Jems Geffrard is ready for 2021: ‘We have unfinished business’

With 14 appearances for the Haitian national team, Jems Geffrard is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Entering his first year with the Wanderers during a pandemic, Geffrard and his teammates had a successful first-year run.

An anchor in the backline throughout the Island Games, the club has triggered their option to secure Geffrard for the 2021 season.

Jems spoke with Wanderers Brand Manager Dylan Lawrence to discuss his experience in his first year with the Wanderers, as well as some other exciting news happening in the 26-year-old’s life.

Dylan Lawrence: Happy to hear you’re coming back, Jems. Have you been up to anything exciting this off-season?

JG: Well with the pandemic, all the facilities are closed (in Montreal). So the only thing I can do is run outside and I have a few weights at home to try to keep in shape. I’ve spent time with my family – I’m not going to see them for 8 or 9 months so I’m just trying to be with my family. I play a lot of chess because I and my brother watched that Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” so we’ve played almost every day.

Did you play chess before? Or did you start playing because of the show?

JG: Yeah I used to like it when I was young. We learned to play at elementary school but I kind of forgot about it so we’ve started again. I like it. 

That’s great. What got you excited about signing with Halifax in your first year?

JG: The Grounds – I was so, so upset that we couldn’t play on the Wanderers Grounds – everyone just kept talking about it and before I signed, I was at the Gold Cup and seeing the fans while going into the game are 100% behind you, I (asked) what team in the CPL would give me that same vibe and Halifax (had it) so I wanted to go there. I wanted to see how it was to have those people cheering for you. I felt it a bit when I went to the mall and stuff and you wear your Wanderers stuff, people recognize you. That feeling of being 1-0 down and having the fans to push you was one thing that really pushed me to come here.

So tell me a bit more about your experience. You’ve mentioned that the favourite place you’ve travelled to was Japan. What was the story there?

JG: Yeah, that was my first national team cap (for Haiti). I was at home in Finland and my friend called me saying he had good news. I asked ‘what is it’ and he said they’re going to call me for the National team. I was like ‘nah, you’re (lying) right now’ and he said ‘no they’re going to call you’. You know with football sometimes people say you’re going to get a call from Barcelona or something and nothing happens. So they called me the next morning and said they wanted to invite me to the camp in Japan. I was like ‘Japan… first camp in Japan, like no way’ and they’re like ‘yeah, so you’re coming next week’ so I asked ’in five days’ and they just said ‘yeah’. Once I knew I was going I was outside running, trying to do extra (training) to prepare. But going there was a 16 hour flight and it was the first time I’ve done that in my life. I wasn’t even feeling tired I was just so excited to be there, seeing a lot of Japanese people and they were so polite. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. For me it was something special. 

Speaking of special moments, you’ve mentioned that going to the finals at the Island Games has been your favourite moment as a Wanderer so far. How would you compare that experience with your first national team cap?

JG: Well, it’s similar. The same feeling. For me, going to the national team was something that I accomplished, something big. But going to the CPL Finals was something bigger because it was the first year, first time I played with those guys and we did something – I don’t want to say great because we didn’t win – but something great because we made it with not a lot of [time together]. We had maybe one month to prepare, we were going somewhere we had never experienced before with being in a bubble. It was just a relief to make it to the final and feel that ‘wow, we’re here right now’ and we did it.

The Wanderers celebrate in the Delta Hotel hallway after making the 2020 Island Games final.

I remember I was in my room with Daniel (Kinumbe) and the referee blew the whistle. I said to Dan ‘we’re going to the final’ and you know Dan, he’s just cool so he was just like ‘yeah’ but I said ‘yo, we’re going to the finals’ and he said ‘yo, we’re going to the finals’. So we ran outside and started cheering. It was special.

Completely agree, that was a very special moment. This was basically a new team – one that had to come together through the pandemic in their first year. What is it about the team that you feel is special?

JG: I think you call it brotherhood. Everyone was together. There were no groups; not the Quebec guys staying together, we were just all together. I could be with Peter who is from Germany or Rampy and Akeem speaking their Trinidad language, and it doesn’t feel awkward. I would just be like ‘yeah, I want to learn too’. Nobody was thinking that you’re weird for being different. We felt together and like a family. So I think that side of it made this team feel special.

So going into 2021, hopefully you’ll finally have the chance to play on the Grounds, what are you looking forward to the most?

JG: I think just finish what we didn’t do last year. We wanted to be champions and we, unfortunately, didn’t do it. But I think this year we need to finish the job. We know how it feels to be in the finals, to win, to lose, to be one man down for 70 minutes, we know about all that. The only feeling (we’re missing) is winning the championship. So that’s the only thing I’m really thinking about.