Portsmouth have confirmed that they have completed the signing of Shaka Hislop from West Ham, with the goalkeeper joining on a three-year deal.
The Trinidad and Tobago shot-stopper passed a medical in Wimbledon yesterday and will meet up with his new Pompey team-mates for the start of pre-season training tomorrow.
Hislop fell out of favour at Upton Park when David James came in at the beginning of last season and was released at the end of the campaign at the age of 33 leaving him eligible to move on under the Bosman ruling.
Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp, who previously took Hislop from Newcastle to West Ham in July 1998, is convinced that the 6ft 6ins keeper still has plenty to offer at the top level and can offer Pompey top-class service.
He leaves East London having made 132 senior appearances for The Hammers.
Only four clubs conceded more goals than Portsmouth last year and Hislop would be asked to play a huge role in their promotion dreams.
The former St Mary’s College custodian spent most of last season as back-up for English international reserve, David James, and his last competitive match came in Trinidad and Tobago colours during the January 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Despite a disappointing first round exit for the Warriors, Hislop was named on the Gold Cup All-Star team while he was adjudged the best goalkeeper in his last Division One season with Reading in 1995.
Reading are among the 24 Division One teams hoping to earn promotion to the Premiership this season and they again have a Trinidad and Tobago player on their books in the form of versatile ex-Warriors captain Anthony Rougier.
Rougier and Hislop will both hope to follow compatriot, Stern John, who helped steer Birmingham City through the Division One Playoffs last season to a 2002/2003 Premiership place.
Shaka Hislop ponders his swansong.
By Lasana Liburd.
It is like waiting all day to get on that exciting new ride at the circus only to realise you are being beckoned off it in a matter of minutes. Do you stubbornly refuse to bow to the inevitable or do you nobly allow another bright eyed patron a turn? After a testing past year with country and club, Shaka Hislop is adamant that the change of baton will be graceful and quick.
“The more I think about it,” said Hislop, “the more I think the curtain is coming down on my career…I think my time with the national team is coming to an end.
“I am always saying that my one regret is not playing in a World Cup. I am desperately disappointed about that.
“But, by the next World Cup, I will be 37...I think I will be past my best by then.”
Timing, as the 33-year-old Hislop knows fully well, is everything for a goalkeeper.
Uncertainty–including the distrust of an aging body–is his deadliest foe.
The lanky custodian has roughly 12 months to decide which of the two played the leading role in his decision to return the Trinidad and Tobago international number one jersey to federation president, Oliver Camps.
There is a thin line between saint and sinner and the highs and lows in the career of the London-born “Soca Warrior” fluctuate almost as wildly.
Undoubtedly, Trinidad and Tobago has never had the services of such an internationally recognised goalkeeper.
Former Queen’s Royal College and Maple legend, Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips, is generally regarded as the best to stand between the national uprights.
But Hislop remains the sole shotblocker to gain employment and fame in one of the world’s top three domestic leagues–the English Premiership.
Strange then that, at youth level, the national bosses–not goalkeeping coaches, mind you–reckoned he was too unathletic to become first class.
It was a decision that local football fans almost regretted as Hislop, who was also eligible to represent England and North Ireland, chose to remain in international exile for nearly seven years before accepting the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s call for duty in 1999.
He insisted that the reason for his unusually long courtship with the T&TFF was his own business and, for the most part, so was his journey to become a top class goalkeeper.
A standout at St Mary’s College, Hislop went on to earn NCAA All-American honours at Howard University while majoring in mechanical engineering.
His degree offered hope of a more lucrative career than he could have enjoyed from football at the time in North America or the Caribbean.
But Hislop had other plans which involved a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to England–the homeland of his father and local magistrate, George Hislop.
In the bowels of the British football, Hislop made a name for himself progressing quickly from “the kid from America” to the best goalkeeper of Division One while at Reading FC.
A phone call from English legend and two-time European Player of the Year, Kevin Keegan, confirmed his rise in popularity and three seasons at the exciting Newcastle United were followed by four years with fashionable London club, West Ham.
Hislop gushed as he recalled those unforgettable, light-headed days.
“I remember I got the call at home and he (Keegan) said he was about to sign me,” he said. “My wife Desha (his girlfriend then) was sitting next to me and could see me break into a cold sweat. It is almost surreal to have Kevin Keegan on the phone with you.
