It’s now a well-documented secret that Upington’s most popular football club, Paballelo Chiefs, unintentionally played a significant role in the development and subsequent growth of Namibian football over the years. The black and white strip outfit has produced a decent chunk of highly gifted footballers who encroached upon the local football scene with a different brand of football – much to the delight of football fans. The likes of Kiro Makati (Diergaardt), Willem ‘Rebel’ Plaatjies, Sheya Mwelasi, Jabu Brown, Aaron Mthebe, Themba Mane, Boeta Sekhobo, Andile Kalipa, Patrick M’Kotwana, Happy Malgas, Hendrik Spondeni, Jacques Klaaste are just some of the names that spring to mind. Without an iota of doubt, the nimble footed boys from across the Orange River brought a new dimension to local football but Ace was in fact the real McCoy, who captured the imagination of locals. Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa Windhoek-Back in the day, Namibian football was richly blessed with phenomenal athletes that saw some of them making a name for themselves across the Orange River in the South African Professional Soccer League. History reveals that former Robber Chanties and Poison Cobra Football Club’s burly midfielder Eliphas Sabatha, was amongst the first local footballers to ply his trade with Kimberley outfit Dalton Brothers FC in the highly competitive South African Professional Soccer League for Bantus (blacks) in the early 70s. Sabatha, as the bulky playmaker was affectionately known amongst his teammates, initially followed in the footsteps of Hasso Ahrens (Hellenic), Hermann ‘Pele’ Blaschke, aka ‘Kaffertjie’ and Ishmael ‘Lemmy Special; Narib (both Kaizer Chiefs) that had played professional football in the late 60s. It was unavoidable that the strongly built Grootfontein-born lad (Sabatha) would lead an exodus of local footballers that went to play in South Africa. The former Poison Cobra star player was highly rated within the file and rank of the diamond rich town. Subsequently, the likes of Pius ‘Garrincha’ Eigowab, Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo, Hendrick ‘Doc’ Hardley, Linton Aseb, Joseph ‘Malaka’ Somseb, Simon-Steve Stephanus, Killer ‘Hobon’ Kamberipa, Gerson Kaputji Kuhanga, Gotthardt ‘Gotty’ Gurirab, Paul ‘Gawarib’ Uirib and many others all followed suit. As time went by, the exercise would be reversed with footballers from South Africa, notably in the Northern Cape, crossing the border in search of greener pastures across the Orange River. One such migrant was none other than imposing attacking midfielder Aaron Mthebe. The nimble footed Ace arrived in the city of lights (Windhoek) via Upington popular outfit Paballelo Chiefs amidst much fanfare at the invitation of boyhood buddy, the late Thamsanga Biyo, aka ‘Thami; and as they say, the rest in history. Unlike many of his peers who were hooked on street football, bro Arrie only started playing competitive football at high school. Although Ace was still an unpolished raw diamond, the mercurial midfielder with the boyish looks and whose huge frame could be easily mistaken for a bouncer, was a master dribbler, fast and blessed with a delicious first touch, while packing a decent shot in his right foot. Born Aaron Mthebe on March 27 in 1955, Upington, bro Arrie was re-baptised ‘Ace’ after the legendary Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, by his adoring teammates – a name that stuck with him to this day. Ace grew up in Upington’s largest residential area Paballelo and barely played street football as a youngster. It was only when he went to high school that he really started playing serious football. He joined boyhood team Paballelo Chiefs. He teamed up with other talented young boys from the hood such as Jabu Brown, Willem Plaatjies, aka Rebel or Plates, Simon ‘Shoes’ Tsholoba, Bassie Boostander, Jacky Jacobs and Eric Prusendt amongst a horde of highly gifted young footballers. “Truth be told, that Paballelo Chiefs side of our generation was a marvel to watch because we were a committed bunch of young enthusiastic footballers. We assembled a good team, a mixture of experienced and young talented footballers. “Look, in those days, there were no proper league structures but the team would always engage in several knockout tournaments around the Northern Cape,” reveals Ace with a twinkle in his narrowed eyes”. Such