A few years ago I was, in what felt like, the middle of nowhere, on a road between Tam Tam and Rundu, on my way to Hakusembe River Lodge. It had been the first time I had been in this area, but the beautiful picture of the day coming to an end, the cattle lazily walking home after a day in the veld and the Namibian sun, dipping behind the treeline and illuminating the dry river bed of the Omuramaba has never left my mind.
There was not a single soul in sight, huts stood abandoned by the road, but I suddenly realised why… Struggling through the thick sand and avoiding the cattle next to the road, I finally gazed upon paradise. There on an open piece of land supporters gathered and watched as a few young men had cleared a field and had built two rudimentary goal posts, for a football match and I finally understood why they called it the beautiful game. Our trip through the “untamed” Namibian wilderness came to an end, but my love for the game has never ceased.
As most Namibian children, that is all we wanted to do and that is all we talked about. We used the pavements as our goal posts and we took turns playing in front of each other’s houses. We even named the areas in honour of the stadiums our favourite teams called home. The most used one and the best one (obviously) was Highbury. Stamford Bridge was the furthest and no one enjoyed playing there, Anfield was used on Sundays because there were no barking dogs, which would wake the parents from their afternoon nap. The really “important” games where played at Old Trafford, because here we had two gates, exactly the same size and directly opposite each other, which we used as our goal posts. That’s all we did every single day. We played until the owner of the ball got mad, or had to leave, which is the universal sign for “Game Over”.
My fondest Football Moment? 24 January 1998 when Namibia beat a World Cup bound South Africa 3-2 in the Independence Stadium. That match had it all, Namibia was trailing 2-1, before Bimbo Tjihero blasted home a free-kick just a minute from the end to make the score 2-2 and send the fixture into extra-time. The decisive moment of the game came in the 100th minute when Berlin Auchumeb sent the home crowd into delirium. That moment of pure joy, the unification of that crowd and the cars driving through Windhoek waving their flags and honking their horns, gives me goose bumps every time I think of it.
Football leagues in Namibia and around the world are coming to a close, and cup competitions are nearing their end. But, with the World Cup coming ever closer, we have some more games to look forward to. But, it’s more than just the game, it’s the conversation the next morning at work or school. Talking about the referee or a player as if it would change the outcome of last night’s game. Making fun of each other’s teams, as if you turn into this horrible person if you prefer one over the other. It’s the celebration when your team has just scored, or the utter disgust if they lose. It’s a 90 minute roller coaster of emotions, highs and lows, stress, depression and ecstasy.
My many travels for Gondwana Collection has shown that in Namibia, the love for the beautiful game is as healthy as ever. I always see cars are adorned with club stickers, everyone has at least one shirt of their favourite team, buildings and bridges are sprayed with club names and players. Kids play football everywhere there is a little space, even Shebeens pay tribute to their favourite team. In the most remote parts of our country you will find some form of football support. I’ve stopped at huts, where a friendly face has greeted me wearing a cap or a shirt of their favourite team.
I’ve watched countless title matches with absolute strangers but we were united by our love for a team or the game. I’ve been invited to watch important matches simply by starting a conversation about “the Big Game” tonight. I’ve seen entire communities huddle together in front of a small TV, each person looking, hoping, that destiny is on their side.Even James Mange, in neighbouring South Africa, started the Soccer Party in 1994. Their logo, the black-and-white-panelled football suggested the need for black and white to work together, as the entire structure collapses if one part is removed, it was named as such, because James realised the unifying factor in football.
After all of this, the same old questions remain, who is better Ronaldo or Messi? When is Wenger leaving? Is Liverpool finally on the up? And is there any TRUE Manchester City fan in Namibia? Could Pogba please leave his hair alone? More Questions will arise and more debates will follow, especially now with the last Champions League games, which never fail to disappoint. Controversies, decisions and the odd card, will always come up in the conversation.
Football in Namibia is pure, and in its purest form, it truly is, the beautiful game.
When was the last time you kicked a ball with a few friends? Or watched African Stars vs Black Africa in the stadium? Who do you support? Or your fondest moment? Share with in the comment section below.
Author: Christiaan Jacobie