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Black History Month: Shaka the world

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He made waves by attending a HBCU and then carried his island nation to a World Cup

Shaka Hislop - Sportler, Fussball, Torhueter, Trinidad und Tobago Photo by contrast/Behrendt/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Shaka Hislop was born in England and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. However, it was his path to glory that took him down an unconventional road. He was born in a section of London, but grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. His career track would bring him to the United States, and in doing so he would make some history.

Hislop grew up wanting to be a striker until he had a growth spurt that elevated him over 6’4”. As he grew, he was eventually put in goal, where he thrived. He went to high school in Port-of-Spain, and when he graduated, he had options on where to continue his soccer career. He decided to accept a scholarship to attend Howard University, a historic black college and university (HBCU) in Washington, DC.

Hislop immediately thrived at Howard, leading the Bison to the NCAA College Cup final as a freshmen. They lost a 1-0 match to the Indiana Hoosiers. Hislop would eventually graduate from Howard, and he was spotted by a scout from Reading FC. He would sign a contract with Reading and head to England to begin his pro career.

He was one of the main regulars in the starting lineup, helping Reading go from the third tier of English soccer to almost earning promotion to the Premier League in just 2 seasons. He was a fan favorite and left in 1995 a club legend. He would later be voted by Reading fans as the greatest goalkeeper in team history.

In 1995, Shaka Hislop joined Newcastle, becoming the first HBCU soccer player to play in the Premier League. His first season, Shaka was instrumental in helping the Magpies to a 2nd place finish that season. He would remain with Newcastle two more seasons before moving to West Ham United, where he would play for 3 seasons before stints at Portsmouth and a return to West Ham to end his time in England.

In 2006, Shaka moved back to the United States to join FC Dallas, where he would play for 2 more seasons before retiring in 2007. In his club career, he had 96 clean sheets in 466 matches, and he conceded less than a goal a game.

Shaka was eligible to play for both England and Trinidad and Tobago internationally. He was called up by the Soca Warriors in 1992, but was on the bench for 3 matches. At that time, his preference was to play for England. While he did appear for the England U-21s, he opted to commit to the Soca Warriors in 1998. He had 26 appearances for the Soca Warriors throughout his career, even after prematurely retiring from the national team in 2004 due to the lengthy travel between England and the Caribbean. However, Trinidad and Tobago’s national team convinced him to come back for World Cup qualifiers. He did, and after a win over Bahrain, the Soca Warriors qualified for their first World Cup. They were the smallest country to ever make it to the World Cup, a record that would stand until Iceland made the 2018 World Cup.

Shaka was supposed to be the backup to Kelvin Jack in the 2006 World Cup, but after Jack suffered an injury warming up before the team’s first match against Sweden, Hislop got the start. He stepped onto the field with his teammates for their nation’s first ever World Cup match. Hislop would call the moment the “proudest” of his career. He also became the first HBCU alum to play in a World Cup match.

Shaka Hislop was one of the better goalkeepers in the Caribbean’s soccer history, but it was his path to a HBCU that truly made history. In the process, he became a legend that lifted a tiny island nation to the world’s biggest stage.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.