For years now there has been a chorus of some self-styled football gurus claiming that the modern game seriously lacks great personalities – thus the vast decline in attendance at all levels, be it in domestic competitions or whenever the Brave Warriors are in action.
Of course, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to point out that the beautiful game has gone to the dogs after being turned ugly by mediocre players and self-centered people who are only interested in lining their own pockets at the expense of its real subjects – the paying public.
To be fair, the game lacks footballers with guts, players with the desired knack of capturing the imagination of the paying public irrespective of which team they support.
In the early seventies, Namibia had one such player and he was certainly not the most gifted footballer of his generation but somehow, pint-sized midfield workhorse Wilfried “Mini” Nawatiseb just possessed that unmatchable self-belief and rare ability to dictate the pattern of any game and make opposing fans eat out of his hand.
Mini was a lunatic and the word fear never crossed his vocabulary, not when he chased leather whilst sticking like an irritating lace to his opponents.
From the moment he started kicking a soccer ball at the tender age of ten in the dusty streets of his home town Tsumeb, young Mini was destined for greater things and was already an established name by the time he went to further his schooling at the Cornelius Goraseb High School in Khorixas.
Mini was a real “Bull Terrier” on the playing field and became an instant hit with football fans around the four corners of the country whenever the Welwitschia High School played.
“Those were the good old days when losing was not an option but then again I was surrounded by very good players such as Brazello Haoseb, Helmuth ‘Yster’ Nauseb, Nangi Nickel, Linton Aseb and the towering Ferdinand Namubeb to mention but a few.”
With tears of joy swelling in his aged eyes, Mini recalls his countless midfield duels with Namib Woestyn’s Oom Gerson Benson, a man who reportedly felt like vomiting at the mere sight of the pint-sized bull terrier on the opposing end.
“Oom Gerson never cherished playing against me when I turned out for Eleven Arrows in the coastal derby against the star-studded Namib Woestyn and would make his feelings known by telling me to my face that he was not exactly appreciative of my company on the playing field, as I was always in the habit of taking the ball away from him each and every time he was in possession.”
Although Mini was a hit amongst the lasses at the Cornelius Goraseb High School – it was at Eleven Arrows where he really enjoyed his football the most.
“I still have fond memories of that team up to this day, because of the harmony and team camaraderie that prevailed amongst the players.”
Mini’s uncompromising attitude on the playing field sometimes spilled over to his social life and he once took an entire week to settle a nasty incident that had its origin from the pitch with Blue Waters’ fast as lightning striker Eliphas Aupapa “Bazooka” Shipanga.
The fistfight continued almost everyday after work until the intervention of the elders.
“Aish, you caught me off guard with that one, but where did you get that tale from?” asked a bemused Mini.
“Anyway, that was not the only time my football antics had taken me to off-the-pitch battlefields. Let me tell this one, I’m not going to mention the name of the guy but we once played a tournament at school and I was the captain of my school team Liverpool.
“We won the cup but there was this bullish strongly built chirpy who for some reason refused point blank to hand over the trophy to us, and my team mates instructed me as captain to go and collect our treasured asset as a matter of fact.
“Like I’ve said, this dude was not the smallest of okes, but I managed to get the better of him and wrestled the trophy away from him with brutal force – after that, I was obliged to skip classes for almost four days because I was no longer interested in crossing the path of that dude as he had vowed to make mince meat of me.”
Mini is amongst a selected few who rubbed shoulders with some of the finest footballers from South Africa in the mould of Zacharia Vuzi “Maria- Maria” Lamola, Jan “Malombo” Lichaba, Nelson “Teenage” Dladla and the legendary late Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, when he was selected to play for the South West Africa Invitational Eleven against the visiting Kaizer Chiefs in the late 70’s.
“I was dedicated to my game and once went to train on my own in the riverbeds outside Rehoboth for a whole week to build stamina ahead of our derby with Black Africa when I joined Orlando Pirates.”
The late Dios Engelbrecht used to call him “the General” for his never say-die-attitude on the field.
“I was fortunate enough to have been taught the basics of football by the late Percy ‘Chippa’ Moloi during his short stint with my home team Etosha Lions in Tsumeb and as a result, I always modelled my game on Moloi – you can ask Japhet Hellao, I was once caught him napping with a rasping long range shot that flew into the net,” recalls Mini with a twinkle in his eye.
The 56-year-old Mini says he still follows the local game on a regular basis but is not really impressed with what he has seen so far.
“The game has lost its spark, it’s hopelessly too technical and there are no personalities aided by the worrisome lack of sharpshooters – it lacks entertainment and the last player who showed flashes of the old school was Lucky Richter and Norbertus Goraseb to a certain extent.
“In our days, we had great footballers such as Brian Greaves, Gabriel ‘Kirrie’ Tjituaiza but Oscar Mengo stood head and shoulders above the rest. Look, with all due respect to other greats such as the late Hendrik “Doc” Hadley and lately Dawid Snewe – Oscar was a complete player with a football brain second to none while Doc was more of a cheater.”
Mini feels former players still have a lot to offer and was quick to point out that the loss of interest in school soccer has contributed largely to the decline of football in general.
“The current crop of footballers are physically weak and there is too much emphasis placed on defensive duties at the expense of attacking football which is what the paying public are aspiring for.”