HEURELHO’S HOME

Wat­ford’s Brazil­ian goal­keeper Gomes on his fam­ily’s love of London

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

WATCH­ING sons Flavio and Luiz play FIFA be­fore tear­ing away to train­ing at Wat­ford’s academy, Heurelho Gomes can’t help but laugh.

“They have grown up in London,” says Wat­ford’s keeper. “They have ev­ery­thing – games, TV, all the en­ter­tain­ment you could need. Me, I grew up on a farm in the mid­dle of Brazil. They maybe don’t re­alise it but they are very lucky.”

In an age when kids are groomed to be foot­ballers almost from the womb, it is re­fresh­ing to speak to Gomes, a man whose hum­ble roots and colour­ful child­hood seem to hail from a dif­fer­ent era.

“My par­ents were farm­ers,” ex­plains the 33-year-old, who played for Cruzeiro in Brazil be­fore mov­ing to Europe with PSV and, most fa­mously, Spurs.

“And that was my child­hood. My brother, he moved to the city. My mum and dad stayed. Then when I was 13, I went as well. I had to be­cause we had no schools.

“I started to play street games, played for am­a­teur clubs. At first it was just for fun – but then I went home and things changed.

“We didn’t have a hot shower inside the house. My mum had to fill buck­ets and pans with the wa­ter then heat it on the stove. It took a long time.

“Then one day when I was 14 I saw her and she looked so tired. And at that mo­ment I said ‘Mum, I’m go­ing to be­come a foot­baller and I will buy a house for you’.

“Back then, I was a striker – a very good one! I used to say that I was the Brazil­ian Peter Crouch!

Spot­ted

“But one day, when I moved into Sete Lagoas (a city 70km from Belo Hor­i­zonte), they had no goal­keeper to play in a big com­pe­ti­tion. So I said ‘Hey, I can play in goal’. I went in and never came out again. I was 17.”

Soon spot­ted by Brazil­ian gi­ants Cruzeiro, Gomes made his de­but in 2002, aged 21. A month later, he re­turned home with his first pay packet and did ex­actly what he had promised.

“I am very proud of that,” he says. “Even now I feel very emo­tional when I talk about it. God gave me this abil­ity and thanks to that I was able to help my fam­ily.”

Chat­ting to Gomes as he sprawls his spi­dery 6ft 3ins frame across a sofa in Wat­ford’s London Col­ney HQ, it is clear he has never lost that ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the life-chang­ing chance pro­vided by foot­ball.

Hav­ing “won ev­ery­thing” at PSV and be­come a cult hero in the process, Gomes’ shaky start to life in Eng­land after a £7m move to Spurs in 2008 had brick­bats fly­ing.

Alan Hansen called him “the worst keeper in Premier League his­tory”. Man­agers ad­mit­ted to tar­get­ing him. Crowds chanted ‘dodgy keeper’.

And while he even­tu­ally played 97 times, the last three sea­sons saw Gomes re­duced to a spec­ta­tor by the ar­rival of first Brad Friedel and then Hugo Lloris.

But when I sug­gest that Eng­land has not been kind to him, he re­acts with gen­uine dis­be­lief.

“No, no, I had a great time,” he in­sists.“I was part of the great­est Tot­ten­ham team in re­cent years. To fin­ish fourth and reach the Cham­pi­ons League – that was a great achieve­ment.

“We even chal­lenged for the ti­tle at times. Yes, there were times when things didn’t go right, but good and bad things hap­pened when I was in the team. I be­lieve we made the fans dream again.

“I felt great love at Tot­ten­ham. They cheered for me. They made a song for me. In the end it did not go well. I tried to leave so many times just to play again but un­for­tu­nately they would not al­low it. But I al­ways en­joyed play­ing for them.”

Cheer­leader

Those songs and cheers have al­ways fol­lowed Gomes. At Cruzeiro and PSV, he would spend five min­utes bounc­ing up and down in front of his goal, a one-man cheer­leader gee­ing up the home support. He’d also spend hours on his doorstep sign­ing au­to­graphs and chat­ting to young sup­port­ers.

“In Hol­land, I lived op­po­site a school,” he says. “The boys there would come to my house to take pho­tos, get things signed and talk about the team.

“When I had my first child I even had to put a note on the door say­ing ‘Please do not press the bell now be­cause my son is sleep­ing’.

“I’m not a saint, you know? I had bad days when I didn’t an­swer. But if some­one saw me and asked for a photo I could never say no. I al­ways think like a fan.

“You can see how I cel­e­brate the goals. I am re­ally pas­sion­ate. And I am not just there to be a goal­keeper. I am there to be the con­nec­tion be­tween the fans and the play­ers on the pitch.

“I al­ways did that, right from my first game with Cruzeiro. And I am try­ing to do it here be­cause the con­nec­tion to the fans is the most im­por­tant thing at any club.”

Glam­our

But wouldn’t he have liked to make that con­nec­tion some­where more glam­orous? For all the tra­vails of the past three sea­sons, this is still a guy with 11 caps for Brazil and four Dutch ti­tles. “That is true,” he says. “But some­times you can’t have a big ego. I had to ad­mit that I had gone many months with­out play­ing. It would have been very dif­fi­cult for me to join a big, big club. Why would they want me?

“Yeah, I know this is the Cham­pi­onship. But it is a Cham­pi­onship club with am­bi­tion and when I met the owner for the first time I said ‘I have come here to play in the Premier League again next year’.”

By which time there might be a new gen­er­a­tion of Gomes’ com­ing through the ranks at Vicarage Road.

“My young son, he was play­ing as an out­field player about four months ago when he came to me and said ‘Daddy, I want to be a goal­keeper’,” laughs Gomes.

En­joy­ment

“I said ‘Fine, see how you do’. Now he’s play­ing with Wat­ford U8s and he’s re­ally en­joy­ing it.

“Troy Deeney saw him in a game away at West Brom and said he did re­ally well. I saw a few ses­sions my­self and yeah, you can see that he has some­thing.

“My older one, he wants to be a striker and is work­ing very hard.

“My kids, they are ba­si­cally English. They sound English. They act English. Wher­ever we go in fu­ture, I think this will al­ways be a home for them.

“But I will make sure they do not take it for granted. If you give them ev­ery­thing they want, it will al­ways be ‘Oh, my dad is al­ways there to help’. They will not learn to fight for what they want like I did.

“They will have an eas­ier life than me and that is good. But I will never let them for­get where I came from and how many peo­ple helped me to get here.”

RES: Ac­tion Images

COM­MIT­TED:

ac­tion while n at heim last elow, in ro colours ght, call­ing ots at Wat­ford CON­NEC­TIONS: Gomes poses with Wat­ford honorary life pres­i­dent Sir El­ton John and, in­set, his foot­bal­llov­ing sons

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