Established by enthusiastic and flamboyant would-be footballers but somehow below-average athletes in 1968, the now-defunct Flames Football Club might not have rated among the big guns of domestic football.
But the unfashionable Katutura outfit left a long-lasting legacy in the annals of Namibian football. Some of the leading footballers from yesteryear are graduates from the green and gold outfit, among them, arguably the country’s most adored footballer, Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo, who went on to become a household name with South African glamour football club Kaizer Chiefs in the mid-70s.
It also paved the way for other greats such as Willy ‘Garrincha’ Katire, Asser Mbai, Tebs Murirua, Merino Kandonga and Ronnie Kahuure, while other notable footballers such as Albert Louw, Brown Amwenye, Kauru Bilhawer, Andehe Haimbondi, Issy Kamara and Gotty Geiseb also donned the green and gold strip of the Flames at some stage.
One of those who benefited immensely from the unofficial football academy of Flames under the tutelage of the late pair Felix Kakuenje and Darius Tjakaurua is former Benfica FC centre-back Mathias ‘Mahuna’ Iyambo.
“Flames were by far the only club that gave aspiring young footballers an opportunity to showcase their talents in organised structures,” revealed Iyambo, the old man of The Namibian Sun Newspaper incumbent News Editor Mathias Haufiku.
It’s extremely uncommon to learn that a centre-back who played regularly at the highest level, trying to stop marauding forwards in the mould of Celle Auchumeb, Orlando Damaseb, Linton Aseb, Jackson Meroro, Justice Basson, Juku Tjazuko, and Dawid Snewe, among others, retired from the beautiful game without having received marching orders from the men in black in a career spanning slightly over a decade.
Mahuna was a tough defender, a true gentleman who dispossessed opposing strikers of the ball with the kind of manner of an adult taking candy from a toddler without having to shed an ounce of sweat. He was, in every way, your former England-calculating centre-back, Des Walker.
Manning a rearguard that was justifiably branded as the most robust in the business, alongside the likes of Sacks Angula, Shomeya Sem, Tatako Kanyemba, and Puma Shinuna, Mauna was a different kettle of fish compared to his bone-crunching tackling teammates. Mahuna was always cool as a cucumber and one of the best penalty-takers, a sign of his calculating football brain.
He successfully dispatched nine spot-kicks in his playing career from open play—certainly an accomplishment many prolific strikers can only dream of. For a defender, Mahuna possessed natural ball skills coupled with a brilliant first touch and was one of the very few defenders who played what in the modern game is referred to as ‘zonal football’,” requiring players to adapt to different situations when they found themselves in unfamiliar territory on the pitch.
Born on April 4, 1960, on the smallholding of Ondundu, east of the Copper Town, Mauna grew up in Otavi and moved to the village of Oshivelo before settling down in Tsumeb with his parents.
His football career started with the local club Rangers FC, which unintentionally served as the feeder team for two of the town’s most popular teams, Chief Santos and Benfica. Before that, Mahuna featured for a small team of youngsters going by the name of Eleven Tigers FC, where he played alongside Daddy Ushona, Conrad Angula, the Shailemo siblings Joel and Simon, as well as Sam Pienaar.
“I only started playing serious football when I went to Augustineum High School in Windhoek, where I joined Benfica Bucks FC at school and would now and then also turn out for the Flames FC second strings during weekends with my school buddies Juku Tjazuko, Koko Muatunga, and the late Gottlieb ‘Tukaepo’ Keja,” recalled Mahuna during an exclusive interview with New Era Sport in 2014.
Mahuna has the most admiration for former Black Africa mercurial midfielder and Brave Warriors mentor Rusten ‘Zukhile’ Mogane.
“That boy was a football genius, a born leader, and played a massive part in my development as a footballer. He had a football brain second to none, but above all, he had that rare knack of instilling discipline and confidence in fellow players and also taught the younger players a lot about the finer points of life.”
Mahuna also did the high jump in school athletics, where he excelled, but football was his first love. He managed to break into the school’s second-string football team. “In those days, competition was very tough since the majority of footballers at the various high schools formed the backbone of some of the top football clubs around the country.” He retreated to his adopted hometown of Tsumeb in 1980 and joined forces with Benfica Football Club.
“To be quite honest, I used to idolise the late Albert Louw, because he was such a phenomenal athlete with great talent and discipline way beyond the norm. I must confess that I enjoyed playing against top footballers like Louw and Oscar Mengo, but more importantly, I cherished our local derbies with Chief Santos, which always ended in stalemates or with marginal score lines. Those encounters never produced more than three goals at any time.”
Although Mahuna was called up for trials for the northern regional team for ultimate selection to the national team, he never made it to the final squad because competition was very tough with African Stars overlapping fullback George Gariseb, always getting the nod ahead of him.
Mahuna steered Benfica to victory in the popular Top-16 Knockout tournament on home soil when the Copper Town lads defeated Otjiwarongo-based BMC in the final. In addition, he was a gold medal recipient when Benfica claimed the Metropolitan Cup, despite missing the match through injury.
“We had a well-balanced squad with two of the best midfielders in the game in the shape of Draka Shetekela and Licky Gideon, but I must admit the emergence of Grootfontein-based Chelsea changed the landscape in the maize triangle (Tsumeb, Otavi, and Grootfontein).”
Although Benfica was made to play second fiddle to Chelsea in the intervening years, they were regular campaigners in the now-defunct, popular Mainstay Cup competition.
“We competed fiercely against top teams from Windhoek and reached three finals in knockout cup competitions, but unfortunately lost all three against Black Africa. For some strange reason, we always struggled against Black Africa; they were indeed our nemesis.” Mahuna regarded former Chelsea forward Orlando Damaseb and African Stars flying winger Juku Tjazuko as his most difficult opponents during his playing career.
“Those two guys were the deadliest strikers, never missed a chance if the opportunity arose, and would always punish you if you were not careful. It pains me nowadays to watch today’s strikers miss the target from inviting positions.
“The current crop of strikers lack composure in the box, while they also focus a lot on money issues and don’t demonstrate any passion for the game at all, while their level of discipline also leaves a lot to be desired. The boys must become serious because football has the potential to become a money-making business if handled carefully and properly”.