Watford’s Brazilian goalkeeper Gomes on his family’s love of London
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!
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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