Death has struck the close-knit family of the Brave Lions of Judah, Hungry Lions Football Club, for the umpteenth time following the devastating news of the passing of one of the club’s stalwarts, Michael Tjinouhona ‘Pulelee’ Herunga. The tallish retired football-playing centre-back lost a long battle against diabetes at the Katutura State Hospital in Windhoek last week. The late Pulelee, as he was affectionately known amongst his vast circle of buddies, was a formidable footballer during his heyday. He cut his teeth in the country’s top-flight football league, the then Namibia Super Soccer League (NSSL) with unfashionable outfit Hungry Lions Football Club. He also had a brief stint with boyhood team African Stars before an unfortunate career-ending knee injury brought his promising career to a premature halt.
Born as Michael Tjinouhona Herunga in Katutura, Namibia’s largest residential area for Bantus in 1966, Pulelee was the kid brother of former Flames and Windhoek City Football Clubs’ giant shot-stopper Boas Mboroto. His elder brothers Mannfredt and Riundjua ‘Klawe’ Herunga also excelled in the oval ball and football disciplines, respectively.
His death follows short on the heels of elder brother Mannfredt, a formidable rugby player during his high school days with the revered St Joseph’s Secondary School (Dobra).
How it all started
Like many other boys his age, Pulelee started chasing an inflated piece of pigskin in the dusty streets of Katutura with other young boys from the neigbourhood. Interestingly, the well-built beanpole easy-going Pulelee only rose to prominence when he went to the Augustineum High School to further his education.
He joined the hostel team and established himself as a vital cog in the starting line-up, making the number five (5) jersey his personal property. Pulelee caught the eyes of the wide-awake Hungry Lions talent scouts, under the watchful eyes of the late Ben Uanivi. And as they say, the rest is history.
His inevitable arrival in the Lions of Judah’s den coincided with the departure of club stalwart Manuel Mendos, who had just relocated to Oranjemund after he found employment in the southern mining town.
Despite his rookie tag, Pulelee was fast-tracked into the team’s starting line-up, partnering Zacharias ‘Zacks’ Hipukuruka and veteran midfielder-cum-defender Hauii Kamaundju.
Unsurprisingly, Pulelee hit the ground running, and in no time cemented himself as the club’s most valuable asset. Cool under pressure, calculated, clean in tackles, phenomenal in air battles, Pulelee was your typical modern football-playing centre-back and could read the game pretty well.
He was without an iota of doubt one of the greatest centre-backs of his generation, arguably in the same league as African Stars’ one and only Nico Hindjou. Pulelee joined the Brave Lions of Judah at the same time as the equally dangerous Hafeni ‘Teenage’ Mwashekele.
For somebody who had never played competitive club football, let alone at youth level, he proved himself a very competent competitor on the playing field, winning the hearts of the usually hard-to-please Lions’ supporters.
Pulelee played a pivotal role when giant-killers Hungry Lions reached the semi-final of the lucrative JPS Cup to set up a date with Kuisebmond outfit Blue Waters at the old Katutura stadium in 1993. Although the Lions narrowly lost by a solitary goal (1-0), the tallish centre-back must have done enough to attract interest from talent scouts elsewhere.
Boyhood Katutura glamour football team African Stars came knocking on the door, dangling a juicy carrot in Pulelee’s face. He did not need a second invitation since it was always his childhood dream to don the red, white & blue strip of Stars.
His unavoidable arrival there coincided with the exodus of many ageing club stalwarts. He fitted into the team’s centre of defence like a glove in hand, and was the mainstay of the Reds’ solid rear-guard. Sadly, a career-ending knee injury abbreviated his promising football career, and Pulelee never really realised his full potential on the football pitch.
Life after football
The easy-going Pulelee became a trusted man of the cloth and dedicated his entire life to the popular Oruuano Protestant Unity Church until his untimely death. A gifted baritone vocalist, the brother would often lead the church’s choir.
Although his promising football career was abruptly ended, Pulelee was a staunch supporter of his beloved Stars and barely missed a match whenever his favourite team was in action. In addition to his charity work, Pulelee formed an integral part of the competent organising committee for the historic and successful Jackson Meroro fundraising campaign that was staged at the NFA Technical Centre in Windhoek during November 2019.
Regrettably, his death brings the number of former players, coaches and team management from the Brave Lions of Judah to nine, who have all gone the way of all flesh this year alone. The departed club stalwarts are Billy Tuahepa, Gideon Gurirab, Eleazer Kapi Ngatjiisiue, Foresta Nicodemus, Eliphas Aupapa Shipanga (coach), Ben Kauetu Kandimuine, Gottfriedt ‘Shoeshine’ Kambanda and Mannfredt ‘Molaiks’ Murirua (management). May their souls rest in power.