FC Dallas goalkeeper Shaka Hislop has retired from professional soccer, ending a career that spanned 15 years playing professionally in Europe and the United States.
Born in England, Shaka moved with his parents to their native country of Trinidad when he was two years old. He later attended Howard University in Washington D.C., playing goalkeeper all four years for the Bison. Upon graduating in May 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, he was drafted by indoor soccer's Baltimore Blast, which was then coached by Kenny Cooper Sr., the father of Hislop's future FCD teammate Kenny Cooper.
During a preseason trip to England with the Blast, Shaka was identified by Reading FC scouts and offered a contract. Over the next 14 years, he went on to also play for Newcastle, Portsmouth, and West Ham, finishing his English Premier League career by playing in the FA Cup final in May 2006, in which the Hammers fell to Liverpool 3-1 on penalty kicks after tying 3-3 in regulation.
A month later, Shaka was in goal for Trinidad and Tobago's National team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, shutting out Sweden in a 0-0 draw and then keeping England off the scoreboard for 83 minutes before conceding a pair of late goals to Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard in a 2-0 loss.
In April 2005, Hislop was recognized as the recipient of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Special Merit Award for his continued involvement with the "Show Racism The Red Card" campaign, which he helped start in 1996 as a way to keep racism away from soccer.
Shaka joined FC Dallas shortly after the 2006 World Cup, and finished his MLS career with a record of 4-5-1 in 10 first team appearances. This week, Shaka spoke to fcdallas.com about his retirement, his career, and his future:
FCD.com: Tell us, why did you decide to retire at this point?
"Well, I've been struggling with a back injury for about six weeks, and it was making little progress. I had an MRI which showed a displaced disk and signs of arthritis in my lower spine, which meant that at best, well really, there's nothing that I could have done that would keep me fit to play any part for the remainder of this season.
So with this in mind, I thought it was only fair to the team that I accept the offer that would allow them to at least bring someone in who could play some part. FC Dallas is an ambitious club, and I didn't want to see that I was getting in the way of those ambitions. It's not what the club deserved. They've been very good to me over the 15-16 months that I've been here, and I felt it was only right to step aside and allow someone to come in who can at least play some part for the team."
FCD.com: How do you feel about your time at FC Dallas?
"Starting a couple years previously, I felt things were a bit stale for me in England. I thought I needed a change, and of course Dallas came in and offered that to me. I thought a change would be good, and probably something my career needed right then.
I came in right after a difficult summer, which was an exciting summer with Trinidad and Tobago, and came into a Dallas team on the back of 18 months of constant football without a break; which of course at the time I was 37, and I didn't cope with it very well. I thought I didn't produce anywhere near the type of form that I was expecting of myself last season, at any point in the end of the season last year.
I got myself in shape this season, because of Dario's suspension. I thought I played relatively well, and felt that things were going well, and slowly, but surely, growing into the position; getting back into the game and the demands that I expect of myself and surely were expected of me at this level.
But Dario's suspension came to an end, and then Dario was preferred as the number one. Again, that's a decision that I fully understood and fully respected. Dario has been here for some time before me, and fully established himself as the number one here. So as disappointing as it was to have been left out after the six games, again it was a decision that I understand and respect.
And from then I was just playing a bit part here and there. Playing reserve games and what not. And then my injury coincided with Dario's injury. If I had been fit I would have at least given myself a few more games and another opportunity to establish myself as the number one on a longer term.
But I certainly was not fit to play. I sat on the bench a couple of games with Ray Burse playing and I could barely bend down and touch beneath my knees. So I spent those few games on the bench hoping and praying that Ray would last for 90 minutes, because I certainly was in no condition to do anything.
And then, eventually, that culminated in the decision to retire."
FCD.com: So how do you recap your time here?
"So despite that things didn't turn out, even by my own standards, as well as I would have expected or would have liked, I fully enjoyed my 16 months. I've gotten a healthy respect for U.S. soccer. I respect this league and I think that it is not given enough credit on the other side of the Atlantic. And I've found that is not true in keeping with what you can expect out of this league, especially from individuals in this league.
I've been fortunate to work with one of the finest establishments in FC Dallas. Over the year I've gotten to know Michael Hitchcock and the FC Dallas operation quite intimately; what they do day-to-day and their ambitions, both short and long term. That, and keeping company with what is probably the premier sporting family in the U.S., in the Hunts.
So from that respect, the 16 months has given me more than I ever could have expected. So I've been very thankful to be here and to be part of all this. It's an exciting time for the club."
