It was on a Saturday evening of August 1993 when the then 22-year-old student at the University of Namibia (Unam), just a year after fracturing his knee ligament, which eventually brought an abrupt end to his flourishing football career with Okahandja-based club Liverpool FC, that Erwin Handura’s life would change forever.
With his football career over and nothing to socially confide in, Handura was confounded and wondering what the world had in store for him – but on that Saturday evening, while freely roaming the corridors of the university, a forlorn Handura was confronted by a startling surprise in the shape of seven words: “You must come play hockey with us”.
Those were the words of the Visagie brothers, Ali and Johan, who – at the time – were in charge of the university
The team was short of players to fulfil their league obligations and were running the risk of being banished from the league had they not honoured their fixtures. The Visagie brothers were desperately looking for stand-in players, and they immediately demanded that the young Handura joins the team for their
upcoming league matches.
But there was one problem, Handura had just been a soccer player and had no single clue about the sport of hockey.
“But I don’t know anything about hockey; I only play soccer,” a muddled Handura responded to Ali and Johan
but the brothers would have none of that, and obstinately insisted that he comes because hockey and football are
essentially “sister” sports codes.
A commandeered Handura obliged and went on to form part of the line-up that faced DTS in their following league encounter. It turned out to be a very unpleasant first day in office for the young Handura, as they lost 11-0 to the
marauding DTS outfit.
But despite the defeat, it was that
match and the biblical persuasion of the Visagie brothers that would change Handura’s life forever. He would go on to become an influential figure in the squad, representing Unam hockey between
1994 and 1995 in various national competitions.
As his game grew in leaps and
bounds, Handura became a player-coach, assisting with the country’s various men and women’s national teams as well as the university teams.
“Between 1997 and 1998, I was given an opportunity to coach the U/18 boys’ team, and we faced the likes of Zimbabwe and South Africa during multiple U/18 tournaments between the countries – and the development of talent was great. In 1999, I was then again entrusted
with becoming head coach of Namibia’s senior women’s team and I went on to
coach them at the 1999 and 2003 All
African Games, as well as the 2007 Africa Olympic Qualifier, where we narrowly missed out on the bronze medal. During that time,
I was also the head coach of the Unam team.” “So, it has been a long but great
journey coming to where I am today. From starting off as a player and then becoming coach and going on to coach the various national teams, it has been a superb journey,” reflected the now 50-year-old Handura, who keeps falling in love with the game every day as he
did on that Saturday of August 1993.
“So, I owe a great deal of my career to the Visagie brothers, who ignited the hockey spark in me. From there on, I never looked back, as I wanted to give more to the game and learn more as I grew as coach and player.”
A boy from Katutura falls in
love with a “white sport code”
As would be expected with any black athlete who falls in love with what were previously regarded as “white sport codes”, Handura’s journey to prominence was not all smooth sailing, as he equally endured his fair share of criticism and backlash from the community for going against the traditional norm of black athletes sticking strictly to playing football and participating in athletics.
“But I had tried almost all those sport codes; I played football until at a very senior level and also participated in athletics from my school days and many other sports, but my love for hockey was unmatched. I tried them all but hockey was eventually to be the one for me. Hockey is where I gained expertise and felt more connected to the game, compared to others. That’s why I decided to go full out and gain more knowledge in coaching the game, because I still wanted to be involved after my days as a player were over.
“In 1996, I obtained a diploma from the University of Victoria in Canada. I also attended the 1997 International Hockey Federation (FIH) Indoor Hockey High Performance Coaching Course in Harare, Zimbabwe – and from there onwards, I attended the 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2019 FIH High Performance Coaching Courses.”
“I enjoy hockey, and I think my contribution has really made a huge difference to the development of the game over the years,” said Handura, who guided Namibia to this year’s Africa Indoor Hockey Cup, which also saw the country qualify for next year’s Indoor Hockey World Cup to be held in Belgium.
*Catch Part 2 of the interview in next week’s Throwback Tuesday.