The year 1962 will be fondly remembered as the one that was to change the face of domestic football in Apartheid South West Africa (SWA).
Tsumeb based outfit Etosha Lions Football Club undertook a rail tour across the Orange River to engage in several exhibition matches against top provincial clubs from that neck of the woods The Copper Town lads fielded in their touring entourage a huge framed tallish fullback going by the name of “Danger Point” in short, nobody goes past the beanpole defender.
This strongly built fearless hard tackling athlete was none other than the seating Namibian Head of State Dr Hage Geingob. “During our time, the crowd would burst into uncontrolled excitement if a player deliberately kicks the ball out of play, but nowadays football dynamics have changed drastically to the extent that one will earn a caution as such an act amounts to a book able offense for ungentlemanly conduct - very much against the true spirit of Fair Play.”
In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sports feature, Tales of the Legends, profiling our national sport heroes and heroines past and present – New Era Sport goes toe-to-toe with the charismatic humorous Namibian Head of State as he relives his football journey.
The football obsessed First Citizen, pulls no punches as he reveals how the then systematically-defined Apartheid learning institution for Bantus, Augustineum High School inadvertently freed black students from the web of cultural segregation.
Carlos “CK” Kambaekwa
WINDHOEK – When the exciting maroon and gold strip Tsumeb outfit Etosha Lions FC arrived at Park Station, Johannesburg, South Africa in 1962 – the star-studded squad only had eleven players on board under the stewardship of shrewd football administrator, the late Herbert Conradie.
“It was a marathon trip that took us five days by rail to arrive in the city of gold and bright lights but I must admit we survived the journey quite well. In fact, we had a whale of a time on the train feeding on well-prepared meals whilst enjoying the diverse landscape of our beautiful country.
Upon touching down in Jozi, the leg weary visitors were taken to a local hotel nearby the iconic Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
“Our first match was against Transvaal Eleven and it was the first time in our entire football careers to play on a grass turf, let alone appearing in front of such an intimidating large crowd but we managed to shake off the jittery of nerves manufacturing a great display before losing 5-3.”
Further exhibition matches followed against Springs United and Black Africa (SA) respectively. The gutsy “Lions of the North” lost 7-3 against United before suffering a heavy defeat in their next match against the latter (BA).
“Our opponents tried to apply all sorts of tricks in the book of tricks to bully us but we stood our ground.” The visitors’ next stop was Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, the heart and soul hub of the notorious hardcore racist Afrikaners.
As the tour progressed, the squad managed to settle down quite well starting to play with a new measure of confidence.
“Truth be told, we held our own - playing with guts and determination to end the tour on a positive note but the man in the middle (referee) had other ideas as he deliberately added more than five minutes extra time in the hope for the hosts to score the decisive winning goal but it was not to be.”
Upon their return to their native enclave, the transformed “Lions of the North” inevitably became the envy of almost every football follower and a much-sought-after commodity in domestic football.
The resurgent “Lions of the North” were a much-changed unit - not only in their newly acquired playing style, but more specifically in the department of identity. Boasting a brand new set of playing gear purchased from South Africa with numbers displayed on the back of the jerseys and pair of shorts the Copper Town lads were in a league of their own.
“On our way to South Africa, we picked up two players from Otjiwarongo to reinforce the playing personnel, so it was only fitting to show off our newly acquired playing style in that town as a token of appreciation.”
The team played few exhibition matches mauling bemused opponents at will. “We played against Speed Fire kitted out in our new brand playing gear complimented by newly adopted style of play one touch football.”
Back in the day, football was considered a religion amongst the black folk in the absence of recreational activities. “Look, during the height of Apartheid, most clubs were established along tribal lines and when I went to further my education at Augustineum, I got exposed to other indigenous Namibians mingling freely with boys from the South and other parts of the country.
The man then known as “Danger Point” amongst his circle of football buddies reveals tongue in cheek how they fooled their opponents before matches. “I vividly remember one particular Sunday afternoon, coming back from church immaculately attired in a suit whilst my teammates were also kitted out in social gear.
