Three subway stops north of Coney Island there's a Brooklyn high school called Lafayette which contains a fair number of athletes off their rockers about soccer. One of them is a rangy six-foot goalie who carries 165 pounds in a very misleading sort of slouchy cowboy manner. Jerry Finkel is his name.
The odd fact about Jerry is that although he was this year's team captain he spent most of the season—until the finish, that is—sitting in the bleachers and watching his boys boot the ball around. He wasn't on the disabled list—matter of fact, he never felt better in his life. But he had parents who weren't too well adjusted to soccer. They'd said to him in September, "No more soccer for you, Jerry."
They had plenty of reason for being maladjusted to the game. Last year Jerry had managed to get a ruptured spleen. In three years of varsity playing Jerry had also been put hors de combat by a busted ankle, a split rib, two teeth knocked out and a thumb he couldn't even flip the pages of his history book with. A soccer goalie can take an awful beating if he gets caught in a game with his team's defenses down.
As the first week of November came along, Jerry was still sitting it out. The Frenchies, as the Lafayette team is called, were playing a bunch from Brooklyn Tech. They were in line for a shot at the borough championship. Then Tom Crisanti, who had taken Jerry's place as goalkeeper, suddenly took a dive after a ball and came up with a broken arm instead.
"I JUST KEPT NAGGING"
Three days later the Frenchies were due to play Midwood High. A day before the game, Jerry showed up in the locker room and started to get into uniform. "How come?" the coach asked.
"It's O.K.," Jerry said. "The folks broke down and said I could finish out the season. I just kept nagging until they couldn't take it anymore."
Jerry's return to action was a dream come true to his coach. In 28 years of teaching soccer he has handled a lot of goalies, some of them brilliant performers, and he ranks Jerry as one of the very best of them all. "He's built exactly right for the job," he says. "With those eight-foot crossbars you need height. And this boy also has things to go with it—quickness, perception and absolutely no fear when he goes after that ball. Also, he's one of those rare goalies who can kick just as well with either foot. Like Mickey Mantle in baseball, he's a switcher."
Jerry started his delayed soccer season by shutting out Midwood. He followed it up with another victory that clinched the borough championship, although he was scored on twice. He kept going with two more blankings in the interborough play-offs and carried the Frenchies into the finals against Grover Cleveland High School from Queens. Here he walked into serious trouble.
The Clevelands were the defending titlists and were heavily favored, mainly because they had a center halfback named Reinhart Herink who'd been the scourge of goalies all season. The big game was more a contest between Finkel and Herink than Lafayette and Cleveland.
It had been raining for two days, and when the game was played the field was more mud than solid earth. For 50 minutes Reinhart managed to keep Jerry leaping and diving as he led a furious assault on the Frenchies' goal. But Jerry matched him, dive for kick. Then, with about 10 minutes to go, Reinhart bored in again. ("Reinhart," the referee said, between the halves, "is good enough right now to play pro. He's all over you.")
This time Reinhart got solidly within kicking range of Jerry's big, busy scoring gap. He feinted a kick to Jerry's right. Jerry got suckered in—he broke that way. Reinhart booted high and deep to the left. The ball whizzed in high and barely missed hitting the crossbar—but it went in. It was the first and only score of the game. The Clevelands trooped back down the field, pounding each other on the shoulders. Jerry's teammates gathered around him and finally made him stop pounding his fists on the goalposts in despair.
That was the ball game. Since his return, Jerry had given up only three goals—quite a record. But his reaction to it was to pound his fists on the wall of the dressing room. The reaction of the New York scholastic soccer coaches last week, in convention assembled, was to vote him All-Scholastic Goalie of the City of New York.
In Brazil 200,000 people have attended soccer games. At Madison Field in Brooklyn that day there might have been 100, but not many more. But nobody in Brazil ever saw a tougher, better-fought battle than the 100 people in Brooklyn saw that day between Reinhart Herink and a comeback guy named Jerry Finkel.