11 World Cup Heroes Who Weren't Full-Time Professional Players

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As the high-paid, meticulously coiffed superstars of world soccer take the field in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, it's easy to forget that it isn't always full-time pros who participate in the universe's biggest sporting event. Factory workers, investment bankers, hearse drivers and other Average Joes have grabbed a seat at the table of sporting history, too.

1. Joe Gaetjens

When the United States beat England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup, it was such a surprise that many newspapers didn't believe the scoreline when it came through the wire (according to legend, many printed the result as England 10 - USA 1). The U.S. team, which was full of semi-professionals, pulled off the unlikely victory thanks to a diving header from Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian-born striker who went to Columbia University and washed dishes at a restaurant run by the owner of the Brookhattan soccer team.

Back then, players merely had to verbally commit their intent to one day become a citizen in order to play for a country's national team. So Gaetjens, who was noticed by U.S. coaches while playing for Brookhattan, landed a spot on the World Cup roster, where he'd make history. He never became a citizen, however, and died under mysterious circumstances years later in Haiti (some say President Francois Duvalier put a hit out on him).

2. Harry Keough

The right back for that famous U.S. team, Harry Keough, worked as a postman in St. Louis. According to the Post-Dispatch, "after losing its next match the players returned to America in anonymity...Keough resuming his duties for the post office."

3. Walter Bahr

Starting in midfield for the U.S. in 1950 was Walter Bahr, a junior-high teacher in Philadelphia. When Bahr asked school officials if he could leave early to go to Brazil to represent his country at the World Cup, they resisted. “I think I had to give up my salary the last few weeks,” he said, but he made the trip and eventually helped control a midfield against some of the most famous players on earth.

4. Frank Borghi

Making a Save Against England, via Getty

The U.S. keeper who shut out England was Frank Borghi, a former minor league baseball player who worked professionally as a hearse driver. He was confident with his hands, but not so much with his feet, which is why he played in goal. In the dying minutes of that legendary game, Borghi was under siege by England, but the hearse driver managed to keep a team full of future knights at bay.

5. Lucien Laurent

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Laurent holds a distinction in soccer that will never be matched: the Frenchman scored the first-ever World Cup goal in 1930. At the time, he was on unpaid leave from the Peugeot factory where he worked (he also played for Peugeot Sochaux, the factory's team).

6. Pak Doo-ik

In 1966, a North Korean team full of (literal) unknowns qualified for the World Cup and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history. After losing to the Soviet Union and tying Chile, the Hermit kingdom managed to beat the world-famous Italians 1-0 thanks to a goal from Pak Doo-ik, who worked as a corporal in the Army.

The defeat sent the Italians home, where they were pelted with fruits and vegetables by furious fans. North Korea earned a spot in the quarter-finals, where they'd play Portugal and the legendary Eusébio. Astonishingly, the North Koreans managed to take a 3-0 lead after 25 minutes in that match. It wasn't to last, however, and Eusébio inspired Portugal to a ruthless five-goal comeback. The North Koreans returned home heroes, however, and their story is documented in the movie The Game of Their Lives.

7. Jimmy Douglass

Douglass, second row, center via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty years before the United States' match against England, the Yanks actually came in third in Uruguay at the very first World Cup. They also posted the first-ever clean sheet in tournament history when they blanked Belgium 3-0. Jimmy Douglass, the American keeper who can claim this honor, played back home as an unpaid amateur in New York.

8. Sir Tom Finney

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As a teenager, Tom Finney was offered a contract to join the ground crew at local football club Preston North End. However, his father insisted that he learn a trade, so Finney split his time between the game and a plumber's apprenticeship. He stuck with plumbing throughout his career, even when he was recognized as one of the best players in England, and earned the nickname "The Preston Plumber." Sir Tom Finney played in three World Cups for England, and is celebrated as an all-time great.

9. Roger Milla

In 1989, Cameroon star Roger Milla was enjoying his retirement from playing soccer at his new home on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. He was preparing for his job on the coaching staff of Montpellier, the side he had just played his last match for. As Italia '90 neared, press and fans in his home country anxiously clamored for the 38-year-old to return for the tournament, and Paul Biya, Cameroon's prime minister, even called and begged him to play. Milla decided to suit up once again, and the results were legendary. He became the oldest player to score in a World Cup (he notched four goals in total), and led the Indomitable Lions to the quarter-finals—the furthest an African nation had ever made it in the tournament.

His celebration dance became one of the most famous moments in World Cup history, and Milla returned in 1994 to break his own record and score at the age of 42.

10. Andy Barron

It's incredibly rare nowadays for a non-professional player to participate in the World Cup, but New Zealand brought three amateurs with them to South Africa in 2010—and didn't lose a game (they managed three draws but didn't make it out of their group). Andy Barron, a midfielder who was brought on as a substitute in New Zealand's 1-1 draw with defending champions Italy, worked full-time as an investment banker.

11. Simon Elliott

Simon Elliott, who started for New Zealand in midfield against Italy and delivered an assist, wasn't under contract with a professional club at the time. He had been cut by the San Jose Earthquakes, and was unemployed.

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June 11, 2014 - 1:11pm
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