according to Phillips, the fact that his goalkeeping style and personality were so analogous made him even more impressive.

"He used to make goalkeeping look easy. I developed some of that because I had the tendency to be a little flamboyant. But talking with him I also got a bit (of his style).

"He was one of the best goalkeepers I have ever seen. I have seen some of the best of the world and he is up there with them. The best I've seen positionally."

Former national captain and midfielder Sedley Joseph, widely considered one of T&T's best skippers, was just as full of praise for Gonsalves and said his send off was "a funeral I could not afford to miss".

Joseph's elder brother, the late Allan Joseph, was also a first-rate goalkeeper in Gonsalves' era, so the Josephs were well acquainted with Joey at a young age.

"I saw Joey as a goalkeeper, as a very young man, and I don't think there was anybody one could compare with in Trinidad at that time," Joseph said.

"Joey was an excellent goalkeeper and an excellent person. Joey and myself had become friends at a very young age. He was a coach at St Mary's (when I played there). After Joey had stopped saving, he played for Notre Dame as a stopper and was such a good reader of the game that he became a good stopper as well."

But perhaps the biggest tribute to Gonsalves' ability came from Phillips, who clearly regarded him highly.

"He wasn't even playing with the best team. He played with Notre Dame and the best teams know they would have a hard game (against Notre Dame) when Joey was in goal. He was the last line of defence and he was rarely beaten."

Gonsalves, who would have turned 85 on December 4, leaves to mourn his wife June and two children, along with many friends and fans.