The author came to know Atanasius ‘Steps’ Nickel up close during our musical escapades in the beautiful Copper Town of Tsumeb back in the day, and we became close buddies to the extent that our friendship blossomed into brotherhood over the years. Just the mere feeling and brutal realisation that I’m not going to see and have a conversation with my buddy again is very painful and extremely difficult to digest. Dear readers, please pardon me but it has never been an easy assignment to ink a tribute with trembling fingers, trying to narrate the unimaginable tragedy of a departed dear brother in the most dignified fashion. Eish, while the entire nation and the Namibian football fraternity mourn your shocking departure, we are very grateful for the amazing moments, joy and entertainment you always gifted us without failure on the football pitch through your trademark ‘step-overs’, arrogantly complemented by unmatched God-given dribbling skills. Till we meet again in heaven, may your precious soul rest easy, bro Steps.
Born Atanasius Nickel in the northern Copper-producing town of Tsumeb on 16 July 1954, the likeable attacker was like many other young boys his age in the neighbourhood – football crazy.
Famously going by the nickname of ‘Steps’ because of his amazing dribbling skills and trademark step-overs, the easy-going socialite caught the attention of Etosha Lions' imported auxiliary coach Percy ‘Chippa’ Moloi with jaw-dropping displays during practice sessions. The latter was brought to the Copper Town by the wide-awake Herbert Conradie to take the ambitious Nomtsoub outfit through the ropes ahead of their envisaged tour to neighbouring Angola for a series of exhibition matches against local teams in the then war-ravaged country.
However, the promised tour failed to materialise after potential sponsors TCL, to be precise, reneged on its earlier promise to fund the project at the eleventh hour, thus obliging the Lions of the North (Etosha Lions) to engage in a series of exhibition matches in an effort to solicit enough money to pay for Moloi’s valuable services.
Regrettably, team management and Moloi fell out after their final exhibition match at the old Katutura stadium in 1969, following a disagreement with the exact amount of money owed to the stocky South African football genius, who played club football for Soweto giants Orlando Pirates.
As it turned out, the players threw their weight behind the agitated Moloi, who persuaded them to severe ties with Etosha Lions and form a new team Chief Santos, a name proposed by the fed-up Moloi. Admittedly, Santos was literally formed in Windhoek.
Nonetheless, Conradie was not to be outdone either. The tallish football guru relocated to the city of bright lights (Windhoek), where he teamed up with old buddies Ben Gariseb and Henry Kandundu-Schultz. The trio formed a new team, proudly christened Poison Cobra.
They immediately put their ducks in a row and dangled a juicy carrot in the faces of the likes of greats Eliphas Sabatha, younger brother Doc Hardley, Ectos Kandundu and young Steps, luring them to join forces with the newly-formed Katutura outfit.
In no time, the star-studded Cobras became the envy of every football fan as the team attracted the crème de la crème of domestic football to their stable. Calculated midfielder Safe Kuruseb and Rocco Swallows’ serial net buster Martin Sigab Williams were added to the already star-studded squad.
With Steps in the mix of things, the striking Cobras undertook a successful tour to Kimberley, South Africa for a series of exhibition matches against teams from that neck of the woods.
Sadly, the adage that one cannot have two bulls in the same kraal played her hand for the umpteenth time as the club folded, with the majority of the playing personnel retreating to their respective former teams.
Tellingly, Steps returned to his native Tsumeb and joined Chief Santos, where he established himself as the club’s blue-eyed boy with near faultless displays in the middle of the park.
Blessed with a delicious left foot, deft footwork, and an eye for a killer pass, the dribbling wizard caught the imagination of the neutral fan, and many squeezed their bodies through the turnstiles just to watch him bewitch the spherical object with relative ease.
A complete footballer and crowd favourite, Steps was doubtlessly the Mainstay of the all-conquering Santos side in the mid-70s. Having won every silverware there was to be won with his beloved Santos, he finally packed his educated dribbling boots for good to concentrate on his emerging flourishing business in the liquor industry.
He was the proud owner of the town’s most famous watering hole, Steps Inn. A stylish elegant dresser, he was also very fond of cruising in fine style and always shifted behind the steering wheels of state-of-the-art cars.
Sadly, the likeable brother passed on after losing a marathon battle with diabetes. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
The ‘White Stallion’ goes to rest
The only known surviving squad member of the gutsy South West Africa (SWA) Rugby XV that went toe-to-toe with the visiting British Lions at the packed-to-rafters old Mabel Vlok Park in Windhoek in 1955, Uncle Joey Helgan, has passed on. He was 89 years of age.
Barely out of his pair of shorts and still a pupil at the revered Windhoek High School, the young fly-half played club rugby for Pionierspark outfit Wanderers and made his senior debut for SWA against South African Provinces Griquas, Western Transvaal and the Free State in that sequence. He also started in the 3-27 defeat against the touring All Blacks in 1960.
A phenomenal dead ball specialist with an educated right boot, many rugby pundits opined that the much-adored SWA Rugby XV vice captain was one of the most salted fly-halves of his generation.
It came as no surprise when he was twice called up for trials with the Springboks but was very unfortunate to miss out on the final selection for the overseas tour across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand in 1956.
Uncle Helgan played his last competitive provincial rugby for SWA in 1962, before hanging up his boots to concentrate on administration. Upon his retirement, the much-liked Helgan served in various high-profile administrative portfolios, including that of team selector for the senior rugby XV.