When visiting South African professional football club Orlando Pirates touched down in Windhoek, South West Africa to engage in exhibition matches against a local Invitational Eleven made up of whites – local football fans were treated to a football fiesta never witnessed here before. The Jomo Sono inspired Buccaneers ran rings around the locals but the match turned out to be a leaning curve for the local amateurs. One such athlete who benefitted immensely from rubbing shoulders with the star-studded visiting side is retired Ramblers FC midfield-cum-striker, Bennie Volgraaf. The multi-talented beanpole attacking midfielder was indeed a Jack of all trades, excelling in almost everything he laid his hands on. Apart from chasing an inflated pigskin – Bennie was also a noted cricketer; he equally excelled in softball and hockey during his school days. The tallish moustached athlete was also instrumental in transforming Ramblers into a multi-racial sports entity – much to the chagrin of some of his hardcore fellow teammates and extreme conservative club members. New Era Sports caught up with the humorous Bennie as he relived his remarkable football journey revealing that scary moment during Ramblers’ first ever league match in the ‘notorious’ Katutura Township. Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa Windhoek-Born Bennie Volgraaf on the 9th of June 1956 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa – Bennie was still a toddler and hardly out of his pair of nappies when his parents relocated to South West Africa (SWA - Namibia) in 1957. Unlike many other boys of Dutch origin who were enrolled at Afrikaans medium schools – Bennie found himself at St Paul’s College, a predominantly English school holed in Windhoek’s posh residential area of Klein Windhoek. His old man, Vollie Volgraaf was a keen oval ball chaser (rugby) – but Bennie was obliged by circumstances beyond his control to break tradition as he turned his energy to other sports codes because the game of rugby was taboo at most English schools. “I had no other choice but to play football and became addicted to the beautiful game,” recalls the retired Ramblers’ extremely skillful towering playmaker. Bennie would go on to represent his adopted native land at provincial level in multiple sporting disciplines such as football, hockey, cricket and softball while still at school. “There were a total of 13 provinces competing in these tourneys annually hosted by South Africa. I managed to juggle my precious time between all the sports codes but there’s one particular tourney that will always linger in my mind for the rest of my life. “Our team defied the odds stacked against us to finish in a commendable third place in Johannesburg. And what was especially amazing was our near faultless display in the semi final against eventual winners Northern Transvaal”. The underdogs from South West pushed the champions-in-waiting to the limit - only to succumb to a hard fought 2-1 defeat. “Nonetheless, we certainly gave them a good run for their money since they made a clean sweep in the youth football tourney sweeping their opponents aside with massive score lines – scoring an amazing 61 goal tally whilst conceding a paltry three goals, one against us”. Amongst his celebrated teammates were; former South West Africa and Ramblers inspirational skipper Gunter Hellinghausen, Saxy Sasse, Heiner Beiter, Hartmud Beyer, Amim von Biljon, Jeff Marting and a horde of other highly gifted young footballers. Despite finishing in third place, the boys from north of the Orange River left behind an impressive legacy that culminated in young Gernot Ahrens being duly rewarded with Springbok colours for his par excellence performance. “Without an iota of doubt, that was the highlight of my entire sporting career for the simple reason that we used to be the whipping boys in the South African provincial youth tourney and to finish third was an astonishing achievement on its own”. In the interim, Bennie would also represent his adopted native land with distinctions in cricket, softball and hockey. The versatile lad was deservedly installed captain of the SWA Junior boys hockey team and just missed out on selection by a whisker to join the Junior Springboks hockey team. “I was amongst the shortlisted 22 squad members but could unfortunately not make the cut for the final squad of 17 players. Young Bennie’s impressive unmatched goal scoring prowess did not go unnoticed amongst talent scouts as he was snapped up by Windhoek giants Ramblers Football Club, aged 14 and hardly out of his pair of shorts. “I was somehow lucky that I joined Ramblers at the time when the club was coached by club legend Don Corbett. We went on an amazing winning spree clinching each and every available silverware on display. “The national football league was quite tough and very competitive with clubs like Sparta, Atlantis, Tsumeb/Kombat, Otavi, Swakopmund, Otjiwarongo and Okahandja Mannschaft, all playing good football. “Playing alongside Hellinhausen, Bob Koudelka, Sexy Sasse, Steini Steinfurth, Corky Horstemhke, Ian Wood, Willy Roesener, Andy Martin, Heiner Ihlein, Bobby Craddock, the Ahrens brothers Hasso and Uwe helped me a lot to improve my game”. And although he has fond memories of his playing days, Bennie recalls a particular close shave with death during a nasty incident that dominated Rammies’ first match in the township against Katutura giants Orlando Pirates. “It was a nerve wrecking affair after we had taken a 2-1 lead with five minutes left on the clock – the large crowd became restless starting to throw all sorts of dangerous objects onto the pitch. “Luckily, the wide awake match referee ended the contest prematurely – only for pandemonium to break loose. We had to rush for our team bus and to our relief, there were no casualties. “To be quite honest, it was the first time in our entire football career to play in front of such a big crowd. Nevertheless, we quickly settled down silencing the noisy large crowd playing our traditional one touch style of football”. Bennie’s genes dictated that he would be a great athlete – after all, his old man ‘Vollie’ wore the armband for the now defunct Talpark Rugby Club in addition to being the undisputed provincial (SWA) champion in the 100-metre sprint. The lanky forward was an invaluable squad member of the all-conquering Rammies side that won the inaugural Central Football Association (CFA) league title ahead of African Stars in a two-horse race. However, the Reds had the last laugh as they clinched both the national football league and coveted Mainstay Cup – at the expense of the fired up Tunschell Street boys. Sadly, Bennie’s blossoming football career was prematurely halted when a niggling ankle injury abbreviated any further interest he might have had in continuing chasing an inflated piece of leather. Nevertheless, all was not lost as the lanky forward joined the club’s management team. Bennie was deservedly elected president of Ramblers football section in 1982. He would go onto play a pivotal role in the transformation of the club, as Rammies rewrote the history books by becoming the first sports entity to abolish segregation and racial barriers in sports. “It was an extremely unpopular decision because some of the club members would have none of it but sanity finally prevailed through an enforced democratic voting process. “As fate would dictate, 63 percent of the paid up members were in favour of integration and that’s how Rammies managed to lure footballers of colour to its stable with Eric Muinjo and Bertus Damon being the very first footballers of colour crossing the racial barrier.” On a rather sad parting shot, Bennie bemoans the declining standard of local football adding that he cannot put his finger on the pulse as to what went wrong. “During my playing days, the league was very competitive and had very strong teams. I must admit that footballers like Ivo de Gouveia and Oscar Mengo were a cut above the rest and that surely made football a very interesting spectacle to watch”.
New Era Reporter
2018-02-09 10:43:16 9 months ago