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Home / Tales of the legends - Go well, uncle Ben, a gentle giant takes a bow from the game of life Ben Tembo 1948-2020

Tales of the legends - Go well, uncle Ben, a gentle giant takes a bow from the game of life Ben Tembo 1948-2020

2020-05-22  Carlos Kambaekwa

Tales of the legends - Go well, uncle Ben, a gentle giant takes a bow from the game of life Ben Tembo 1948-2020

Another tragedy has befallen the Namibian football fraternity at large with the sad passing of former Eleven Arrows and South West Africa (SWA) Bantu Invitational likeable giant shot-stopper Ben Tembo, aka “Oom Ben”, as the much-adored man of the cloth was affectionately known amongst his congregation.

The light-skinned retired goalkeeper lost a long battle against diabetes in Windhoek last week. Apart from his involvement in football as a player-cum-administrator-turned-coach, Oom Ben will be best remembered for his amazing work with the word of god. 
Upon his retirement from competitive football, the Omaruru-born lad dedicated his entire life for community work and served the Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church with a great measure of distinction until his untimely departure.
Today’s edition New Era Sport chronicles the life and football journey of one of the greatest shot-stoppers the country has ever produced in years gone by.

Unlike many goalkeepers who started their careers as outfield players, Oom Ben was from day one an outright goalkeeper and spent his entire football career between the sticks since the age of six. His imposing decent height and huge frame stood him good and many strikers dreaded getting to one-on-one situations with him.

“As you may recall, the apartheid authorities were hell-bent on the divide and rule philosophy to the extent that saw Bantus placed in separate locations as per their tribes.  “As football crazy youngsters, we formed our team competing against other teams from the Damara and Herero sections in the Ozondje residential area for darkies, Omaruru, “recalled the late Oom Ben during an exclusive interview with New Era Sport in 2009. Amongst his teammates were Zulu Gaweseb, Katae #Naragaeb, and Klazen siblings Esau and Jacob. It was during those street clashes that he came to know the Puriza brothers Samuel Esau playing street football with Hiiko and Mate brothers”. “Oom Ben” started schooling at the boarding Roman Catholic Waldfrieden Mission School near Omaruru and continued playing football. Aged ten, he relocated to Otjiwarongo where he was to meet what would become his eternal buddies at Kuisebmond outfit Eleven Arrows FC in later years. 
Upon his arrival in the town, young Ben hooked up with other highly-gifted young footballers in the mould of Alphews “Jayzz” Mbakera, Freek Samaria, Emil Kuhanga, Buli Shivangulula and the late Pottie Mbarandongo. 

The football crazy youngsters put shoulder to the wheel and formed a strong school team competing fiercely against established local teams such as Black Marokko Chiefs (BMC) and others. 

A bird of passage, the giant shot-stopper found himself in Swakopmund. His arrival in the freezing coastal town coincided with the formation of a local team going by the name of Flying Eagles FC, formed by a large number of his former school mates from his home town (Omaruru) and Otjiwarongo, who have moved down west for further studies. 

The new team had in its arsenal the likes of Dansie Gaseb, George Masilo, Johannes “German” Gaseb and the bearded Gotty Geiseb. The latter went on to make a name for himself at Nau-Aib outfit Spoilers FC.  “We used to compete in exhibition matches against Blue Boys who had great players spearheaded by the versatile Ruby Kamulu, Kaningandu Masilo, Thomas Losper and exciting young winger Hermann “Pele” Blaschke”.

At times, the team would travel the 30-kilometre road stretch further down seaside to compete against Navy Blue, Blue Waters and Namib Woestyn’s second strings in Walvis-Bay.   “We assembled a very good team but since most of the squad members were scholars, we could only compete against boys our age, playing for the big teams’ second teams. Sadly, we could also not travel further than Walvis-Bay because we lived in the school’s hostel” In 1962, Oom Ben relocated to Walvis-Bay, where he joined Eleven Arrows Football Club. The star-studded new team was formed the previous year by defectors from Blue Waters and Namb Woestyn, respectively. The squad had in its midst highly-talented footballers fronted by speedy winger Tommy Uushona, Gabes “Flying Fish” Mupupa, Heinrich Horongo Haufiku, Times Mwetuyela, Edgar Veiko, Reinhardt Gaseb, Johannes Mutilifa, Joseph Geiseb, John Samaria, Ben Bernaris and Jacky Brown. The players enjoyed a great relationship amongst each other and were known for their good discipline on and off the field, which would become the team’s trademark in the intervening years. “We were only interested in playing good football while enjoying ourselves on the pitch and never questioned referees’ decisions.” 

That trend and level of amazing discipline trickled down to future generations, as Arrows ranks amongst the most disciplined football teams in the history of domestic football. The arrival of the giant goalie added a measure of strength to the already-smooth-sailing train of the gold and maroon outfit.  Arrows became a major force to be reckoned with in domestic football making their presence felt in major knockout cup tourneys in towns such as Keetmanshoop, Walvis-Bay, Swakopmund and the city of Windhoek.    The exciting Kuisebmond outfit clinched the annual Yoko Tea Cup in Keetmanshoop in 1970 that saw the agile “Oom Ben” keep a clean sheet in all matches except the final that included a 15 -0 thrashing of a team from Aus en route to their astonishing accomplishment. 
Arrows also swept aside Tseigblaagte outfit Black Arrows 4-0. The latter had former Orlando Pirates centre back pair of Steve “Kalamazoo” Stephanus and Dokes Hange in their lineup.

Their next victims were Black Africa and fellow seasiders Namib Woestyn second strings with an identical scoreline of 3-0 to set up a mouth-watering final against Namib Woestyn first team. The final was played a fortnight later in Windhoek that saw Arrows coming from 2 goals down to send their coastal rivals packing by six goals to two (6-2) at the old Katutura stadium. Arrows returned to their fortress and stylishly claimed the prestigious annual Ethel Trader Cup beating the same opponents (Namib Woestyn) by 2 goals without reply in the final. 
“We defeated African Stars 1-0 in the replayed semi-final after the first match ended in a 2-all stalemate before darkness set in”. 
However, Arrows’ joy was to be curtailed by an unfortunate nasty incident when an irate player from Tigers, one Moses Seibeb, who originally hailed from the garden town (Okahandja) gifted the trophy a nasty facelift with a vicious blow via a knobkerrie. 

The damage obliged tournament organizers to reschedule the final a fortnight later at the same venue. Arrows came out tops 2-0 victors.
His astonishing exploits between the sticks did not go unnoticed and “Oom Ben” was deservedly selected for the South West Africa {SWA} Bantu Invitational Eleven alongside Tigers equally agile goalie Nandos Mbako for exhibition matches against the visiting Transvaal Invitational Eleven at the old Katutura stadium in 1965. 

As fate would dictate, “Oom Ben” was forced to retire from competitive football when he was transferred by his employer (Afrox) to Windhoek in 1975. There were lots of Windhoek teams vying for his signature but his undying loyalty towards his beloved Arrows would not see him wearing another team’s colours. 

He cited the late pair of Orlando Pirates flying wingers Daniel Koopman and Willem Eichab as well as Namib Woestyn’s lethal forward Axarob Doeseb, as a nightmare for any goalkeeper during his playing days. 

2020-05-22  Carlos Kambaekwa

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