“I saw it happen to Dwight (Yorke) and Russell (Latapy) but you never think that sort of thing could happen to you. It was so like a fairy tale, I didn’t get much sleep that night.”
Hislop went on to win two Premiership silver medals with the “Magpies” who were also beaten FA Cup finalists while he was also a key component in the Hammers’ success stories.
The 1999/2000 season was his finest when he steered West Ham to their best ever Premiership finish of fifth while being adjudged the club’s Most Valuable Player in the process–beating out some illustrious teammates such as Rio Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Trevor Sinclair and Paolo Di Canio.
There is never enough time to savour one’s triumphs in life, though.
And, two years after being the Lord of London, Hislop was shown the exit door on the first day of pre-season training by a new manager, Glenn Roeder, anxious to leave his own mark on the club.
“I was told (David) James would be signed and I had no future at West Ham,” he recalled. “It was a diasappointing and discouraging time for me. I thought I would have been given time to stake my place.”
As much as weekend matches and post-game press conferences, changing clubs is an unavoidable part of life for a professional footballer. It is only human, though, to reflect.
Hislop believes that a broken leg suffered while on the job in a January 2000 Premiership fixture for the Hammers was the start of the end for him at the club.
“I tried to come back earlier than I should have and was advised to,” he said. “The World Cup campaign was already on the way and, for professional and personal reasons, I tried to get myself fit too early. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing in hindsight.
“It affected my training and hence my form. For long periods, I couldn’t kick the ball and my movement was also greatly restricted.
“I also kept picking up niggling injuries since I was still carrying a major one. But you live and you learn.”
Perhaps time will also translate to wisdom for Hislop as he contemplates his international career over the next year before the CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying series–or Caribbean Cup–which promises to be more competitive than ever.
Before then, it is likely that he will return to Division One to recapture his love for the sport and confidence with Portsmouth and former Hammers boss, Harry Redknapp.
Portsmouth was one of the division’s more enterprising teams last season with veteran Croatian playmaker Robert Prosinecki on their books as they scored goals at an impressive rate but conceded them almost as quickly.
Hislop, should he sign, will have his work cut out for him.
A new lease on life should suit the T&TFF and their aspirations for a place in the 2006 Germany World Cup just fine.
Still, Hislop insisted that there was much for them to do in order to accomplish their lofty goals.
He hopes that the recently set up technical committee–chaired by Alvin Corneal and also featuring Richard Braithwaite and Keith LookLoy–takes a close look at the programmes which have worked in other countries such as the United States, Senegal and Australia.
“Local football is too isolated,” said Hislop. “A lot of what we do is archaic in nature...We have been comfortable and complacent with what we achieved in the past and hope to perform the same heroics as in 1989. But we know now that is impossible.
“Success in football is not hit and miss. It is about planning from top go down...We should be honest and big enough to see what’s going wrong and fix it.”
He also had much sympathy for the unsettled pair of Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke and Glasgow Rangers playmaker Russell Latapy who suffered undignified endings to their international careers.
“I thought they were treated harshly and made scapegoats when the problem remained elsewhere,” said Hislop. “As players who committed the better portions of their lives to national football, as fellow players and good friends it was so heart wrenching to see what they went through.
“I did consider retiring as well during the World Cup campaign...I think it crossed a few of our minds and the senior players discussed it...
“As you get older, it gets more difficult to make the eight hour flights...
But I don’t regret not doing it. I’m delighted I stayed on to contribute.”
Hislop believes that he can still be of benefit to the national cause by dropping in as often as possible to share his wisdom with the talented younger goalkeepers such as Kelvin Jack and Clayton Ince.
At present, he is studying to become a goalkeeper coach in England and hopes to turn a specialist when he ends his playing days.
But will that time come quickly?
The list of goalkeepers who maintained good form well into their 30s is long and includes 39-year-old England number one David Seaman who–a speculative Ronaldinho item apart–was among the best in his position at the 2002 World Cup.
Only three Trinidad and Tobago players of this era have gathered extensive experience at the highest level of the game and the exits of Latapy and Yorke has left just Hislop to nurture the young Warriors.
There is arguably none better than he to tutor a defence that is sure to soon feature several fresh faces while Jack and company can still learn much from him.
Hislop feels that he is being beckoned to the sidelines to allow someone else a chance.
He would be wise, though, to keep his own watch on the clock.
He has roughly a year in which to make up his mind.