“We left our opponents swimming in a pool of confusion wondering why we were not dressed up for the match as we disappeared into the classroom to change because in those days there were no dressing rooms at football fields.”
At the time, many football teams had Concert Groups accompanying them wherever they played. “We were very fortunate because we had in pour squad veteran slated saxophonist “Kookwater” (Stephanus Hoebeb) of the Dakota Jazz band fame leading the team in song on his trusted bent horn.”
Any idea how the nickname “Danger Point” came about? ‘Hahahaha’…exploded the calculated humorous Namibian Head of State. “It simply meant no one gets past me and whoever managed to dribble their way around me must score, which was anyway a very rare occurrence.”
As fate would dictate, the fairytale football journey of Geingob came to an abrupt end. Politics set in and the energetic tough tackling fullback was obliged to flee his country of birth in search of political justice and freedom- only to resurface in neigbouring Botswana in 1962. “We landed in Francistown, and there was virtually no sporting activities taking place, so imagine the frustrations in a foreign country.” After several months wandering around in refugee camp – Hage was relocated to Congo.
“It was a complete different kettle of fish, life style wise in the Congo as opposed to Botswana, the locals were football crazy and notorious for playing loud music. I watched Congo against Senegal, the first time to witness two nations competing fiercely against each other.” Soon afterwards, it was back to square one when the football loving schoolteacher-cum political activist shifted base to the United States of America (USA) to further his academic aspirations, including his yet to be fulfilled political goals.
Nonetheless, if he thought Botswana was bad, America was even worse because the beautiful game of football was an alien subject amongst the sophisticated Americans.
“It was only Basketball, American football but I could at least take solace in boxing through the influence of the hardcore black revolutionist, the late Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali). It so happened that we became associates. I would often accompany him to some of his high profile world title bouts.”
His arrival in the USA coincided with the unavoidable introduction of professional football. Holed up in the big apple city (New York) the now retired footballer was excited to watch two of the greatest black footballers of their generation in action in the shape of Brazilian legend Pele and Mozambican-born Portuguese winger Eusebio strut their stuff.
The incumbent “Langana” of the Land of the Brave was instrumental in setting up the exciting football team in the refugee camp in Lusaka at the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) under the Swapo banner UNIN Eleven.
Hage became an instant hit when he returned to his native land in 1989, on the eve of Namibia’s much anticipated independence. There was a huge roar of applause when he arrived unannounced at the old Katutura stadium to watch a local league match to an amazing standing ovation.
That appeared to be the turning point, indeed love at first sight between the political leader in waiting and the masses. He took the bull by the horn when he arranged a well-attended workshop for local sports administrators and pen pushers taking them through the ropes in the area of protocol and good corporate governance. The retired fullback also initiated the “Rescue our Football Fund” when the country’s cash-stripped football’s governing body (NFA) was struggling to make ends meet. In his parting shot, the Namibian Head of State expressed satisfaction with the rapid progress made by the national senior football team, the Brave Warriors at international level and still has fond memories of the gutsy Warriors’ great comeback against Ivory Coast in their maiden appearance at Africa’s biggest showpiece Afcon in Burkina Faso, in 1998. The President still maintains that sport, particularly football possesses the required credentials to unite people from all walks of life but was quick out of the blocks to express dismay at the disappointing and low number of people squeezing their bodies through the turnstiles at August sports gatherings. “We need to up the marketing and administration aspect of the game if we are to turn professional. I find it totally pointless that people who are well off and in position to swell football’s patchy financial coffers are given free tickets to attend matches in the comfort of the VIP booth.
“Can you imagine if these fairly well off middleclass citizens are encouraged to contribute towards entrance fees - matching their VIP status? He charged irritatingly.
President Geingob blames unquenchable greed, jealousy and selfishness amongst football administrators as the major stumbling block in reaching the promised land of milk and honey, which is the desired ultimate destiny of domestic football.