FCD.com: Ray Burse, on a Fox Soccer Channel interview, mentioned that you were someone he idolized as a black goalkeeper who's had tremendous success...What do you think of that, that your career was long enough that now a teammate can say that about you?
"Well, it was kind of like a running joke in the team that Kenny Cooper's dad signed me some years ago for the Baltimore Blast, and now here I was playing with Kenny Cooper Jr. You know, I'm older than nearly everybody else, even on the coaching staff, and still going.
So it's flattering. I guess that's the best way to describe it. Flattering to think that someone as talented as Ray and someone who I consider a friend is saying that he looks up to me and looks up to what I have achieved in the game. There are no other words for it.
I consider Ray a friend first and foremost. He is a tremendously talented goalkeeper, and has a very bright future ahead of him. He has the right attributes to take him far, and he certainly has the work ethic that every goalkeeper needs if they want to go anywhere.
I'm going to monitor Ray's progress, sometimes from afar, sometimes from a lot closer. Because like I say, first and foremost Ray is a friend and that's a friendship that I intend to keep. So I'm happy to have been able to play a part in his progress and his words have certainly given me a sense of pride."
FCD.com: And you both took school very seriously...
"That's a road that I followed and one that I try to encourage. Sometimes people put all their eggs in one basket in professional sports, and don't give themselves the option to do anything else. I felt the academics gave me the discipline needed to succeed in professional sports.
Academics is not all about books; it's about self-discipline. You have to get yourself up every morning to get to class; you have to complete the assignments. And sometimes, regardless of whether you pass or fail those courses, you have a sense of responsibility. We all have to be responsible; we all have to be dedicated if you want to achieve anything in this game."
FCD.com: Looking back at your 15-year career, what professional games stand out the most? International games?
"Well certainly, as a club player, the FA Cup final, which was my final game in English football. Of English football, of professional football over there, there's no single bigger game than the FA Cup final. It really was a kind of fairy tale ending to my club career in England. Of course it would have been better if we had won, but the curtain came down after that and I certainly have no regrets.
And then internationally, I've been a fan of Trinidad, and at home, to lose to the U.S. back in 1989 and failing to qualify for Italia 90, I shed tears then. So then last summer, to be part of a Trinidad team, the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Cup, in our first ever World Cup appearance - was enough of a fairy tale in itself. And then, to be given the nod to play the first game against Sweden - 10 minutes before it started - and to keep a clean sheet, and to receive the acclaim that I did as a result.
Again, it's something that was beyond my wildest dreams. You know, ever since I was a little boy, dreaming of wild things all those years ago.
So on both counts; I've been able to drop the curtain on my career in fantastic fashion."
FCD.com: Off the field, tell us something that you were / are involved with that you are proudest of?
"I'm most proud of my achievements with "Show Racism the Red Card." It's a soccer related charity aimed at children of elementary school age, aimed at battling racism but within our communities. I was one of the founding members back in 1996, and back then it involved me convincing other players to come along with me and go speak to children at different schools.
From then, we now boast of eight chapters throughout Europe. We are funded by the Scottish Parliament and are part of every school of Scotland, at the elementary level. And we're in front of Parliament now in England to be part of every school in England as well; having packages at every school and school system in the U.K.
So I think really that is the thing I'm most proud of, talking on an achievement off the field. That again, when we started, we could never envision where it would have gone and how quickly it would have gone. It's something I feel a real sense of pride towards."
FCD.com: Have you seen the progress of this initiative with regard to its intended aim?
"In England, you have players on every team from all parts of the world. But still, in the stands, it's 90 percent, or probably 98 percent, Caucasian. And for a number of teams, the BNP, which is the extreme right wing political party, they targeted soccer stadiums for recruiting. So something had to be done, within football. For as much as on the field it is very much a multinational game, in the stands it isn't, and that's where we had to focus.
In saying that, for the 15 years that I've been a player, there have been tremendous bounds made in eradicating a lot of the problems that they've had within the stadiums of professional teams. There are still a lot of problems, in lower levels in England, which of course is another of our focuses.
I can recall just before my going to England, learning some of the problems they had. I became very friendly with John Barnes, who of course was taunted endlessly throughout his career. I've also become very good friends with Viv Anderson and Cyrille Rigis, who also received similar taunts and threats. In talking to them and other friends, it's shuttering to think of some of the abuse that they had to endure so that I could earn a living playing soccer.
I felt it only right that I sort of repay some of what they did for me, and try to open up other doors, other avenues, for young black players to come through.