was Chiefs’ dominance that the club became the darlings of Northern Cape football displaying entertaining carpet football – much to the delight of football lovers from that neck of the woods. “We used to compete fiercely against teams from De Aar, Kuruman, Oliefantshoek, and Kimberley and certainly gave a good account of ourselves in those tourneys. “The year 1976 will always remain stuck in my memory as we dominated football in the Northern Cape sweeping our opponents aside”. When Windhoek (SWA) based teams Black Africa and Orlando Pirates toured Upington for exhibition matches in 1979, it was Ace who stole the show with his amazing ball skills running rings around the muscular and more direct Southwesters (Namibians). He came to Windhoek the following year by invitation of his homeboy Thamsanga Biyo in 1980. “Bro Tammy convinced me to come over because there were far better employment opportunities in South West Africa (SWA) back in the day. “As it turned out, bro Tami stuck to his word and managed to organise employment for his homeboy at OK Warehouse where I slaved”. It was not long before he found a club as bro Arrie was snapped up by Katutura giants Tigers in 1981. “I joined Tigers at the time when the club was in transformation with the arrival of many emerging young footballers in the shape of Johannes ‘General’ Angala, Steve Haihambo, Siegfried ‘Dalle’ Stephanus, Metuu ‘Mentos’ Hipondoka and other phenomenal young athletes”. A natural crowd puller, Ace became the club’s blue-eyed boy with his amazing dribbling skills and close ball control - capturing the imagination of neutral local football followers. After a short stint in the blue and white strip of Ingwe, Ace developed itchy feet - only to resurface at cross town rivals African Stars where he played for two solid seasons. “I was in absolute awe and caught by surprise watching guys like Mengo, Ambrossius Vyff, Dawid Snewe, Norries Goraseb and Doc Hardley in action. To be quite honest, the overall standard of football in South West Africa (SWA) was much higher than in the Northern Cape. “The league was extremely competitive since the likes of Mengo, Hardley, Aseb, Lemmy and Steve Stephanus had just returned from stints in the South African Professional Soccer League. I think they gained valuable experience and expertise over there which slowly rubbed off on their teammates”. Joining a well established big club, Ace was subjected to scale Mount Kilimanjaro in an effort to carve himself a starting berth in the star studded Reds lineup but the big framed boy from ‘Upties’ persevered and ultimately become an invaluable impact player for ‘Starlile’. “Eish, I must confess I really enjoyed playing alongside the Silver Fox (Oscar Mengo). Fox was such a phenomenal athlete, very cunning and possessed all the required ingredients of a complete footballer. “It was obvious that he had played the game at another level because his style of play was very much similar to some of the leading footballers back home in South Africa”. After two solid seasons with the Reds, the strongly built attacking midfielder left the club in search of regular game time. Bro Arrie joined forces with newly formed exciting Katutura outfit Benfica FC, a team formed by Angolan and Congolese refugees residing in Windhoek. The new team campaigned in the second tier of the highly competitive Central Football Association (CFA) - competing against the equally strong Young Ones, Hungry Lions, Eastern Jumpers, Sorento Bucks and the top clubs’ second strings. After few failed attempts to gain promotion to the CFA elite league, Benfica resolved to jump ship and join the newly established Central Namibia Football Association (CNFA) under the shrewd stewardship of local football guru, the hippy-look-alike uncle Bobby Sissing. Benfica recruited a significant number of exciting footballers from ‘Upties’ who teamed up with locals with close ties from that area. Whilst it can be argued that the likes of Swansea, Sorento Bucks, Civics and Cosmos were the leading clubs in the popular league, Benfica was without an iota of doubt the real McCoy of the popular Khomasdal football league that always drew large crowds to their matches. Benfica became the darling of enthusiastic Khomasdal football lovers through their typical South Africana entertaining brand of carpet football.
New Era Reporter
2018-01-26 11:03:44 9 months ago