The author vividly remembers that freezing Sunday afternoon at the packed to rafters SKW field, south of Windhoek, when unfashionable Khorixas outfit Robber Chanties saw off Ramblers in the knockout stages of the maiden edition of the newly introduced Namibia Football Association (NFA) Cup.
The prestigious annual tourney succeeded the traditional Mainstay Cup that evaporated into thin air together with the much despised skewed Apartheid system upon Namibia’s democracy in 1990.
The north-west navy and gold outfit had in their lineup a young calculated center back, orchestrating proceedings from the back in total contrast to the team’s traditional predictable style of football.
This amazingly confident young fellow was none other than Mike “Bokke” Claassen, a product of exciting Etoshapoort (Outjo) outfit PUBS FC. The cool as a cucumber center back was to define the role of modern center backs in domestic football with amazing calmness never witnessed before in that neck of the woods.
Blessed with a brilliant first touch for a rookie defender, Mike was in the habit of launching attacks from the back and would also weigh in with the odd goal whenever the situation demanded.
In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sport feature Tales of the Legends, profiling our forgotten athletes, New Era Sport posthumously pays a fitting tribute to one of the country’s most gifted footballers, Mike Mutani Claassen, who has never really lived to fulfill his god given talent.
In real sense, the late Mike Claassen was a rare gem and easily ranks amongst the finest centre backs Namibia has ever unearthed. The Outjo born lad was a complete athlete, blessed with all the required ingredients from an above average footballer. Indeed an amazing polished diamond, a complete all-rounder reveling in the category of zonal football.
The likes of Gabes Dausab, Steve Stephanus, Albert Tjihero, Bobby Craddock, Alu Hummel, Stu Damaseb, Ranga Lucas, Max Johnson, Puli Subeb, Slice Ouseb, Beau Kake, Mentos Hipondoka, Grey Umati, Temu Samaria, Nico Hindjou, Tollie van Wyk and Bimbo Tjihero are just some of the prominent names that springs to mind
But wait a minute, Mike was in a class of his own, after all, he was the only top notch left footed centre back in the business. “Mr Cool” or “Bokke”, as he was affectionately known in football circles, brought an appetizing flavour to the local game on how the game of football should be played.
A bit of a latecomer in the true sense of the word, the skinny defender rose to prominence when he joined exciting Katutura giants Black Africa from Robber Chanties.
He was amongst the very first group of footballers to represent a truly democratic Namibia internationally in the early nineties (90s). Mike went onto establish himself as a pillar of strength in the Warriors’ rearguard alongside fellow homeboy, the towering Orlando Haraseb in the middle of the Warriors’ defence.
A product of the revered Petrus Ganeb Secondary School in Uis, holed up in the vast Erongo region, young Mutani started playing serious football in the elite league with Khorixas outfit Robber Chanties.
His trusted homeboy and classmate Boy Gau-gaob, describes his boyhood buddy with the following narration: “Truth be told, Bokke was a highly gifted multi-talented athlete who excelled in almost everything he laid his hands on. Apart from being an extra ordinary footballer, he was quite a handful in both the 200 and 400 meter sprints on the athletic track and equally damn good in the field events, notably discus throw and triple jump”.
“He was an instant hit amongst fellow students and got rewarded with the school football team’s captain armband. Without a shadow of doubt, he brought a new dimension to our football team and also acted as player/coach,” enthusiasts Gau-goab.
Khorixas outfit Robber Chanties took note of his immersed talent and the Outjo born lanky defender was drafted in the squad to stabilise the habitual leaky defense where he slotted in the new set up like a glove in hand, to the extent that he was bestowed with the honour of captaincy.
In the meantime, Mike would feature regularly for his home team PUBS during school holidays, leading the team to success in several low-key knockout cup tournaments.
Like other celebrated footballers such as Ben Gaseb, Paul Gawarib Uirib, Patrick Basson, Dawid Snewe, Joseph Garab, Gurirab siblings Theobaldt “Momina” Gotty and Giddies, Haosemab brothers Peter, Paul and Eddie, Chanties were primarily used as a stepping stone towards the promised land of milk and honey for the highly gifted football playing centre back.
Mutani was snapped up by the wide-awake talent scouts of Katutura outfit Black Africa and as they say, the rest is history. His unavoidable arrival at BA coincidently perfectly tied in with Namibia’s long overdue democracy.
He was amongst the first group of players to represent their motherland internationally under head coach Rusten Mogane and German import Peter Uberjahn as technical advisor. Mike made his mark at club level marshalling the youthful Gemengde outfit to unsurpassed accolades during a rollercoaster career that was sadly curtailed by an unfortunate career ending knee injury.
As fate would dictate, Bokke was obliged to quit the game against his wishes while still at the pinnacle of his flourishing football career. Sadly, the loveable skillful beanpole defender exited the game of life, aged 34 on the 1st of October 2001, after battling long illness.
The adorable centre back might be gone to be reunited with his ancestors but the history of Namibian football would be completely incomplete if the name of Mike Mutani Claassen is not imprinted in the golden pages of our national archives. May his soul continue to rest in peace.