When I started in 1992, myself and David James were the only two black goalkeepers in the professional games, and this was with 92 pro clubs at the time. I think it was 1996 actually, the only two black goalkeepers in all of England and Scotland. Now, I look at highlights of not only the Premier League but all the divisions in England, and a rough estimate is that there is well in excess of two, probably three dozen black goalkeepers on the books at pro clubs. So from that respect, tremendous progress has been made.
FCD.com: Do you have any regrets as a professional player?
"No I don't. I wish I could have said that I would have loved to have started earlier in the game as a professional. I joined the game at the professional ranks quite late, after graduation when I was 23. But as I said, I have no regrets about going to college and wouldn't change that for anything. I mean, I met my wife at college, so for that reason alone, it's all been worth it.
What I was saying when talking about Ray, his graduating and his efforts to graduate. College also gave me discipline, as I said before. So no regrets. I've kind of learned over the years that you don't regret decisions that are made; when I made those decisions, they were made for the right reasons. I've learned that when I look at the bigger picture, that there really is no room for regrets in this game, or certainly in my life in general.
FCD.com: How has the soccer culture in the United States changed since you played college at Howard, to now, having a league that's 12 years old? Also, how has soccer in the world changed in the world?
"It has become a global game. I look back to when I graduated, back in 1992, and of course there was no MLS. Now the game has grown, and with the likes of David Beckham and others flocking to these shores to ply their trade, I think it's a great success story to think of where this game has come and where its going, and what its achieved so far in such a short space of time. It's night and day compared to how it was when I left in 1992.
Similarly, in England it's the same. Players are coming from all four corners of the earth, playing football in England; and doing so successfully. When I first went there, there was a strong belief that players from abroad couldn't cope in the English game; it was too hard, too fast; the winters were too cold; the springs were too wet. Every excuse was made. And now, we look at the English Premier League and you see just about every single country there.
And the same goes throughout; it really is becoming a global game.
FC Dallas no longer has to look within the Dallas Metroplex for players. They have players in from everywhere, as we've seen with the recent signing of Denilson. World Cup winners are coming to these shores; World Cup winners are coming to Dallas to play their soccer.
And given that, the emphasis that's placed on proper organization, proper administration here in the U.S., I think the game will go very far indeed. We see a number of U.S. investors in Europe as well, and I think the experience and knowledge they gain from the game in Europe will go a very long way for the game here in the U.S."
FCD.com: We continue to see players coming over from other countries to play in MLS - do you see this continuing? What can these players add / contribute to this league?
"They can add a real sense of excitement. Even in England, people look at these players from all over, top players, to bring to the game. To bring to the game in general, to bring the excitement to the fans, to bring that demonstration to the young American players so they know what it takes to be successful abroad, what it takes to be considered a world-class player.
I think the English league has certainly caught everyone's imagination. Since I've gone across, there's been a massive influx of foreign players and lot of English press and writers were up in arms about it; matter of fact they still are. But, you know, when you look at where the league has come, when you look at the TV deal just signed, second only to the NFL, who can argue with what these players bring.
And I'm sure these players will bring exactly that to MLS; that type of excitement, that type of notoriety, where people will sit up and take notice, people will begin to appreciate this sport as it around the world."
FCD.com: From your time with the team, do you think this team has what it takes to...
"I do. I think they have all the right players in all the right positions. They have enough cover in all the positions. I think they'll do a lot, better than last season, without wanting to say too much to jinx the team. I'll just say they have to be one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup this year. With that, I've already said more than I wanted to, because as I say, I don't want to jinx this team. I want to be in the stands celebrating come November."
FCD.com: What do you think you'll miss most about playing soccer?
"The camaraderie within the team. I've made some very good friends in football. I have friends that I played with for one season back in 92, and we're still in touch. There's a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of togetherness formed within the teams. I think more than anything, that's what I'll miss about the game, the most."
FCD.com: What lies in the future for Shaka Hislop?
"Well, I don't know. I have a couple of options presenting themselves which I'll explore in the next few weeks. I'll probably be able to tell you a little bit more about that in the next four, five weeks. But right now, I'm enjoying my retirement; spending more time with my kids. Right now I'm sitting out here watching my daughter play soccer herself. So then, we'll see where my career goes from here."
FCD.com: Any final message to the team and / or FC Dallas fans?
"I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to the team and the fans of the team. I came over here and was made felt very welcome by both the fans and the players alike. It's as if I've been here all my life. I really couldn't have thought of a better way to bow out of this game that I love. This is the end for me, though not on all levels. Now it's on to exhibition games against other fat ex-soccer players. But I'll look back at this time of my career with a lot of good memories; of the people I've met, the friends I've made, and the experiences that I've gained along the way."