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Gene Olaff

Sport: Soccer

Born: September 23, 1920

Town: Bayonne

Eugene A. Olaff was born September 23, 1920 in Bayonne. The son of a Swedish seaman who jumped ship in New York Harbor—and then joined the National Guard to qualify for citizenship—Gene grew up in the soccer hotbed of Hudson County playing against the children of Scottish, Irish and Italian immigrants. He distinguished himself as a goalkeeper and was a member of the Bayonne Rangers club by the age of 14.

Gene idolized Stan Chesney, a Bayonne goalkeeper regarded as one of the best in the country. He played and dressed like Chesney, who was 10 years older. By the time Gene was 21, he had played for five different clubs in the NY-NJ area—including the 1938–39 National Soccer League champion Hatikvoh FC—making up to $25 or $30 a game. Both of his parents had passed away at this point, so he and his wife took care of his younger sister. Gene worked as a janitor and did other odd jobs to make ends meet.

When the war began, Gene enlisted and became a Navy diver. He trained in Brooklyn and continued to play, for Brooklyn Hispano, helping them win the National Challenge Cup in 1942–43. He was eventually deployed to the Adriatic Sea. In 1946, Gene returned to New Jersey and joined the State Police. He continued to play for Hispano, helping the club win the 1946 Lewis Cup. That year he played twice against Liverpool on their U.S. tour. Manager George Kay told the press he was good enough to play in England.

Gene played a couple of games for the national team, but when the 1950 World Cup rolled around, the police would not give him a leave of absence to accompany the team to Brazil. He continued to play for semipro clubs into his mid-30s.

During Gene’s three decades on the force, he developed the NJSP’s underwater unit, and became a superintendent before retiring in the 1970s. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1971.After leaving the force, he worked for a security firm before retiring in the mid-1990s. He continued to support youth soccer for another decade in his adopted hometown of Florence, NJ. As of 2-016, Gene was the oldest living Team USA soccer player.

 

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