The now-defunct Tsumeb-based outfit, Etosha Lions Football Club, went on an energy-sapping marathon rail tour across the Orange River to engage in several exhibition matches against provincial clubs from that neck of the woods.
The Copper Town lads had in their touring entourage a huge frame tallish fullback, famously known as ‘Danger Point’ in short, nobody dares to dribble the imposing beanpole defender. This strongly built, fearless, hard-tackling athlete was none other than the just-departed Namibian Head of State, Hage Geingob. In his own words, “In our time, the crowd burst into euphoria if players intentionally kicked 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 bookable offence 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, New Era Sport reflects on the amazing sporting journey of the humorous Namibian Commander-in-Chief. May his gentle soul rest in his ancestral power.
The now-deceased football-obsessed First Citizen pulled no punches, revealing how the then-systematically-defined apartheid learning institution for Bantus, Augustineum High School, inadvertently freed blacks from the web of cultural segregation.
When the exciting maroon and gold strip Tsumeb outfit Etosha Lions arrived at Park Station, Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1962, the visitors only had eleven players on board under the tutelage of shrewd football administrator-cum-coach, the late Albert Herbert Conradie.
“(laughing)… It was a marathon trip that took us five days by rail to arrive in Jo’burg (Johannesburg), but I have to admit we survived the journey quite well. We had a whale of a time on the train feeding on well-prepared meals whilst enjoying the diverse landscape of our beautiful country,” said Geingob during an exclusive interview with New Era Sport in 2019.
Upon arrival, the visitors, weary from their journey, were escorted to a local hotel near the iconic Orlando Stadium in Soweto. “Our first match was against Transvaal Eleven. It was the first time in our careers on grass turf, let alone playing in front of an intimidating crowd, but we managed to shake off the jittery of nerves and put up a great fight, although we lost 5-3.”
Further exhibition matches followed against Springs United and Black Africa (SA). The resolute ‘Lions of the North’ lost 7-3 against United, followed by another heavy defeat against BA. “Our opponents applied all sorts of tricks in the book of tricks, trying to bully us, but we stood our ground.
“Our next stop was Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, the heart and soul hub of the notoriously hardcore racist Afrikaners, but as the tour progressed, we settled down well and started playing with more confidence.
“In all honesty, we held our own, playing with guts and determination to end the tour on a positive note, but the biased referee deliberately added more than five minutes of extra time in the hope for the hosts to score the decisive winning goal, but it was not to be.”
Upon their return home, the transformed ‘Lions of the North’ inevitably became the envy of every football follower and a much sought-after commodity in domestic football. The resurgent team was now a different unit, not only in displaying their newly acquired playing style but more specifically in the department of a new identity. The resurgent team, equipped with a brand-new set of playing gear purchased from South Africa, including visible numbers displayed on the back and a pair of shorts, was in a league of their own. “We picked up two players from Otjiwarongo on our way to South Africa to reinforce the team. So, it was only appropriate to show off our newly acquired playing style in that town as a token of appreciation.”
The team played a few exhibition matches, randomly mauling their bemused opponents at will. Elegantly kitted out in their new set of playing gear, complimented by the freshly adopted playing style of one-touch football, the ‘The Lions of the North’ played their first match against Speed Fire.
“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 formed along tribal lines, and when I went to Augustineum, I got exposed to other indigenous Namibians and started mingling with boys from the South and other parts of thee country.”
Famously known as ‘Danger Point’, aka ‘Omes’ revealed tongue in cheek how the Lions fooled their opponents before matches.
“I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon after coming back from church immaculately attired in a suit with my teammates also kitted out in social gear. We left our opponents confused, wondering why we were not dressed up for the match. We sneaked into the classroom to change because, in those days, there were no dressing rooms at football fields. Admittedly, many football teams had concert groups on board wherever they were playing away from home. We were very lucky we had veteran saxophonist Stephanus ‘Kookwater’ Hoebeb, of Dakota Jazz band fame, leading the team in song on his trusted bent horn (saxophone),” he said.
Any idea how the nickname ‘Danger Point’ came about? ‘Hahahaha’…exploded Omes. “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, Omes’ fairytale football journey ended abruptly, with politics taking centre stage. He was obligated to flee his beloved motherland in search of political justice and freedom, only to resurface in Botswana in 1962.
“We arrived in Francistown, but there were virtually no sporting activities going on. Imagine the frustration in a foreign country.” After several months of wandering in refugee camps, ‘Omes’ was shipped to Congo.
“It was a completely different ball game lifestyle-wise, as opposed to Botswana, where the locals were football crazy and notorious for playing loud music. I watched Congo against Senegal for the first time, witnessing two nations competing fiercely against each other.”
However, it was back to square one when the football-loving former schoolteacher-turned-political activist shifted base to the United States of America (USA) to further his academic aspirations in addition to fulfilling his political goals. However, if ‘Omes’ thought Botswana was bad, America was even worse since the game of football was an alien subject amongst the sophisticated Americans.
“It was only basketball and 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 often accompanied him to some of his world title bouts.”
His arrival in the USA coincided with the introduction of professional football. Holed up in New York, Omes was excited to watch two of the greatest black footies of all time in action—Brazilian legend Pele and Mozambican-born Portuguese winger Eusebio Ferreira—strutting their stuff.
‘Omes’ was instrumental in setting up the Namibian football team UNIN Eleven in the refugee camp of Lusaka at the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) under the Swapo banner. He was 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 ‘Omes’ arrived unannounced at the old Katutura stadium to watch a local league match to an amazing standing ovation. That appearance proved the turning point; indeed, there was love at first sight between the astute political leader in waiting and the masses.
He took the bull by the horns when he bravely arranged a well-attended workshop for local sports administrators and media practitioners, taking them through the ropes around protocol observation, financial accountability, and good corporate governance.
He initiated the ‘Rescue Our Football Fund’ when the cash-strapped football governing body (NFA) was struggling to make ends meet. In his parting shot, the departed Namibian head of state expressed satisfaction with the rapid progress made by the national senior football team at the international level. ‘Omes’ still had fond memories of the Warriors’ great comeback against Ivory Coast in their maiden appearance at the 1998 Afcon finals in Burkina Faso.
He added that sport, football in particular, has the required credentials to unite people from all walks of life, but was quick out of the blocks to express dismay at the disappointingly low number of fans squeezing their bodies through the turnstiles at dignified sports gatherings.
“We need to up the marketing and administration aspects of the game if we are to turn professional. I find it pointless that well-off guys who are in good positions to fix football’s patchy financial coffers are given free tickets to attend matches in the comfort of the VIP booth. Imagine if these financially sound middle-class citizens were encouraged to pay entrance fees, matching their VIP status.” charged ‘Omes’ irritatingly.
He blamed greed, jealousy, and selfishness amongst football administrators as the major Achilles heel in reaching greater heights, which is the desired destiny of domestic football. Off the pitch, an elegant dresser with a taste for good things, ‘Omes’ was a jazz fanatic and equally at home on the dance floor. You will be deeply missed. Go well, Grootman.