Inside the Aged
Hofni Uumati has been known as “Grey” for the better part of the 57 summers behind his back, but it was his ability to break up the opposition’s build-ups that earned him respect amongst his peers in a football career that spanned over three decades.
Grey was a vital cog in the all-conquering Rhenisch Herero School outfit that included great footballers such as the late trio of Johannes Kapuii Angula, Justus Kaika Kuzee and Shaka Mbako.
Probably Namibia’s most underrated midfielder – the hard as nails Grey recalls with a twinkle in his eyes the memorable times when he turned out for the star-studded Augustineum High School team while rubbing shoulders with the likes of Asser Mbai, Michael Pienaar senior, Lazarus Shikwambi, Capro Ngapurue, Johny Veiko, Johannes Angula and many other young footballers of note.
Here, he talks about the good old days when it was a great achievement for any footballer of his generation to hit the post with a along range shot rather than scoring a winning goal.
By Carlos Kambaekwa
Born in the copper town of Tsumeb on 9 November 1950, Grey moved to Windhoek when his father, a railway worker, was transferred to the capital while young Hofni was still a kaalvoet laaitie, barely out of his nappies.
He started his schooling at the Rhenisch Herero School in the Old Location and it was there where his blossoming football career took off.
“I still have very good memories of that school team – we were unbeatable and in one of our best matches we managed to beat the more skillful Rhenisch Nama School from Katutura way back in 1967, at a packed-to-rafters Municipality Soccer Stadium behind the Central Shops next to Soccer House.
“We emerged victorious with a 3-1 score line and the bulk of that team went on to establish themselves with big name teams in later years.”
In between, Grey was also turning out for his childhood team Tigers, but only needed one game in the reserves before he was drafted into the first team where he found himself in the company of established footballers such as the late Timo Mwetuyela, the Mbako siblings Tives and Nandos, Honnie Ochurub and Martin Veiko, amongst a horde of stars.
“I was competing with Sakkie Iipinge for the same position and it was really tough to dismantle Bra Sackey from his position. He was a no-nonsense defender who took no prisoners, but luckily for me he was getting a bit long in the tooth, and I eventually came out tops and never looked back ever since.”
Grey became a regular face in all representative teams, whether it was the Central Invitational Eleven or the South West Africa Invitation that graced the annual Provincial Currie Cup competition in South Africa.
“When we went to the Currie Cup Tournament in 1984, I played my lungs out and though we did not win the tournament – we certainly left a lasting impression on our opponents in that particular competition.”
The soft-spoken former Tigers midfield dynamo deservedly won the Central Mobil League Player of the Year Award in the same season, and became a prominent figure in the South West Africa Invitation that was once made to chase shadows for the better part of the international friendly against the formidable Kaizer Chiefs, at the Windhoek Showgrounds.
“I had a tough time marking Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla on that day and felt like I had run a marathon after the match, because we hardly touched the ball as the South Africans toyed with us at will with their slick passing game and all sorts of tricks that were reminiscent of a Boswell Wilkie Circus.
“Aish … whenever we got our rhythm the visitors would willfully disrupt our game by hauling off the best players in our team to put them on the opposite end with an apparent view of having a closer look at them, as they stood to be offered professional contracts by the South African glamour football club.”
Grey won several silverware with Tigers, and said African Stars was the team that always gave him sleepless nights.
“They had very good players such as Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo, the late pair of Gerson Kaputji Kuhanga and Ben Kauejao as well as Albert Hoonjo Tjihero, and in later years young and fast-galloping Alfred Juku Tjazuko proved a tricky customer to deal with.
“In those days, the league was very competitive and even a small team like Hungry Lions used to cause us all sorts of headaches – they turned out to be our boogie team as we always struggled against them, so no wonder we lured the bulk of their star players to our stable.”
With very little hesitation, Grey cited the late Timo Mwetuyela as the most talented player he has ever played with and also reserved some admiration for the late Orlando Pirates dribbling wizard, Norbertus “Norries” Goraseb.
After a long pause, Grey was adamant that independence came at the wrong time. He strongly believes the bulk of footballers from his generation would have played professional football – had it not been for the isolation from world football because of the South African Apartheid regime.
“Modern players lack discipline and though they are technically better equipped than us – they just don’t have the talent and there are no sharpshooters. When last have you seen a classic goal scored from outside the box?” charged the clearly disappointed former Tigers midfield hard man.
“A player like Isaac ‘Brown’ Amwenye lacked pace and was not the most gifted with his feet, but oh boy! That man packed unbelievable dynamite in his head and believe you me, his headers were more powerful than his boots, while a guy like Amos Kavezeri Tjombe could hit the ball with both feet from any distance with very few goalkeepers fancying being on the opposing end.
“In our days, the team would only provide you with a jersey and the rest of the playing gear used to be your own baby – we would spend cold nights on worn-out mattresses in classrooms as opposed to modern footballers who are housed in luxury hotels. Yet their performance on the field leaves a lot to be desired.
“What really annoys me these days is that there are hopelessly too many fly-by-night footballers – you will find a youngster having a good game only to disappear into obscurity the next game because they quickly develop a head the size of the mood once they hog the headlines in the back pages of newspapers, and start jumping from one team to another.”
The 57-year old Grey bemoans the lack of reserve teams amongst the country’s leading football teams. He says this scenario has weakened the depth in most and also contributes largely to the exodus of players seeking greener pastures elsewhere – because of the continuous lack of game time at their respective clubs.
“I’m very pleased that most clubs have now entered development teams in the newly established Khomas Under-17 League as it would only augur well for the overall development of Namibian football.”
Grey enjoyed a fruitful injury-free football career that included some scary moments notably during the emergence of the notorious “Rooi Oog” gang.
“In all honesty, their presence at soccer matches used to unsettle the players and I’m actually glad their existence was short-lived because these guys were a nuisance and a disgrace to football.”