Inside the Aged
It has taken plenty of weeks and a bit of arm twisting, but it finally happened:
New Era Sports finally persuaded the man who would unintentionally shape the face of Namibian football for the better when he crossed the floor together with Orlando Pirates’ blue eyed boy Eric Muinjo, to play their football with a predominantly white club in the early eighties.
By joining Ramblers Football Club at the height of Louis Pienaar’s apartheid regime, Bertus Damon broke racial barriers amidst protest from some of the club’s diehards – leading to some of them severing all ties with the club and defecting to the more affluent German club SKW.
The former Ramblers midfield workhorse rewrote the history books and will certainly go down in the annals of Namibian football for many years to come.
By Carlos Kambaekwa
Born in Nababib, South Africa on the 14th of June in 1956 – young Bertus was destined for bigger things and his talent on the sport field grew in leaps and bounds as he excelled in almost every discipline in track and field athletics.
Bertus started playing rugby at school when he enrolled at the Saint Cyprians Primary School in his hometown Nababib, and only got involved with football at the age of ten when the beautiful game was finally introduced at his school.
By the time he moved to the Bergsig High School in Springbok – Bertus was already an established name on the athletics track and had very few peers in the 100 and 200-meter sprints as well the 1500-meters. He also dictated the terms in the long and high jump events and his exploits on the sport field saw him walking away with the prestigious Victor Ludorum Award for three consecutive years.
Upon completion of his schooling at Bergsig High in 1975 – young Bertus packed his bags and headed northwards to the then South West Africa the following year.
On his arrival in what was known as the 5th province of South Africa – Bertus wasted little time and joined Strangers Football Club where he rubbed shoulders with the late dribbling wizard Kiro Makati, Henry Bock, Albert Bezuidenhout, Hennie Majiedt and Floors Steenkamp.
In 1978, Strangers was dissolved and the bulk of the players joined forces with Western Suburbs with the view of having a strong team representing the coloured community of Khomasdal, who always had to play second fiddle to their half brothers from Katutura township.
With Ramblers on the verge of touring West Germany and facing a possible boycott if the team was not reflective of the country’s demographic representation – the Tunchel Street Boys hurriedly put their ducks in the row and lured Damon and Eric Muinjo to their stable in 1983.
“When I joined Ramblers one could sense an aura of uneasiness amongst my new team mates as they appeared not to know how to relate to me, but I must confess the likes of Siggy Frewer, Bobby Cradock, Jeff Luck, Kenny Smith and Andy Alfheim made me to feel at home. They were always ready to shield me from any looming racial discrimination.”
The tension was broken after a 5-star performance in the first five matches for his new team and the hard-to-please Ramblers fans finally took him close to their hearts – and to erase any further doubts that might have been lingering in their minds, Bertus was the toast of Ramblers on the tour to West Germany as he claimed the Golden Boot Award – leaving the doubting Thomases green with envy.
“That was the highlight of my football career and I will always cherish those moments because it was always the dream of every non-white footballer to play football on foreign soil. I managed to achieve that dream with great distinction.”
While in Germany, Bertus was offered a semi-professional contract by Hamburg (Collin Benjamin’s current team) but declined the offer because of his dislike for the terrible European weather, aided by the Germans’ uncompromising stance towards foreign languages.
“We had a great tour and the reception was absolutely phenomenal. By the time we returned back home, the harmony in the team was fantastic. I think that was the beginning of a new era as the club went on to win a number of silverware – including the prestigious Mainstay Cup when we easily waltzed past Chief Santos in the final at the old Katutura Stadium in1985.”
It’s important to note that those successes were achieved during the breakup by the country’s top eight teams who went on to form the rebel National Premier Soccer League.
“One of my highlights was when I captained a second string South West Africa team to victory in the now defunct Impala Inter-Provincial Cup. We easily saw off Northern Cape (2-0, with a youthful Lucky Richter on song at the Katutura Stadium in 1986.”
With Ramblers’ winning streak continuing in the weaker Central League after both Young Ones and Hungry Lions crossed the floor to the more competitive rebel league – Bertus lost his appetite for playing against mediocre opposition week in and week out and resolved to move on.
He eventually found refuge at the star-studded African Stars outfit together with Ramblers livewire goal poacher Joseph “Draaitjies” Martin in 1987.
Though he did not play long enough for the Reds – Bertus has good memories of his short stint with the country’s best supported football team.
“I will never forget that day when we played Benfica in the semifinals of the JPS Knockout Cup at the Windhoek Stadium (today Independence Stadium) in 1987 – Stars were trailing by two goals and Oscar Mengo hauled me off the bench and sent me on in the second half. I played the game of my life by creating goal-scoring chances for Joseph Martin, Juku Tjazuko and Immanuel Kamuserandu.
“We won the match 3-2 and the Hereros gave me a standing ovation after the match. That’s something that I will always cherish for the rest of my life. I’d never experienced something like that during my career on the football pitch.
Nevertheless, my heart is still very close to Ramblers and I will always remain a Rammie for life.”
The 51-year-old turned businessman, a diehard supporter of English Premiership giants Manchester United, retired from competitive football while playing for Stars in 1988 after a serious knee injury ended his illustrious football career.
He now spends most of his time swinging the sticks at the golf course with several other former footballers such as Doc Naobeb, George Gariseb, Ian Wood, Tiger Francis, Hans Haraseb, Joseph Martin and Willie Roessner, amongst a horde of former footballers who have traded their boots for the swing.
“Golf is a very competitive gentleman’s game and the most interesting aspect about golf is that you always compete against the course, and having played football helps a lot because ball co-ordination plays a major role in mastering the finer art of golf.”
Bertus bemoans the standard of football in the new dispensation and says modern players are not committed enough to the cause of representing their country.
“The standards have dropped drastically because modern footballers think it’s no honour to play for their country and that misplaced perception really pains me.
“We used to compete in the annual South African Provincial Currie Cup tourney. The competition was really tough in those years despite the lack of sufficient coaching, but at least we had structures in place.”
He says the lack of skilled football administrators has contributed largely to the decline of football in general.
“In those days, we really had men with football acumen under the leadership of Chris Nel. Football was more interesting because the administration was absolutely professional in an amateur setup – that’s the bottom line.”